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Vol. XXVI No. 20, February 1-15, 2017

Sixty years on the stage

By Charukesi

– and fifty years of his theatre group

Kumbakonam born ‘Kathadi’ Ramamurthy is 78 now but no one will believe he is past 70. He is ever a bundle of energy both on stage and off it. Since the day he acted in Cho’s play, If I get it, the prefix ‘Kathadi’ stuck to this simple person, but versatile stage actor, Rama-murthy.

Even ‘Sambu’ Natarajan, the theatre artist who had played Devan’s Thuppariyum Sambu earlier, congratulated Kathadi when he acted as the character later and told him he fitted the role best. Kathadi’s make-up for the character, with a prominent nose, ankle-length dhoti and a coat, brought out exactly what Raju, the artist of Ananda Vikatan, drew in the beginning, which the legendary Gopulu continued to portray later in his illustrations for the successful serial.

“I have played in all the seven plays of Cho, starting from If I Get It up to Sambha-vami Yuge Yuge! says Kathadi.
As a former manager of Jenson & Nicholson’s, Kathadi sold emulsion paints to individual customers and contractors in a 9-to-5 job, but used grease paint in the green room in the evenings to regale audiences with his typical comedy and delivery of dialogues. He would never fail to get applause from the audience in almost all the scenes that he appeared in. It is a mystery whether the script writer wrote the dialogues to suit Kathadi’s style or Kathadi converted it to suit his style of delivery to make it natural.

Kathadi Ramamurthy‘Kathadi’ Ramamurthy.

S.L. Naanu, the Tamil stage playwright, always keeps a role for Kathadi, whenever he scripted a play for sabha-s in Madras and its suburbs. His Pillayar Pidikka and Neeya Naana gave ample scope to Kathadi to display his histrionic ability on the stage and evoke laughter in the audience.

In the play Ayya, Amma, Ammamma specially written for his troupe Stage Creations, the playwright Crazy Mohan exploited the full potential of Kathadi. Madras rasika-s would never forget his role as a lazy hero, who has to pass the departmental test for promotion. If the play was simply a laugh riot, it was mainly because of Kathadi. This was shown on Doordharshan several times but the audience lapped it up every time it was telecast.

It is a wonder how he memorises the lengthy dialogues and delivers them with punch, without faltering even once. His method of acting is so natural that even if the scriptwriter had written a contrived dialogue, it would sound so natural when it is delivered by Kathadi. That was the advantage of having Kathadi in any play.

Recently, he acted in the evergreen play Dowry Kalyana Vaibogamey a play by Visu, which was very popular in the 1960s. Prior to the start of the play he appealed to the audience in his own inimitable style, that he should be accepted as a 38 year old husband when the audience viewed his character.

His Padi Thaandiya Pathi and Honeymoon Couple (by Crazy Mohan) are unforgettable for their terrific humour. If humour is the basic element, the playwright takes a little liberty with the theme, as the rasika looks forward to only laughter. Normally, Tamil sabha dramas are criticised as a string of jokes, or thunukku thoranam but it is this kind of ordinary day-to-day humour that is welcomed by sabha audiences.

When the Shraddha team came up with the revolutionary idea of’ ‘mega set-unique play’, for four continuous days in one theatre, Kathadi played a pivotal role in their maiden attempt, Dhanushkodi. His style of delivery of dialogue and his body language helped enormously in the success of the play.

Kathadi is a lover of not only plays, but also Carnatic music and Bharata Natyam (His granddaughter is a Bharata Natyam artiste.). He is often seen in the front row, keenly observing what goes on the stage in the plays of others. If you ask him for his frank opinion, he would be fair in his comment. In private, he would even suggest modifications that would enhance the value of the play in terms of audience interest.

When Devan Endowments began honouring humourists, cartoonists and playwrights and actors specialising in comedy from 1997 every year till 2013 with the Devan Memorial Medal, Kathadi was chosen to be honoured on the Devan Memorial Day in 2001. Although the Managing Trustee was hospitalised, the function was conducted in the midst of a play in which Kathadi and the centenarian ‘Kalanilayam’ Naga-rajan (another awardee) were acting. Poornam Viswanathan, the veteran stage and screen actor was on hand to congratulate both.

Kathadi Ramamurthy migrated to Chennai and did his graduation in Vivekananda College, Mylapore in 1958. He has acted in many television serials and over fifty films. While his debut film was Maanavan, his roles in Parikshaikku Nera-machu and Kalyana Samayal Sadham are memorable. In his stage career spanning six decades, Kathadi had staged more than 5000 shows, of which 32 plays were by his Stage Creations, which is celebrating its golden jubilee this year.

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