I was tense. I could not afford to blow this one up. Filmmaking is a series of compromises that doesn’t show. This would.
I was sitting opposite Crazy Mohan sir in his living room. Pleasantries done, introductions made, small talk exhausted, it was time for the real deal. If he said “No”, I had no Option B. I narrated the story outline of Kalyana Samayal Saadham and explained the special cameo we wanted him to do.
Much to my relief, he loved the story and accepted to be a part of my debut Tamil film without batting an eyelid. The role was that of the doctor who would advise the protagonist Raghu that in English his condition was called “Stress Induced Erectile Dysfunction” and, in Tamil – an awkward pause – “never mind!”
Who better than Crazy Mohan to mouth that important “message” and not make it preachy, but funny and real?
Antonio Salieri asks in Amadeus, the Milos Forman masterpiece, “Does genius show on the face?” Would he be able to guess who Mozart was from among the huge crowd gathered?
Mohan sir was the antithesis of Genius as Eccentricity. He was more the genius next door. He looked like any one of my relatives, behaved like them. He even chewed paan like my father!
That was what was unusual about him. His usualness. Still holding on to his middle class, joint family traditions and yet blessed with a mastery over humour like very few in India.
Mohan Sir was always sweet, respectful and generous in giving away his ideas. He gave me a brilliant idea, an alternative for the climax of Kalyana Samayal Saadham I had written.
“Raghu and Meera enter the First Night room. Their relatives and friends are curious and anxious for the outcome, quite like a Cricket Match Final. Suddenly we hear the scream of a woman from inside the room, played over the anxious faces. The scene cuts, the scream continues and we have a card saying 9 months later. The scream is actually that of Meera now in advanced labour pain as she tries pushing her baby out, Raghu next to her, equally tense but overjoyed.”
He had played with audience perception, given a visual and audio gag in line with the movie’s theme and style and yet had made it philosophical. You thought it was an orgasming woman, and squirmed? Nah! It was a woman becoming a mother!
For those who equate Crazy Mohan with word play and dialogue gags, here is just one example of his brilliance as a screenwriter. Writing with only visuals and sound, and not dialogue.
Months later, on set, I was amazed to see he had jotted down some 10 additional gags and jokes on my scene paper, complete with set up-payoff cues. Now, I am in trouble, I thought. There goes the Legend, mutilating my baby.
I could not have been more wrong. He began running me through the gags, but sensing my lack of enthusiasm for the first two, immediately stopped to reassure me. “You are the director. Pick what you like. Throw away what you don’t. These are just some of my ideas.” My respect for the person grew.
Buried in them was a line which I felt would become the best line of the movie, defining every single thing about the film at all levels.
“Onakku problem enna theriyuma. Nee china vishayathai perusa panna paakare!” (Your problem is you are trying to make a big issue of something very small.)
This, I jumped on, along with two other lines which I loved and felt would fit the scene and the film as a whole.
I was a kid, and here was Santa Claus letting me pick and choose from his many gifts. Such was the man’s generosity.
There was something else I found very endearing. To pop in a paan (betel leaf) or not to, seemed to be a critical decision that occupied significant time in his mind. He did not want us to be inconvenienced – the sight of a whole crew waiting for him to finish chewing his paan and spit it out would be too much, er, performance pressure on him, I suppose. At the same time, it would be a travesty and injustice to the paan if he popped one in and an AD walked in a second later with “Shot Ready sir!” Out would go a juicy paan, unused.
Amicable solutions exist.
“Oru 15 minutes irukumaa shotuku? If you have 15 minutes for the shot to start, I will have my paan. Else will do it after the shot. No worries.”
We would have happily made a separate call sheet for his paan routine! “Call sheet aen, full sheetae pannirupom,” to use his style!
His Michael Madana Kamarajan is a timeless classic that served as the Holy Book guiding us through the making of Kalyana Samayal Saadham. Rarely did a day go by without us referencing a line or a scene from that classic, on set.
I owe a large portion of my school days’ happy memories to Crazy Mohan sir. I was always on stage with a small troupe of friends and we would stage skits, which were a “medley” of lines and scenes from his various plays that we would have heard a million times as audio cassette recordings. Shamless rip-offs, in other words.
Crazy Mohan Sir had unknowingly made us heroes on stage those days, at least until the other kids too started buying those cassettes and our scam was exposed.
With his untimely passing, a whole era of Tamil cinema and stage plays has ended. Reams will be written about him, his contributions and how much happiness he brought to our mundane, stressed-out lives.
This is just another fanboy trying in vain to get over the grief by talking about what he meant to him.
Sir, Thank you for everything!
But above all, thank you for this: breaking the stereotype of Genius as someone on a pedestal, someone different from us mere mortals, often using his or her genius as excuse for snobbery and rudeness. You were kind, polite to a fault and forever encouraging kids to have their way, letting them be “directors” and “writers” in your presence. Even if they are but your students.
You showed us that Genius is hard work. That the middle class joint family that you so loved and were a part of, could be such a treasure trove of laughs and insights, when seen through your “Crazy” lens.
Thank you for everything sir. The heavens will be a lighter place now.
And do pop in your paan with delight. We will wait for your shot sir, no hurry.
Filmmaker R S Prasanna debuted with the romcom Kalyaan Samayal Saadham (2013) in Tamil, featuring a cameo by Crazy Mohan. His adaption of the same in Hindi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, was a run away success in 2017. He is now busy developing his next Hindi outing as director, for Sid Roy Kapur’s RKF banner. This article is a Silverscreen exclusive.
RS Prasanna Feature image credit: Hindustan Times/Getty images