“Achi” Manorama, veteran Tamil actress and comedian died at a private hospital in Chennai yesterday. She was 78, and is survived by her son Bhoopathy.
Manorama was born Gopishantha in Mannargudi. She started her career as an actress in SS Rajendran’s drama troupe, the SSR Nataka Mandram using the stage name Manorama. She started out as a singer in stage dramas, and her first big break came when the lead actress in a play was unable to take the stage. Manorama stepped in, marking the beginning of a prolific acting career.
After hundreds of performances in plays, Manorama made her film debut in 1958 in Kavignar Kannadasan’s Maalayitta Mangai. Kannadasan, who had chanced upon one of her performances, convinced the then 13-year-old Manorama to act as a comedian in his movie, telling her that if she did the role, she “would come up in life.”
Later, in an interview to the Hindu, Manorama recalled, “Today his words have come true. I owe my career to him. Kadavul (God) has been kind to me.”
The film is best remembered for the brilliant Senthamizh Thenmozhiyaal, sung by TR Mahalingam in MS Viswanathan’s music.
In the next decade, Manorama did primarily comedies. Her movies with comedian Nagesh including Madras to Pondicherry and Ethir Neechal were notable hits. In 1964, Manorama married SM Ramanathan, who used to run a drama troupe she was part of. The marriage was short lived, and the pair divorced right after the birth of a son, Bhoopathy. She did not marry again. A bitter Manorama accused her husband of marrying her only to get her to be an unpaid employee of his troupe.
After her failed marriage, Manorama continued to act as a comedian. Later in the decade, her popularity was cemented by her role as Jil Jil Ramamani in the superhit Thillana Mohanambal, which starred Sivaji Ganesan and Padmini. The movie, Manorama would later say, was the first to prove to people that she was no mere comedian.
The eighties and nineties saw Manorama becoming prolific, acting in more than two films a month. She transitioned from comedian to character actor, and was a fixture in most Tamil movies. She specialized in playing the teary, wounded mother to several heroes, acquiring a reputation for melodramatic portrayals. But she was as capable of subtlety as she was of over-the-top drama; her nuanced roles in several Kamalhassan movies in the 90s are evidence of her versatility as an actor . Her performances in Apoorva Sagotharargal, where she played Kamal Hassan’s mother; and Michael Madana Kamarajan, where she played a woman trying to get her daughter married to a multi-millionaire are landmarks in a storied career.
Manorama had a unique voice – loud, slightly nasal and very well-known. Honed by years of stage plays, her dialogue delivery was impeccable, and she could switch Tamil dialects with ease. Sivaji Ganesan, veteran actor, once said that there was nobody better than her at Tamil dialects. She used her voice to sing the occasional film song. Her biggest hit remains the quirky “Vaa Vaathiyare Oootanda” from Bommalattam. Written in Madras Baashai, the catchy Jaam Bajaar Jakku/Naan Saidapettai Kokku line from the song made it an instant superhit.
Manorama has been ailing over the last two years, and has been hospitalized multiple times. In early 2015, she was even the victim of a death-hoax. But after a reclusive few months, she had begun to make public appearances again. Her last appearance was at a meet organized by the cinema journalist’s association on October 2nd. Addressing the journalists and her ‘dear brother Kamalhassan’, she said, “I am so happy I got to talk to all of you. If I had to die now, I’ll die happy.”
Senthamizh Thenmozhiyaal Video Song: