Writing a tribute is never an easy task, especially when the subject of the piece is a person who has been a constant presence in your life. When the subject happens to be Crazy Mohan, a man who it seemed lived only to make others laugh, it evokes an even more sense of poignancy. Though his collaborations with Kamal Hassan propelled him to a wider audience, his first love was theatre and hence this is a tribute to his theatre persona.
Today the Tamil theatre scene is a vibrant one with many troupes coming out with several interesting ventures. But, growing up in the â€˜90s, our knowledge of Tamil theatre was restricted to a few select personalities like YG Mahendra, S Ve Shekhar and Crazy Mohan. It was an era when Tamil theatre was undergoing a rough patch, with both performances and audiences dwindling due to various reasons. Watching a play in a sabha had ceased to be a regular form of entertainment and hence audio tapes of plays were primarily our window to the world of theatre. The tapes of S Ve Shekhar and Crazy Mohan were a rage and thus entered Crazy Mohan in my life.
To me, one of the primary reasons for Crazy Mohanâ€™s success as a playwright was the relatability of his characters and the situations they found themselves in. Maadhu and Cheenu could have easily been any of us. His female protagonists, Janaki (named after his teacher who first picked him for a Veerapandia Kattabomman play while in school) and Mythili were perfect representations of women with simple desires in life. Be it the barber in Marriage Made in Saloon (later adapted by K Balachander on screen as Poikkal Kudhirai) or the milkman or the office manager whose relationship with Maadhu went beyond the realm of official duties, his characters were the epitome of an era when life was simple and almost everyone knew everyone else. The same set of characters repeated themselves play after play but there was never a sense of dÃ©jÃ vu, as he kept inventing ways to ensure that the humour tap never ran dry.
Crazy Mohan always credited his upbringing in a big joint family where he got to observe various characters around him as a major influence in his writing style. Though I am not sure, I have a strong suspicion that the tailor Babarao who appeared in the evergreen comedy Ayya Amma Ammamma that he wrote for theatre veteran Kathadi Ramamurthy was inspired by a business of the same name that exists to this day near his residence in Mandaveli.
An extremely well-read person, Mohan considered the likes of PG Wodehouse, Kalki and Devan as his favourites. His troupe Crazy Creations was majorly made up of childhood friends. Crazy Mohan often referred fondly to their bond and camaraderie of several decades which reflected in the performances. I remember he once remarked that even if Marlon Brando wanted to join Crazy Creations, he first had to be friends with them for some time before he could be considered eligible for admission!
One of Crazy Mohanâ€™s biggest strengths was his wordplay, which extended even to routine conversations offstage. I can recollect a particular instance in a small function that was held in the interval of a show of his superhit Chocolate Krishna at the then newly renovated Sir Pitty Thyagaraya Hall in T Nagar. The event was presided over by M Subramaniam, then the Mayor of Chennai. In his address, Crazy Mohan remarked that it was in the fitness of things that the Mayor was in the hall to witness the play, as Lord Krishna could be considered the first mayor in the world, punning on the wordâ€™s meaning in Tamil which denoted his role as a cattle herder! The audience were in splits at this brilliant wordplay.
On a personal note, Crazy Mohan was instrumental in introducing Chennai Drama House, the troupe a group of us had started in 2008, to Tamil theatre. It was his introductory call to Kartik Fine Arts that paved the way for our first ever performance opportunity. Though he could watch only our first production thanks to his busy theatre commitments, we shall forever remember his keen interest in our progress and constant words of encouragement whenever we met him. Vivek Rajagopal, our playwright, credits Crazy Mohan as being a tremendous inspiration and one of the key reasons for his interest in writing.
The heavens must now be reverberating with laughter at Crazy Mohanâ€™s one-liners, but sadly the joke is on us.
R.I.P sir. You live on in our midst in the form of the hilarity your evergreen writing evokes for a long time to come.
Karthik A Bhatt is a Chartered Accountant and amateur Tamil theatre artiste.