OR Crazy Must Be God.
This post is a week overdue. Between reading and travelling and shopping, I don’t get much time to come online. Yay for that.
So I was a tad pissed two weeks back. Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood were performing in Bangalore, and entry was by ‘Invite Only’… only, the invites weren’t quite open to public. Adding salt to my wounds was that my friends in Calcutta snagged tickets for the same show… it was only in Bangalore that there was some kirrick happening which made the show more of a private party.
And then Amma pointed to an ad in the paper about Crazy Mohan performing his play Chocolate Krishna at Chowdiah on Sunday. I called the number in the ad. They said they had tickets available, which I immediately blocked. After I’d made doubly, triply, quadruply sure that I have the tickets (the lady on the other end got rather flustered just telling me my tickets weren’t going anywhere), I said ‘Gah! Who needs Colin and Brad when I have Crazy Mohan and Maadhu Balaji for six hours straight”. And grinned ear to ear.
Flashback a year. Crazy Mohan was performing Chocolate Krishna at Gayana Samaj. On a Sunday. Gayana Samaj’s phone number was out of order. And the website to book tickets was malfunctioning. And, most importantly, I was stuck debugging code until 11 pm on Saturday night. I’d missed that performance. And felt very bad.
Flashback twenty-odd years. I was a toddler. The entire clan was out for a movie, me in Amma’s arms. That was the first-ever movie I’d watched. I didn’t really follow anything, given that I barely had learned to speak… but I laugh at those jokes even today. Kamal Haasan in four roles. Mentally-ill industrialist. Sneaky secretaries. Cases of mistaken identity, aaL-maarattam. Confusion. Madness. Chaos. In other words, CrazyMohan-ness. Loved it.
Flashback fifteen-odd years. This time, it’s my sister who’s the first-time moviegoer. Kamal Haasan again, this time in two roles. Lovelorn landlords, lovelorn industrialists. Sneaky secretaries. Sticky-fingered household help. Drunk makeup artistes. Iyer-ness. In sum, CrazyMohan-ness. Totally loved it.
For the uninitiated, Crazy Mohan (Sometimes credited as ‘Gracy’ Mohan, in true Tamizh tradition of muddling up ‘ka’/’ga and ‘cha’/’ja’ and ‘tha/dha’) is a scriptwriter in the Tamil film industry. He has to his credit a lot of films like Arunachalam, Little John, Magalir Mattum and Indran Chandran, but he is known best for his comedies starring Kamal Haasan – Thenali, Michael Madana Kaamarajan, Panchatantiram, Sathi Leelavathi, Avvai Shanmughi… basically every damn movie which when relayed on TV stops all fights for the remote between my sister and I.
With his group Crazy Creations, he stages plays, which someone like me who’s living outside of Tamil Nadu knows about only because the stories get adapted and relayed on TV… they used to make for rather popular TV shows.
So when they were promoting Chocolate Krishna on Coffee with Anu, we all watched with rapt attention. A rather fun bunch of people, sharing anecdotes about each other. And then an interview of Mr. Mohan himself.
I didn’t know till then that he was an engineer too. Back then, when I was still wondering about what to do in life and whether engineering, even of the software sort suited me, it struck a chord with me. [And no, the fact that Chetan Bhagat is an engineer doesn’t do anything to me].
So you sort of get why I was all excited about going to this live performance…. this was someone I’d been worshipping since my first taste of celluloid. The reasons stretch to more than just that he was a funny engineer. I’ll come to those a while later.
Malleswaram is on an average day full of people in Iyengar naamam and Hebbar Iyengar Tamizh [this is a tongue which uses the grammatical structure and sentence endings of Tamil, with most of the vocabulary being Kannada. Like “En magan-ku kaayle bandhudtu” or “Paath-kond vaa ma, neeru challidum”], but today was exceptional. More Tambrahms than you would find at the Srirangam temple on Vaikunta Ekadashi.
And for good reason. From what I’ve seen, Tambrahms form an integral part of Crazy Mohan’s fanbase. Not only is it because of the sort of language he uses, or the subjects he picks, but also because he is one of the very, very few scriptwriters who portrays Tambrahms as actual people. Most others choose to vilify us, highlight and lampoon and parody our customs, language and social structure, mostly going to the extent of highly exaggerating and manufacturing the ills of our community. Crazy Mohan on the other hand portrays us as People. People with the usual ups and downs and quirks and lovableness. For once, we don’t have to see a Tambrahm on screen as a vile bastard poisoning the villain’s mind, or a wicked witch looking down upon (and/or torturing) people of ‘lower’ castes, or sneakily eating meat. And hence, if there’s a Rangachari or Swaminathan in a movie where Crazy Mohan’s the scriptwriter, we can be more than confident of it being a portrayal we are comfortable with, not one where we look away bashfully when others look quizzically at us, wondering if all non-Brahm women who marry into Tambrahm households are routinely tortured, or if we all routinely practice untouchability with the household help.
It is however not just casteism that drives us all to set aside a Saturday afternoon whenever a film of his releases. Atleast not me…. his brand of humour with vile puns and wordplay is something I myself practice, possibly as a side-effect of watching his movies religiously for years and years.
But unlike me, he doesn’t stop with that. A typical Crazy Mohan story will have atleast a dozen convolutions, two dozen absurd situations which you will totally not buy if it was any other movie, and layers and layers of jokes a new one of which you’ll unravel with every time you watch the movie. And watch it repeatedly you will… the whole experience is extremely feel-good.
No other scriptwriter can convince you that three grown men will be in contention for a wizened lady well past her prime. No other scriptwriter can subtly put it across with dollops of humour that you need to put your wife above your friends. No other scriptwriter can make the saga of a husband jealous of his wife’s male friend (due to, of course, mistaken identities and two-three people with the same names) so funny that you cruelly want to watch him fall flat on his face when he discovers that his wife is not actually cheating on him; it’s just that the male friend’s girlfriend has the same name as his wife.
The most absurd lines sound so in-place and in-character in his scripts. Like when someone says “This is my son Uppili”, the other guy awkwardly asks “So… you married Uppili’s mother”. Or when someone enthusiastically says “Maadhu, Janaki writes a lot of Letters to the Editor… have you read any of them?”, and Maadhu replies with an earnest “I don’t read letters meant for others”, you are more inclined to laugh than to dismiss the exchange as lame.
And the best part is all the humour is all-inclusive. Never once do you feel any of the humour is at the expense of any person or groups of people. Or something you have to be above a certain age to fully appreciate. No double-meaning, no bait-and-switch… though that’d be so easy to do to draw some laughs. He actually takes the trouble to go back to the basics to provide some laughs.
Due to which a lot of his themes are very recurrent. A lot of his jokes are, too. When I got back from watching Chocolate Krishna and looked on Youtube for more of his stuff, I came across many different episodes with the same jokes as I’d heard that evening. The basic stories he works on too are reused often, with minor tweaks and edits here and there.
I’m not complaining, though. It’s nice to watch the same old Marriage Made in Saloon or Maadhu+2 refurbished. We all know the basic story, so we set those worries aside and concentrate on the jokes they slip in, the way the plot is adapted for changing times, and the minor tweaks they make that pleasantly surprise us.
One thing I deeply admire Crazy Mohan for is his ability to deal with even the most serious subjects and tragicky endings with a lighthearted style. I remember this one story where two doppelgangers vie for the affections of the same woman. The tragic ending was that this lady falls victim to a terminal illness when both the men say they’ll ‘sacrifice’ her for the other and she dies alone. While this would ordinarily have been depressing coming at the end of a story full of funny antics at outdoing the other, with Crazy Mohan’s treatment it took on a rather hilarious tone – the disease she suffers from is a ‘headache in the foot’ or something similar, and the two doppelgangers pretending to be the other. He however gave a ‘happy ending’, where there turns out to be a doppelganger of the lady too!
That was a minor episode for TV…. but Avvai Shanmughi was a take on divorce, Sathi Leelavathi about extra-marital affairs… remember the deep dialogues between Kamal Haasan and Heera Rajagopal where he gently points out that her boyfriend treats her as just a ‘keep’, he never takes her out to public places or official or family gatherings… and asks if she really wants to go on living like this.
The thing is, he never dwells on those bits for too long… it’s the sort of thing you’ll think about if you want to. And ignore it and laugh if you aren’t in the mood to. Not in-your-face, not provocative. Just a feel-good experience for everyone.
Back to Chocolate Krishna, the plot here wasn’t as convoluted and tangled as his usual plotlines. You could say it was low on story. He didn’t however scrimp on jokes. It was, as promised, 100 jokes in 100 minutes. Which were all so tautly woven into the plot that it makes ill sense to try reproduce those here. In any Crazy Mohan play, there is one scene where half the people there know what’s happening and the the other half don’t, and those in the know are trying to not be found out, which leads to a scene full of pun and wordplay. There was one such scene here too, but compared to his repertoire, it left a lot to be desired. But it was not any less funny, mind you.
All in all, Chocolate Krishna is certainly not one of Crazy Creations’ best work. It however is great to see them back and touring, giving us all a teaser of possibly awesomer work coming up next.
I sadly couldn’t stay on for another three hours to watch their Jurassic Baby…. quite possible that was their awesomer work.
However – this is the best part – I did get to speak to some of the cast, most notably Neelakantan – the old man who plays all the grandfather and astrologer roles. I told him I rather enjoy his clueless-looking performances in movies and on TV, and he talked to me like he would to a grandchild, even saying “Vaa kozhandhai…”… god, it’s rather long since someone said that to me!
And, even better, I did get to speak to Crazy Mohan. Rather a friendly person… he posed for like a zillion photographs with fans. I of course did a brilliant job of carrying along only my useless mobile camera, and didn’t even have a sheet of paper to ask for an autograph on. I think I was one of the very few who did more than just pose for pics with him… he’s rather a delight to talk to, though apparently he’s quite a shy and serious person in real life. I told him about the longtimeFan-ness and the *respect* that I automatically accord with all my heart to any engineer who writes brilliantly, which I mainly reserve for him and the late Sujatha, mainly coz I try to write too, and attempt at humour which is a pale imitation of his, but my ability to come up with strong stories and/or translate a solid story idea into something readable leaves a lot to be desired. He said I could write to him…. (which of course I had no time to do over the past week).
I’m still grinning widely at that memory. And will do so for a long time to come. It’s not everyday that you get to meet your idol. I’m sure I wouldn’t be so starry-eyed if I lived in Chennai and got to see his work more regularly, but the point is I’m not, and the rarity makes this whole deal all the more special for me.
On an aside… Crazy Mohan cracks kadi jokes… if he was a Gandhian, he’d be cracking khadi jokes.
Oh, and one of the jokes in the play – “What’s the difference between a Muni/Rishi and a Saamiyar?” “Kaat-la irundha Muni-var. Cot-la irundha saamiyar”. LOL-ness only.