'Palavakkam to Google' - Ghatotkacha of Stage Drama
Over the last few years, he has become literally unstoppable with his Venpas
Over the last few years, he has become literally unstoppable with his Venpas
His evening trip to Marudeeswarar temple in Thiruvanmiyur to meet with his close friend and mentor S Ravi (now VP at Bosch, Pune) turned out to be a defining moment in Rangachari ‘Crazy’ Mohan’s life. He could not have gone any further that late evening, for visiting Palavakkam (the next destination on ECR) after dusk was fraught with risk. It was a really dark location in the 70s. Houses were few and far between. The very thought (of not being able to go any further) set him rolling and sowed the seed for Mohan’s serious foray into the world of humour in the mid 1970s. It was then that he started writing the script for his first play.
Played out to a packed audience at Mylapore Fine Arts in 1974, ‘Crazy’ Thieves in Palavakkam turned out to be a sensational hit and shot Mohan into limelight. And there has been no looking back since.
Oppili (named after Thiru Vinnagar Oppiliappan), an innocent youngster was played by SV Shekar also in his debut play. One of the conversations goes thus:
Oppili’s Father: Recite the Thiruppavai every morning
Oppili : What is that Thiruppavai?
His Father: It’s the great songs written by Andal
Oppili: In which movie do those songs feature?
His father: Shame on you. You are an Iyengar and you do not know Andal
Oppili: Who is that Andal who is known only to Iyengars!!!!
His Father: It (Thiruppavai) is the sacred songs. If you recite these, you can go to Vaikuntam (attain moksham)
Oppili’s B-in Law: What is the big deal in going to Sri Vaikuntam. If I catch a bus or train, I can reach there the next day (it is near Tirunelveli)
10 years, it was Ravi once again who initiated him into Tamil Grammar and Venpas. And now he has become so proficient that he is literally unstoppable. He begins every morning thinking of Venpas and goes to bed late in the night after he has had his day (night) of Venpa.
இட்டிலி சாம்பார் வடையுண்டு
இனிக்கும் டிகிரி காப்பியுண்டு
பட்டுத் துளிர்வெற் றிலையுண்டு
புகையிலை வறுவல் சீவலுண்டு
விட்டம் சுற்றும் ஃபேன் உண்டு
வீசும் ஏஸிக் காற்றுண்டு
கட்டுரை கதைகள் பலவுண்டு
கல்கி தேவன் அதிலுண்டு
Janaki Teacher and Mohan’s gesture
As a 6 year old boy, in the late 50s, Mohan, a student of Karpagavalli School in Mylapore was driven every day into dramatics by his favourite teacher Janaki.
She was the first one to identify his potential and the spark that he had for dramatics. 76 year old Janaki teacher, now residing in Bangalore remembers Mohan as a naughty but very smart boy. ‘I could see early signs of his skills in ‘dramatics’. In the annual drama, I chose him for the role of Veera Pandiya Kattabomman. I taught him those dialogues. He grasped it very well and even as a young boy his presentation was outstanding. I am happy that he has leveraged that inherent creative talent and achieved great success in this field.
As a token of appreciation for his teacher, Mohan named every heroine of his play ever since as Janaki – an incredible gesture (even in the movie Panchathanthiram the heroines were named Janaki and Mythili!!!
His specific interest in drawing was a result of the encouragement provided by his grandparents. His grandfather, Venkatakrishna Iyengar was a staunch follower of C Rajagopalachari. In recognition of his Thatha’s contribution to his drawing interest, Mohan’s first drawing was of Rajaji’s. After every such sketch, his Thatha would go to the shop in Mylapore and come back with the drawing neatly framed. It was also his Thatha who taught Mohan a number of Sanskrit poems.
Mohan’s Friend Philosopher and Guide
Ravi initiated Mohan into religious thoughts. Ravi also helped Mohan focus on the Tamil language. In the late 50s and early 60s, Mohan, with great difficulty, would take Rs. 5 from his grandparents and go to Ethiraj Mudali Street in North Madras to have a look at Ravi Varma’s paintings. Mohan would come back home and recollecting what he had seen at the shop would start sketching through the night. Encouraged by Ravi, this was a regular process Mohan followed during those days and thus developed the art of painting.
During those days, Mohan would also watch the paintings of his neighbour Maniam Selvam, who was also his schoolmate. This too proved to be an inspiration for Mohan to continue with his interest in painting.
Mohan’s grandmother Shenbaga Lakshmi Ammal taught him the way of life – how to remain simple and to always save money that he remembers and follows to this day.
He has always been a voracious reader right from his childhood. He drew a lot of inspiration from the humourous writings of Devan and Wodehouse. ‘Humour is a big ocean where Wodehouse immersed and brought out gems and pearls. I am still at the beach and the sea breeze has just started striking me now. I have a long way to go in the field of humour’ says Mohan in his typically modest style.
During his college days at Guindy Engineering College, he was excited to find on the notice board a letter inviting students to send scripts for a skit. Ravi says ‘Mohan has always been a person of strong beliefs and sentiments. He is very difficult to switch over. But once he is convinced, he accepts and follows for life. ‘The brilliance was always there and it came to the fore during the college days.’
After Mouli and Mahendra had passed out of college, there was a vaccum in terms of providing humour. Mohan had an excellent sense of humour. It was immense. I asked him to write humour. His immediate reaction as usual was ‘No’. How can I write humour, was his response. Intuitively I thought he would be a great writer and convinced him. He finally relented.
Ravi and Mohan decided that they would independently write a script each. Mohan came up with ‘The Great Bank Robbery’. He was chosen as both the Best Writer and the Best Actor. Interestingly, actor Kamal Hassan gave away the award to Mohan.
Mohan started writing stories for his brother Balaji’s plays at the Vivekananda College.
Sundaram Clayton – His only Corporate Job
Immediately after completing his Masters in Production Engineering from the Guindy Engineering College, Mohan joined TVS Group firm Sundaram Clayton, his first and only corporate job. He slogged there for almost a decade managing the tool room. It is difficult to imagine now that Mohan was once a full-fledged factory man those days.
Dogs on RK Salai and TTK Road literally drove Mohan out of his corporate job. After his late night duty, Mohan would ride back on the then popular Lambretta all the way from the factory in Padi to his house in Mylapore. Unfortunately starting at the Gemini Flyover and right through to TTK Road, a set of dogs took a special liking for Mohan and they would chase him relentlessly every night. They could literally sniff the sound of the lamby as it crossed the MG Road. Mohan has a phobia for dogs and having both his legs up during that chase proved a torturous exercise for him. This was one of the reasons for him to quit his corporate job.
Crazy Creations - 1979
When his brother was transferred from SBT Palghat to Madras, Mohan started a troupe of his own (Crazy Creations) in 1979 after a discussion at Pinjala Subramanyam Street. Mohan worked backwards on Crazy Creations’ first stage drama. The title was first fixed as Alauddin and 100watts bulb and he wrote a script for the title!
He wrote scripts for Tenant Commandments, Marriage made in Saloon (which was later re- made by K Balachandar as a movie), Maadhu+2 and One More Exorcist among many others, each of which was well received by the audience.
Crazy Mohan credits a lot of his success to his brother ‘Maadhu’ Balaji who he says shoulders and anchors the entire play. Kamal Hassan offered him roles in his movies but Balaji chose drama over films. He sacrificed several opportunities for comedian role in films because he wanted to keep the dramas going. Mohan is proud of the fact that his troupe has never done a drama without Balaji, such is his commitment.
Mohan had great fascination for KB and Nagesh from his early days with a specific liking for Maadhu (Nagesh’s terrific performance in Ethir Neechal). Hence Balaji has always been ‘Maadhu’ in every single play of Crazy Mohan that he has come to be called ‘Maadhu’ Balaji.
Mohan had penned the story for Kathadi Ramamurthy’s popular hit ‘Ayya Amma Ammamma’. Buoyed by its success, the owners of Kumudam wanted them to present it in their auditorium. With women not allowed inside Kumudam in those days, Crazy Mohan donned the role of ‘Janaki’ in that play that day. It was also the time Mohan was being finalised for Kumudam Parthasarathy’s niece. Instead of Mohan and his family seeing the ‘Ponnu’, Parthasarathy and his family saw the prospective Mapillai in the ‘Ponnu’ form with Kumudam Parthasarathy providing a hilarious introduction of Crazy Mohan to those gathered there. That ‘Janaki’ is our ‘Mapillai’. Quite a hilarious event in his life!!!!
Cemetery meeting with Kamal
In the 1980s, Mohan was coming back from work. He saw a crowd inside the cemetery and wondered what it was. Suddenly he saw a raised hand calling out for him. It was Kamal Hassan. The seed for the script of Aboorva Sahodarargal were sown that evening at the Cemetery on St. Marys Road. Two days later, Kamal sent home a car and the agreement had been signed for the film with Mohan as the script writer. It was a transformational meeting for Mohan. Since then the two have worked together in several successful films. ‘When I present dramas, Kamal is my Visiting Card. For my overseas foray, he is my Visa. And the common chord between us is ‘Humour’ says Mohan on his decades long association with Kamal.
Ghatotkacha of Stage Drama
The joint family system that Mohan was brought up into has played a key role in his troupe staying together for 36years and continuing to producing successful plays globally. Crazy Mohan has sketched 1000s of personalities through his paintings. He has staged over 6000 plays and written script for over 25 super hit films including Katha Nayakan, Avvai Shanmugi, Aboorva Sahodarargal, Michael Madana Kamarajan, Tenali, Panchathanthiram, Vasool Raja MBBS and Arunachalam. He has also authored over 150 short and serial stories in leading magazines. Mohan has also written, produced and acted in 10 Hilarious TV Serials.
A decade ago, Mohan went to Ravi for initiation into Tamil grammar. He was literally unstoppable once he started learning. He would send 10-15 Venpas every night. Such was his passion once he took up something, he would relentlessly pursue that.
At a time when staging commercially successful plays are seen as a challenge, Crazy Mohan’s stage dramas continue to be in big demand. The gate collections are such that sabhas are queuing up to sign him on.
Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam made him a household name. The chance meeting with Kamal Hassan at the St. Marys Road Cemetry triggered his successful expansion into films and elevated him onto the global stage.
No play has ever touched a1000 shows for a single play. With Chocolate Krishna, presented for the first time in 2008, Mohan is on the verge of creating history in the world of Tamil Drama. Last month, he presented the 777th show and is fast moving towards the magical 1000th show.
Whenever that happens, it will be a significant milestone for Mohan. And he will truly be the ‘Ghatotkacha’ of Tamil Plays (incidentally his next play is aptly titled Google ‘Ghatotkacha’).
BEST MOVIE : AVVAI SHANMUGHI
BEST DIALOGUE : ANDAVAN NINAIKIRAN, ARUNACHALAM MUDIKIRAN
FAVOURITE PLAY : CHOCOLATE KRISHNA FOR ITS ONE LINERS
FAVOURITE PLACE : MARUDEESWARAR TEMPLE
FAV CRICKETER :R PRABHAKAR (HE WOULD HIT EVERYTHING OUT OF THE GROUND)