Dear friends in reel and real world, I must say, God continues to be extremely kind to me! A dear friend’s finger pointed to this amazing veteran, connoisseur of cinema of the ‘classic’ kind. He is none other than ‘Comedy pundit’ Chitralaya Gopu.
Most of us have at least one childhood friend who grew up with us, who knows us inside-out, like our mirror image and is the conscience outside of our soul.
Such a treasured testimony to childhood friendship is the Sridhar-Gopu combo, from when they were 10 years young!
We are fortunate indeed if such a bond extends professionally too. And that was what God ordained for this creative duo.
I’d like to request the present generation (film institute students and otherwise) to watch Kaadhalikka neram illai (No time to love), Uththaravindri ullae vaa (Enter without permission), Kaasaedhaan kadavuladaa, (Only money is God) Galatta kalyaanam (Wedding with riotous revelry), Ooty varai uravu (Bonding till Ooty)…then you’ll realize the value of our Thamizh cinema ‘that was’!!
Director Sridhar when he was offered his debut film, Kalyaana parisu (Wedding gift), made a beeline to his childhood friend and classmate, Gopu, to write the dialogs for his movie. Gopu had to decide within hours if he wanted his career graph to sky-rocket in the real or reel world!
He made the right choice…otherwise Thamizh cinema would have missed the gems written and directed by Gopu in our casket of memories. A ‘classic’ legacy to posterity.
Kalyaana Parisu was a runaway hit (Sridhar won the National award as debut director). Soon followed Thaen nilavu (Honeymoon) in 1961 and Nenjil ore aalayam (Sacred abode within the heart) in 1962. The latter shot just in 25 days won the national award again for director Sridhar.
After this, in your mind’s eye think of our 1960s Marina beach, less populated than now, a lot cleaner (I presume) with Gopu-Sridhar duo sitting under the clear blue sky, with the endless stretch of beige sand stretched before their eyes, as they discussed inside their car, their next film. It was our Gopu who suggested a full length comedy.
Sridhar was a tad reluctant, but again God’s plan for them struck gold. Fame and fortune sought them, knocking at their door.
Thus was born Kaadhalikka neramillai. With extreme modesty and a hint of pride, Gopu smiled and said, ‘This film even if it is remade today, will not hold a candle to its original.’ That combo was special and lethal.
Director Sridhar as captain of the ship, dialogs by Gopu, music by the dynamic duo legend MSV-TSR, starring Muthuraman, Ravichandran, Nagesh, Kanchana and soul stirring apt lyrics by poet-laureate Kannadasan.
On the celluloid screen Gopu saw his name appear, ‘story-dialog Sridhar-Gopu’. A small glow spread in his heart.
Usually actors traverse from stage plays to cinema. However for Gopu it was the reverse. He staged his ‘Kaasaedhaan kadavuladaa’ more than 300 times with Comedy Queen our dearest ‘Aachi’ Manorama and Muthuraman. It was here that AVM Chettiar appeared as the unexpected God father who gave Gopu the debut directorial chance. He wrote and directed what became the ‘talk of the town(s)’!
So I asked him how he managed to divide shots etc and he replied with simplicity, ‘all you need is an experienced and capable cameraman who shares your wavelength’!
Besides he had been as dialog writer in many films prior to it and observed keenly the twists and turns of film making, on the spot. A writer, he strongly believes can become a director as ‘he knows the fulcrum of the film’.
He married Kamala when he was 27. What he did not know at that time was that she was a writer too! True to those times, Kamala’s parents thought the groom would not approve of his future wife being a novelist! And decided silence was golden! She was unaware that her husband was a dialog writer until she read about it in a popular Tamil magazine!
So with a big sigh of relief she confessed to her husband, ‘I too hid the fact from you that I write novels’ This writer couple who are the proud parents of 4 sons, Srikanth, Srivatsan (alias Narasimhan) Sriram and Sridhar recently celebrated Gopu’s 80th birthday.
The last film directed by the legend Sridhar with dialogs by Gopu, ‘Thandhuvittaen ennai’ (I gave myself to you), starring Vikram and Rohini shocked the duo as it did not do well at the box office. Gopu however pragmatically said, ‘we should change with the times, maybe trend now has changed’.
That set me thinking. I’d like to quote what I heard which makes sense for our present scenario. Observes Krishnan Seshadri Gomatam, international award winning director of Mudhal Mudhal Mudhal Varai (M3V) and an ardent fan of Gopu's films that ‘focus has shifted from storytelling to screenplay now! Gopu's titles themselves told stories. Galatta Kalyanam, Uththataravindri uLLae vaa (!), Kaasaedhaan kadavuLada (!), Kaadhalikka naeramillai (!), VeLLai Manasu (Ramya Krishnan's launchpad) to name a few…’
But thanks to the shift most films today neither tell stories nor have good screenplay!
Cut back to the tête-à-tête with Gopu…
Music director V Kumar pointed the way for Gopu to the small screen. In the early 90s he directed many TV serials. At that time mega serials had not yet been ‘discovered’! To his credit are Sumathi, Koteeswariyin kaadhalan, Kalyanamay vaibhogamay, Gramaththu paravai (which was his wife’s novel Suvar)…that was when the Houston connection happened! An ardent fan of his, Anantha landed from Houston. He had bought the rights of Savi’s famous ‘Washington-il thirumanam’ (wedding at Washington) and insisted Gopu should direct the serial. With Neelu and Sachu playing the lead, Dop Sundaram, Gopu shot this serial in the U.S. in 1993.
Serials then were 13 -15 episodes only, telecast once a week. What made this an evergreen landmark in his life even today, was that he met more than 200 families while shooting in USA. And almost all of them were proud owners of DVDs of his films! In 1993!!
Gopu feels though slapstick comedy raises laughter, cinema being an entertaining media, comedy should be inter-twined with the main track and appear in the form of incidents. Term coined by him is ‘incidental comedy’. Under the pretext of commercial cinema, he feels a separate comedy track does not augur well for a neatly tailored script, embroidered with frills and fancies.
He has written for a galaxy of (comedians) stars from Sarangapani, T.R.Ramachandran, Thangavelu, Chandrababu, Manorama, Nagesh, Thengai Srinivasan, Y.G.Mahendra to Goundamani and Sendhil. He believes strongly that South Indian comedy streak runs into the veins of all the viewers. Gopu, a self-made gentleman, stayed in a rented house (father-in-law’s house) in Thiruvallikeni (‘the Triplicane then’ he is so fond of) and later got to buy the same house! His wife feels the Grace of Sri Parthasarathy Perumal is what keeps them contented and supremely blessed as a happy couple.
As in ‘a gene to inherit’ from both sides, Sriram has got the writing bug from his parents. He is currently the dialog writer of Aaha the mega (ad)venture directed by none other than Suresh Krissna who directed the film called Aaha!
Same gene found its way to proliferate in Narasimhan who has penned many historical novels, Kaalachakkaram, Sangathaara, Rangaraatinam.
Why I specifically wanted to share this octogenarian’s life story is…very often we think ‘I did it’…but in reality, it is a perfect fit of the jigsaw puzzle, ordained by God, be it Allah, Christ or Krsna (in alphabetical order)!
My apologies for referring to a person who has etched his name as ‘foot prints (films) in the immortal sands of time’ and decades older than me, by his name. Just that I felt the flow will be hindered by a Mr, sir or a ji!
And to my dear young friends, do take time off to watch these (g)old gems. Also borrow not just a few pages but a whole book from Gopu, lessons in humility. He himself contentedly says, ‘I could have made lots of money if I had wanted to. Though I didn’t, I am happy I contributed my bit to the entertainment industry’ The torch with the flame of Thamizh cinema is now in (y)our hands!
Let its glow reach every nook and corner of our world!
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