Some years ago, when Crazy Mohan was touring the US with his troupe, the audience got to listen to an impromptu speech by the veteran humorist and playwright. Before the play began, he spoke for 15-20 minutes, about his US experiences — amongst other things, his struggle to figure out the hot and cold faucets in the hotel bathroom. This was essentially Crazy Mohan performing an impromptu standup set, before it was even a thing in India. Later on, while chatting up fans, he saw a video cameraman shooting him from all angles, and could not but resist saying, “Ennaya, appothle irindhu aarathi edunthindurikke”.
That’s the thing with Mohan. This could have well have been a movie dialogue that most remember today. In fact, there was something similar in Sathi Leelavathi, where Kamal’s character tells the wife that their son, who is fond of videography, was probably a snake in his previous incarnation, because he was fond of “padam edukarthu”.
Crazy Mohan was spontaneously funny and self-deprecating – to laugh at himself and make people laugh were ingrained in his persona. And that is why the sadness about Mr. Mohan’s death is just as quickly taken over by guilty laughter when people watch his memorable work in tribute. For children of the millennium, his Chocolate Krishna was where they learnt to channel their laughter, where they knew they could meet a deity in person, and he was just as funny off stage as he was on it.
Crazy Mohan’s writing channeled middle-class South India and how it lives. The humour was decidedly upper class and relied heavily on the tropes of the Tamil Brahmin community, but within these familiar bounds, Mohan was an original. His humour was like no other, using wordplay and oddball situations to telling effect. He made a departure in Balu Mahendra’s Sathi Leelavathi, wielding the Kongu dialect like a pro. Mohan eschewed body shaming, and rarely traded insults. His humour never made you wince. Word play, puns and the itch (happily for us) to hunt the humour in a situation was what endeared him to both the theatre and movie going crowd.
If Kamal Haasan and he were brothers-in-humour, with the star providing him a larger canvas to paint his wordplay on, Mr Mohan gave Kamal his more memorable lines, movies that relied on the strength of his dialogues, and scenes that will live on forever.
He also wrote for others, including for the film Ratchagan, which starred the other gentleman who passed on today, Girish Karnad. He acted too, most notably as the friendly sexologist in Kalyana Samayal Saadham who hands out a stress ball, but not without a pun: “the ball is in your court”.
Among the first visitors to Mr Mohan’s house to pay his respects was Goundamani, the man of the masses in the 90s. They could not be more different, but Mr. Mohan admired what Goundamani had achieved with Senthil. “We have a snobbish attitude. If Goundamani and Senthil do a comedy bit about smashing a cake on each other’s faces, we disregard it as rustic and tasteless. But if the same bit is done by Laurel and Hardy, we enjoy it. Goundamani and Senthil are a very important part of Tamil comedy,” he told Scroll in an interview.
Last year saw the demise of yet another important pillar of Crazy Mohan’s troupe — Cheenu Mohan died of cardiac arrest. Hardly six months later, his mentor and friend is gone too, of the same cause.
Mohan was also a poet and a painter, having composed over 40,000 venbas (a Tamil literary form), one every single day, after seeing cartoonist-artist Keshav’s daily renditions of Krishna. And true to form, when anyone called him, he’d always say bye with a joke that left you smiling.
And if we are having trouble getting over the sadness of his death, what better way than to listen to his own advice. As he says in Kalyana Samayal Saadham, “If there’s starting trouble in a bike, you need to use the choke; in life, you need a joke to get rid of starting trouble.”