Tamil Interviews

How A Jingle For Coconut Oil Got D Ramachandran His First Film Role At 69

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In Nerkonda Paarvai, after people have had their share of Ajith and Shraddha Srinath on screen, their attention veers invariably towards D Ramachandran, the ‘Your Honour’ in the film, who bats for justice and a progressive society. Thanks to director H Vinoth, the former Doordarshan newsreader, a theatre artiste, and a corporate man finally made his debut on the big screen, years after he first fell in love with acting.

When I call him up for an interview, Ramachandran, 69, is just back from shooting a documentary for a school for children with disabilities in Chennai. “I’ve been training a small group in choral singing for some months now, and they wanted me to be part of the documentary too,” he shares.

Trawl the internet for information about Ramachandran, and you return with little to initiate an interview with. But, the veteran newsreader puts you at ease and thinks nothing about introducing you to who he is, what he’s done, and what he’s yearned to do. Finally, I’m also able to put a face to the famous True Milk Biscuits jingle “Paal, Paal, Melum Paal”.

A scene from Chudamani

A lawyer by qualification, Ramachandran took part in a whole lot of amateur and professional theatre while in college. “I did Kavimagal, where all the dialogues were poetry, Paartha Nyabagam Illayo, Naagareegam, Petral Thaan Pillaya, Marandha Unmai, and the like till 1974,” he recollects.

And then, he decided to pursue CA. The hard work he had to put in and the corporate career that followed saw him bid goodbye to the stage. His booming voice saw him read the news on Doordarshan for 10 years, from 1978-1988, though. Among his idols was the inimitable Saroj Narayan Swami, who used to read the Tamil news on All India Radio. “I aspired to emote like her, with equanimity,” he says.

His voice was his calling card then. He did voiceovers for various products and was known for his Hamam, Horlicks, Leo Coffee, Cooptex and Asian Paints (directed by Rajiv Menon, with music by Dilip, who later became AR Rahman) jingles. In 1971, Ramachandran began as base singer at Madras Youth Choir (founded in 1970 by the late MB Srinivasan), was its Secretary for more than 45 years, and is now its Artistic Director. He has also composed about 10 choral pieces, mostly Mahakavi Subramania Bharati’s poetry.

D Ramachandran with former newsreader colleagues

He retired in 2010 as vice-president of a well-known chemical company in Tamil Nadu and struck gold in 2012 when PC Ramakrishna of The Madras Players offered him a role in his play Water, translated from Komal Swaminathan’s searing play Thaneer Thaneer. Following that, he acted in plays such as Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and Chudamani, an eponymous play that featured seven stories written by the enigmatic author (Ramachandran starred in three stories, each very different from the other).

How he landed Nerkonda Paarvai is as filmy as a story as it can get. When he was casting for the film in late 2018, director  H Vinoth was scrolling down YouTube, when one of those ‘skip ads’ caught his attention. “It was for some hair oil. I was looking for someone who could command respect, look slightly old, and have a quiver in his voice. I invited Sir for an audition, and he was a perfect fit,” says the director. Ramachandran gave his audition in the first week of December and was on board.

What has touched Ramachandran most is the feedback coming in from those known and unknown. “That I got noticed in a film with stars is gratifying. That people noticed the nuances even more so,” says Ramachandran.

All these years as an important man in a huge corporate entity, Ramachandran smiled on the outside, but his heart bore three regrets—that he was not at the Bar practicing law, that he did not continue learning Carnatic music and that he did not get back to acting. “It took 38 years for regret number three to go, from 1974 to 2012,” he says, adding, “But, over the years, I never allowed that regret to douse my passion for acting.”

He continues: “Now, I’ve made my debut at this ripe old age, and I tell my friends from the Bar that when they are still pleading their case, I’ve gone ahead and become a Judge,” he laughs.

“I’m young at heart and grateful that my health is cooperating with me too. If I get interesting roles, I’m game to perform,” says the actor.

For now, the phone calls bearing opportunities are coming in thick and fast, making up for the years of yearning in Ramachandran’s heart.

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