If there was a person outside my immediate family whom I’ve known from the time I was in the cradle, it will have to be Crazy Mohan. He would always introduce me as the kid who knew his plays by-heart from the age of three. And it was the truth. Mohan as I would fondly grow up to take the liberty to address him later on, was my introduction to theatre, creative writing and humour. I was perhaps one of the few who was witness to his creative process and let me tell you he was a laborious writer and would never stop at the first joke on hand but instead would rehearse the dialogues of all his characters till he arrived at the THE punch. He was also a walking-talking guide on “How to be child-like irrespective of your age”. His simple living and chilled out smile always welcomed me each time I would visit his warm household. Mohan also described himself as someone who could do only one task a day—if he had a play in the evening, his mornings would be spent in a nice, long siesta. Or so he would claim.
Mohan lived a life which embodied the word JOY. I have seldom seen him get “angry” or “in a rage” even when things didn’t go all that well. He was not a big risk taker but he was also not greedy. His middle class values paved the way for how he conducted his career and life in an uniformly non-chaotic manner. We both came from similar joint-families in Mylapore. I was told that his grandfather and my grandmother were second cousins. I grew up hearing stories of how Mohan would come to our house in Arisikaran street (now KP South Street) and sit for hours in our “radio room” (not the hip pub we all know now but what was called the living room in Agraharams where the gramophone record player would be “seated” amidst plush sofas) listening to the LP records of the feature film Kadhalikka Neramillai. Mohan would always thank my grandmother for letting him get away with the record as well, as that film laid the foundation for his humour writing he said.
Mohan was the guiding star for someone like me, whose film interests has traversed many a mile now. He was the one who encouraged me to write on topics I cared about. For all the child like humour and jokes that fell like dozens on a dime, Mohan likes reading serious writing and was a fan of poetry (and a poet himself) and loved paintings (was an artist himself). He told me to participate in a magazine’s editorial competition and enabled me to meet the editors there so I can hone my writing skills. My first shooting spot experience as an adult was on one of his plays which got made as a comedy series for a satellite network. My first “film outing” on a shoot where I got interviewing actors was also on a film he wrote.
Mohan was a voracious writer. He was capable of writing huge chunks of dialogue led situational humour, which was an unequivocal skill amongst his peers. His humour was pure and sans any “message of sorts”. His regular banter at home would be filled with repartees as his household had a humorist who enjoyed every line Mohan wrote as if it were his own! That humorist was Mohan’s illustrious grandfather whose demise was met with a philosophical understanding from Mohan, whose goofball humour he retained.
Hospitality, warmth and genuine affection welcomed anyone who walked into Crazy Mohan’s household. His wife Nalini is the epitome of grace and his brother Madhu Balaji extended Mohan’s affection towards me and I would always be welcome to all their plays in a seat specially reserved for me – the special seat was a wooden chair on the aisle near the screens. It is a very different experience watching a drama unfold from the sidelines. Every actor in Crazy Creations has walked past me as I watched them bring in the laughs through my wonder struck teenager eyes. Crazy Mohan had a habit of “looking out” for the audience before the play began. I asked him once why he was peering through the screens to see whom in particular? And he said, “no I’m just assessing from which side of the audience the claps would fall for which joke.” And on more than one occasion, the applause would be an all-round one for almost the whole play!
According to me Crazy Mohan loved playing one role the most and it was indeed his best acting ever. He revelled in being Chocolate Krishna. In this role as Lord Krishna, Mohan brought forth his “mazhalai maaraadha manasu” (a childlike innocent mind) as Kamalhaasan wrote in his tribute today. The childlike mind which wrote more than 25 plays, 10 super hits to count with his lucky humour mate Kamalhaasan and wrote one Venpa a day (classical form of Tamil poetry) along with painting a portrait every two weeks, now lies at rest. Albeit too early maybe?
Crazy Mohan was not a loud, in your face film personality who would keep reminding you of his laurels. Instead he was great company even for a teenager who had a story to tell. He was a patient listener and a lovely recounter who would narrate even the dullest of stories in an exaggerated yet believable manner, much like how his scenes flowed in his films. He knew which line would make his audience laugh. And it was no calculation on his part – it was sheer innate intelligence combined with a joyful charm and wit that could regale both theatre and film fans alike.
Characters and dialogues were Mohan’s forte which found the perfect story and screenplay partnership beginning from Kamal Haasan’s Aboorva Sagodarargal, which was the first film for this rock solid combination, whose off screen rapport is also legendary. To think that Mohan and Kamal Haasan met when the latter was filming a scene at the Mandaveli crematorium is but an irony. Two creative minds began a successful journey at a place which was known for endings.
Mohan’s legacy is one which will be endless and live long after this day, when he passes on. His is a legacy which keeps him right at the beginning of the Hall of Fame which houses very few great minds in this world who were known for making you and me laugh.
So long Crazy Mohan! Thank you for showing me what it is to be childlike always.