June 10, 2019, is etched in ‘Maadhu’ Balaji’s mind. He was praying at Mylapore’s Karpagambal temple in the morning when he received a call from his brother, the popular playwright Crazy Mohan, who complained of stomach pain.
Within three hours, Mohan passed away, and Balaji’s world has never been the same ever since. “We had been together for 43 years and went through all ups and downs in life,” Balaji reveals, getting nostalgic. A few hours after the cremation, Balaji received a call from Kamal Haasan, a close friend and well-wisher of the comedian. “Mohan’s dialogues will live on forever, Kamal said, and insisted we continue the good work we were doing on stage.”
Within a few weeks of his demise, a Crazy Mohan play was staged, yet again, at Narada Gana Sabha.
“We wanted to carry on his legacy and keep spreading humour,” says Balaji. Four years later, he is still at it. This weekend, on the occasion of Mohan’s 71st birth anniversary celebrations, the 1100th show of Crazy Creations’ superhit play Chocolate Krishna will be staged.
Not surprisingly, Kamal Haasan will be in the audience.
This play, which had Mohan playing Krishna coming to earth to solve a middle-class man’s problems, premiered in 2008 at Narada Gana Sabha, and was aimed primarily at children. Ravishankar, a member of the troupe, plays Krishna now. “He (Ravishankar) watched all the tapes of that particular play to understand Mohan’s body language, pauses and humour, and has almost aped his mannerisms. It’s the dialogues that win.”
It’s not just Chocolate Krishna; other popular plays of the troupe such as Meesai Analum Manaivi and Maadhu +2 are still running to packed houses, despite the advent of many other forms of entertainment such as films, stand-up comedy and the ongoing World Cup 2023. “Even today’s generation wants to watch our humour in person. There is no vulgarity, politics or body-shaming in our plays, unlike some popular stand-up comic acts today. The characters are relatable to many, which is why they have stood the test of time,” says Balaji, who also acknowledges director SB Khanthan’s contribution and other old-time members of the troupe for their support.
In the shadows
Balaji might be his real name but everyone calls him ‘Maadhu’, a name that was originally inspired by Nagesh’s character in 1968 classic Edhir Neechal. While Balaji had been working in his more-popular brother’s shadows, he has had his share of fame in films too – having worked in movies like Vasanth’s Poovelam Ketupaar (1999).
“I have been receiving offers from the industry since the Eighties. I was supposed to do Manal Kayiru (1982), a role that ultimately went to S Ve Shekhar. Back then, my mother was against me plunging into films. Kamal Haasan has offered me many roles after Mohan started writing for him. I was supposed to play Yugi Sethu’s role in Panchathanthiram. But by that time, I had a big comedy troupe and many actors who were dependent on the money generated through the plays. They were like family, and they deserved my time,” he says.
Today, filmmakers taking on OTT projects still reach out to him with acting offers, but he declines them. “I’m happier being Maadhu.”
The backing of Kamal
Mohan’s association with Kamal Haasan, which resulted in several memorable comedies such as Apoorva Sagodargal, Michael Madana Kama Rajan and Panchathanthiram that have rewatch value till today, is also one of the main reasons for this troupe’s popularity among the film-watching generation. “He (Kamal) has always been a pillar of support. He has constantly urged us to continue our work and also train the next generation to take up this artform. In three years, my aim is to train upcoming actors to take up these plays. There should be another Maadhu and another Crazy Mohan soon.”
Till that happens, there is still a lot of content that Mohan has left behind. “He has penned down several comedy sequences that have been edited out in our plays due to time constraints. Using these deleted scenes, we have stitched together a one-set play titled Veetoda Maapillai that we hope to premiere in January.” There are also plans to bring out his drama scripts as e-books. “Mohan has also written 60,000 venbas (a form of classical Tamil poetry) that we hope to release as a book soon.”
Chocolate Krishna will be staged on October 15, 6.30pm, at Vani Mahal, Chennai. Tickets on bookmyshow or call 9841049386 / 9444027202.