Just a few hours after Girish Karnad passed away, fans of cinema and theatre were in for another rude shock. Mohan Rangachari, best known as Crazy Mohan, too chose this very day to bid his final goodbye. If you were born in the '80s or '90s in Tamil Nadu, Crazy Mohan was an inevitable part of your childhood. Before stand up comedy shows became all the rage in our metros, an evening of humour in a Chennai weekend usually meant a Crazy Mohan stage play.
You could go for these plays with the entire family; the humour rarely hurt, though it landed all the right punches. Many a time, the joke was only half-funny, but we laughed because of how it was delivered, how cleverly the words were used to distort the meaning.
The crowd that went for stage plays may have eventually thinned out but Crazy Mohan continued to entertain his fans through his work in cinema, a much larger canvas which had a wider reach. Of all his 'crazy' ventures, the best ones undoubtedly were the Kamal Haasan-Crazy Mohan combination films. With Kamal's comic timing and Crazy Mohan's impeccable word play, these films made the audience laugh for decades, and still have amazing recall value. The humour didn't rely solely on one-liners, it was built brick by brick into elaborate sequences, with one element leading to the other like a domino effect.
Here's a look at some of those hilarious Kamal Haasan-Crazy Mohan sequences which never fail to elicit a hearty laugh.
1. Apoorva Sagodharargal: Crazy Mohan wrote the dialogues for this 1989 film in which Kamal played three roles – a cop and his two sons. While one son is a mechanic, the other is a dwarf who works in a circus. Neither knows about the other's existence for a good part of the film. Playing around with multiple births and mixed up identities was Crazy Mohan's forte, and in the film, where one brother is out to kill his father's murderers and the other is clueless about the backstory, Crazy Mohan milked the confusion through the original sirippu police – Janakaraj and RS Shivaji. The latter plays Sambandham, the admiring assistant to his boss, and at every turn goes, "Saar, neenga engiyooo poiteenga saar!" (Sir, you've reached such great heights!").
Crazy Mohan also played a cameo in the film as the owner of a car which gets involved in the murder scene. Watch how the "intelligent" Inspector puts two and two together to get 22.
Apoorva Sagodharargal wasn't only about the comedy though. There were also many poignant scenes in the film, particularly when it came to Appu, the dwarf brother. The scene when Appu hears his mother putting him down inadvertently because of his size will move the coldest of hearts.
2. Michael Madana Kama Rajan: The very next year, Kamal and Crazy Mohan got together again for yet another film where Kamal had multiple identities. Not just two, but four! The entire film, directed by Singeetam Srinivasa Rao, is a laughter riot, but the best of Crazy Mohan and Kamal is on display in the scenes involving Kameshwaran (Kamal as a naive Palakkad Brahmin man), Thripurasundari (a hilarious Urvashi) and her "thiruttu" paati who steals everything in sight. The "mean" scene where a fish lands in the sambar, followed by his flirtation with Thripurasundari is an excellent illustration of the same.
Kamal also had some great moments of humour with Manorama, the veteran comedian, in the film. She played Gangabai, the scheming mother of Chakkubai, who wants her daughter to marry a rich man. When the wealthy Madhan (Kamal) shifts them to his guest house, she comments on how large it is. When he says it's actually the "guest house", she's disappointed that it's "not his own".
3. Magalir Mattum: The remake of the American film 9 to 5, Magalir Mattum was produced by Kamal Haasan and had three women in the lead with Nasser playing the evil boss who harasses them. A rare film which addressed the issue of workplace sexual harassment, Magalir Mattum is still remembered for its many comic moments – be it the scene when Janaki (Urvashi) buys the first saree a shopkeeper shows her and he's stunned because no woman has ever done that and she casually retorts, "Enakku illa" (it isn't for me); or the elaborate sequence involving a dead body mix-up where Nagesh plays a corpse to perfection.
Both Crazy Mohan and Kamal played cameos in the film – Crazy Mohan as the doctor in the hospital where the mix-up happens, and Kamal as the top boss who puts Mookkan (Nasser) in place.
4. Sathi Leelavathi: Directed by Balu Mahendra and produced by Kamal Haasan, Sathi Leelavathi was about an overweight woman who wants to win back her straying husband. With Kalpana playing the lead opposite Ramesh Aravind, Kamal acted as Dr Sakthivel Gounder, the latter's rustic friend. Kovai Sarala paired up with Kamal and the climax of the film where the two of them get into a fight over a misunderstanding is unforgettable. "Brakeku pudikaladi!" (the brake isn't working) Sakthivel tells his crying wife and she replies, "Ennaye pudikala, ini brake pudikaatti enna!" (You don't like me, what if you like the brake or not – Crazy Mohan punning on the word 'pudikala').
5. Avvai Shanmughi: Inspired from Robin Williams's Mrs Doubtfire, Avvai Shanmughi had Kamal playing an assistant dance director who cross-dresses as an elderly woman in order to get back his estranged wife and daughter. Once again, a premise with multiple identities and mix-ups, the film had several memorable moments. The highlight perhaps was the track with Manivannan, who plays Mudaliar, Shanmughi's landlord who carries a torch for her. As Shanmughi, Kamal tries to his distance himself from Mudaliar's show of affection to hilarious effect. The bathroom scene when Pandian (Kamal) has to convince everyone that Shanmughi is taking a bath inside, without giving away the truth, is still laugh-out-loud.
6. Kaathala Kaathala: Kamal and Prabhu Deva played a pair of orphans – Ramalingam and Sundaralingam – who fall in love with two upper class women (Soundarya and Rambha). The plot revolves around the mistaken identities (yes, here too) of their families and the confusion that ensues in the couples trying to cover up the truth. Crazy Mohan also played the role of assistant to godman Ananda Vikatananda (a play on the famous Tamil magazine).
7. Thenali: This film had Kamal playing a Sri Lankan Tamil man who is afraid of just about everything. He goes to a psychiatrist (Jayaram) to find a cure for his problem but ends up falling in love with the latter's sister (Jyothika). With the psychiatrist trying to get rid of him even as his family takes a liking to the strange Thenali, the film had several scenes ripe with humour. And yes, the film has a scene with Crazy Mohan's trademark mistaken identity comedy – when Dr Kailash thinks he's taking the sleeping Thenali to the woods but actually ends up carrying his relative, the man he wants his sister to marry.
Despite the film being light-hearted overall, it also has a painful scene when Thenali speaks to the doctor about his traumatic past as a child caught in the civil war.
8. Panchathanthiram: In this film, Kamal played Ram, a hotshot womanising pilot, who mends his ways after he gets married. But, karma catches up with him. His wife, Mythili (Simran) leaves him after she mistakenly suspects that he's having an affair with another woman (Devayani, who plays his friend's ex girlfriend). The humour in the scene when he struggles to explain the truth to Mythili but she keeps misunderstanding what he's saying is made even better by Devayani's excellent acting.
Another hilarious sequence from the film is when the friends are trying to get rid of a dead body and are subsequently questioned by the cops. Lines like, "Munnadi, pinnadi enna irundhudhu?" (What was there in the back before this?) are sheer Crazy Mohan brilliance.
9. Pammal K Sambandham: Kamal played a flashy stuntman with a large family who falls in love with a sophisticated doctor. When Dr Janaki (Simran) mistakenly stitches up a watch inside PKS during a surgery, she pretends to reciprocate his feelings in order to avoid a blemish in her career. The sequences with Janaki and her Malayali nurse (Kalpana) trying to stick an anesthetic into PKS to get the watch out of him are pure gold.
10. Vasool Raja MBBS: A remake of the Hindi film Munnabhai MBBS, Kamal played Vasool Raja, a thug who studies to become a doctor to fulfill his parents' wishes. Crazy Mohan played Dr Margabandhu, a faculty member at the college, who's trying to protect Vasool Raja's real identity from the dean (Prakash Raj). Kamal's "kattipudi vaithiyam" (healing with love) from the film became a household phrase. His hilarious "diagnoses" from the film still induce laughter – for instance, he reasons that an immobile patient is in a philosophical state and that his "calm" is mistaken for "coma".