35 years of Apoorva Sagodharargal: The start of the Kamal & Crazy Mohan laugh riot

Kamal and Crazy Mohan’s is one of the most endearing actor-writer partnerships in Tamil cinema. It started with ‘Apoorva Sagodharargal’, a super duper hit film that hit theatres on this day, 35 years ago.
Kamal and Crazy Mohan’s partnership started with ‘Apoorva Sagodharargal’ in 1989
Kamal and Crazy Mohan’s partnership started with ‘Apoorva Sagodharargal’ in 1989
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Apoorva Sagodharargal, Michael Madana Kama Rajan, Panchathanthiram, Avvai Shanmugi, and Vasool Raja MBBS. What is common among all these films? The obvious one is that these are all Kamal Haasan’s films. Then, they are also among the most memorable films in his entire filmography. They are all full-length comedy films that all ages can watch. Finally, the other important commonality is that the dialogues for all these films were written by the late Crazy Mohan. This partnership between Kamal and Mohan is one of the most endearing actor-writer partnerships in Tamil cinema. It started with Apoorva Sagodharargal, a super duper hit film that hit theatres on this day, 35 years ago.

Incidentally, it was not Kamal who introduced Mohan as a writer in films. That credit goes to the veteran director K Balachander, who brought in Mohan to write for his film Poikaal Kudhirai, which was adapted from Mohan’s hilarious stage comedy – Marriage Made in Saloon!

In the post-Nayakan era, when Kamal came on his own not just as an actor but as a filmmaker who put a premium on the choice of his projects, he partnered with a lot of talented individuals across disciplines and with some, for multiple films. But in my opinion, two of his partnerships have worked successfully and beautifully over a long period. One is with Ilaiyaraaja as a music director and the other is with Crazy Mohan as a writer for his films. The numbers speak for themselves. Out of the 40-odd films Kamal has done since 1989, Mohan has written the dialogues for 12 films and needless to add, most of them have been hits. In all, Mohan wrote dialogues for over 30 films in his career of which a third was for Kamal.

Revival of full-length comedies

Kamal’s partnership with Mohan made him own the genre of full-length comedies in Tamil cinema post the 90s, with bumper hits in this genre like Michael Madana Kama Rajan, Panchathanthiram, Avvai Shanmugi, and so on. I would even go to the extent of saying that the credit for the revival of full-length comedy films in Tamil cinema goes to the Kamal-Mohan duo. In Tamil cinema till the 80s, such films, largely helmed by directors like Sridhar and Balachander, would keep hitting the screens at regular intervals. However, the 80s saw a vacuum of comedy films and comedy was relegated to being just separate tracks in films. But after the successful partnership with Mohan in Apoorva Sagodharargal in 1989, Kamal made it a habit to work with Mohan on a comedy film after every few films of other genres. So, a serious citizen vigilante film like Indian was followed by Avvai Shanmugi and a rib-tickling comedy like Pammal K Sambandam followed a full-on action film like Aalavandhan and so on.

In trade circles, it was also said that Kamal often went on to sign up for comedy films with Crazy Mohan as the writer to make up for the losses accumulated from his previous own production ventures that were generally risky and experimental in nature. A comedy film from Kamal, that too with Mohan as the writer, was seen as a sure shot hit at the box-office. Be that as it may, Kamal-Mohan films, irrespective of who the director was, came as comic relief at regular intervals in the period for almost two decades since 1989.

When Kamal and Mohan came together, it was a double talent on display. It needed a talent like Mohan to bring out the comical side of Kamal’s acting, not seen often until then. Of course, Kamal could take it to another level with his natural flair as we saw with the Kameswaran character in Michael Madana Kama Rajan. No other Tamil hero could have amplified Mohan’s lines in that role like Kamal did in that ‘Talayalam’ accent and body language.

Crazy Mohan’s unique brand of humour

Even from his playwright days, Mohan was known for his non-stop humour style, playing with puns and rhymes. This is what he brought into movies like Panchathanthiram, Vasool Raja MBBS, Pammal K Sambandam, and the like. Who can ever forget the almost two-minute long “Munaala, pinnaala...” sequence in Panchathanthiram? The amazing part is there are seven characters in that scene, including the cop and Nagesh, and every character has a line with the Munnaala/Pinnaala phrase! Apart from just plain writing skills, one needs to be quite clever to come up with lines as often as Mohan did.

It was not that Mohan was only writing for Kamal’s films exclusively. He also wrote for many other actors including Prabhu, Sathyaraj, and even one for Superstar Rajinikanth (Arunachalam), and some of them have been box-office hits as well. Aahaa and Chinna Maapillai are some non-Kamal films that come to mind. However, it is the films that Mohan wrote for Kamal that have high repeat value and seem to appeal even today to all generations, decades after release.

Kamal recognised the writing talent in Mohan and used him judiciously. Typically, Kamal used Mohan’s services whenever the script called for comical situations arising out of mistaken identities and the ensuing confusion. Mohan was an expert in creating and resolving these situations – often in his plays – for years. So, whether it was films like Panchathanthiram or Avvai Shanmugi, where the mandate was to create a laugh by the minute, or films that had situational comedy amidst serious happenings such as Indran Chandran or Manmadhan Ambu, it was Mohan that Kamal turned to.

In Tamil cinema, after the era of writers like Chitralaya Gopu who wrote classic comedies like Kadhalikka Neramillai and Galatta Kalyanam, Cho Ramaswamy, and later Visu, there was a dearth of writers who could write full-length comedies. This is the gap that Mohan filled after almost a decade when he debuted in Balachander’s Poikkal Kuthirai.

I feel that with the untimely and unfortunate death of Crazy Mohan in 2019, Kamal is missing a genuine comedy writer. Manmadhan Ambu was the last film from the duo. Kamal has not acted in a comedy caper after that. In the last few years, full-length comedy as a genre has been missing from his repertoire. It’s all been dark, serious or action-oriented films like Viswaroopam, Thoongavanam, Vikram, etc. More than Kamal, as audiences, we certainly miss non-stop laugh riots like a Sathi Leelavathy or a Thenali, both from the Kamal-Mohan combo.

Comedy films in the post-Mohan era are largely in the dark comedy space or horror space (like the Aranmanai series). We genuinely miss films that played up witty lines, puns, and the comedy of errors genre that Mohan perfected with his writing and Kamal with his performance, and they both jointly aced.

In Apoorva Sagodharargal, a cab driver asks Appu, “Meterukku mela pottu kudunga saar!” to which Appu replies, “Meterukku melayaa? Naane meterukku keela thaanya irukken!”

We may not get to hear such lines that evoke a wry smile again, but they are etched in our collective memories forever.

There has been no better actor-comedy-writer combo than Kamal-Mohan in Tamil cinema, munnaala and pinnaala (before and after)!

Anand Kumar RS is a management professional by week and avid blogger by weekend. He writes on politics, business and films.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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