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Vol. XXIX No. 5, June 16-30, 2019
The death of one of Tamil theatre’s most renowned humourists, ‘Crazy’ Mohan truly marks the end of an era. Born in 1952, Mohan had his early education at the Raja Muthiah and P.S. High Schools before going on to acquire an engineering degree from the College of Engineering, Guindy in 1973. The writing bug caught on quite early, for he was a successful writer even when in college, winning an award for his first skit, The Great Bank Robbery in an inter-collegiate competition. Interestingly, the award was handed over by a man who would nearly fifteen years later propel him beyond the realm of theatre Kamal Hassan. The early success spurred him to write scripts for his brother Balaji’s troupe at Vivekananda College.
His first full-fledged work as a Tamil stage writer was Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam for SVe Sekhar’s troupe, Natakapriya in 1976. This play also gave him the moniker with which he would be readily identified for the rest of his life, Crazy. Three years later, Crazy Creations was founded by Mohan, Balaji and a group of friends. Till date, the troupe has staged more than 6500 shows in both India and abroad.
One of the biggest factors behind Crazy Mohan’s success was his style of writing and the relatability of the characters, who were representative of a typical middle-class family. He would often credit his upbringing in a huge joint family as an inspiration for his writing style. He was a worthy successor to one of his idols, writer Marina (C.V. Sridhar), whose works created a simple Tambrahm world full of characters whose quirkiness would spread cheer and joy with their mannerisms and interactions with others. The characters would repeat themselves over the plays albeit in different situations, a la Wodehouse, but the end result would be the same, providing the audience an evening of healthy and clean humour and give them a temporary respite from the humdrum of their daily life.
If Tamil theatre gave him his first identity, it was his journey in cinema that took him to a wider audience. His foray into cinema came about when the legendary director K. Balachander adapted his famous play Marriage Made in a Saloon into a full-fledged movie, Poikkal Kudhirai. It marked renowned lyricist Vaali’s acting debut, where he essayed the role played by Crazy Mohan in the stage version.
It is however his ventures with Kamal Hassan that Crazy Mohan is best known for today. Their collaboration gave Tamil cinema some its best comedies in recent times such as Michael Madana Kama Rajan, Sathi Leelavathi, Avvai Shanmugi, Kadhala Kadhala and Panchathanthiram. The high TRP ratings these movies draw even to this day are a testimony to his prolific humour-writing.
Two facets of his life that were overshadowed by his brilliance as a scriptwriter and playwright were his paintings and his prolific work as a writer of venbas. A keen student of Tamil literature right from his college days, he composed venbas on several divine subjects. The ones on Lord Krishna, which would be accompanied by a sketch by renowned cartoonist Keshav were much anticipated and widely shared on social media on a daily basis. According to his family, Crazy Mohan wrote even the night before his demise and composed fifteen verses on Lord Krishna. A collection titled Ramanayanam, written on the life of the great saint Ramana Maharishi were recently set to tune and performed by Gayathri Girish.
Despite travelling abroad for theatre performances several times (including more than 150 shows in USA alone), Crazy Mohan’s heart lay in Madras and more specifically in Mylapore. In his typical fashion, he would often remark that he felt homesick even if he went to West Mambalam!
At 67, his untimely demise leaves a huge void in the lives of countless Tamil theatre and cinema lovers. In a fitting tribute to his far-reaching impact, amongst those who had gathered to pay their last respects were several fans, whose only association with him was through his art. The Tamil art scene is poorer for his passing.