How many of us know that ‘Vennira Aadai' Murthy is multi-faceted? Lawyer, actor, writer (Kamal's first film as hero, ‘Maalai Sooda Vaa,' had Murthy penning the story and dialogue) serial director, and an astrologer holding an honorary doctorate in the subject! His home in Kotturpuram, Chennai, is named Manas-Manu. Murthy is married to Manimala, yesteryear heroine and character actor. “Manas is my grandson. Son Manu lives in Australia with his family.” So it's M all the way? “Yeah, we wanted it so,” smiles Murthy.
The actor who has kept viewers young and old in stitches with his comic gestures and unique tongue twirls for 45 years, is quite sedate in person. Yet, as the conversation progresses he relaxes and takes you along through his path of memories.
Strangely from the beginning till date Murthy's career as a comedian has never seen dizzying highs or worrisome lows. “My guru in Astrology, K. S. Krishnamurthy, had predicted accurately. ‘You will act till the time you hobble with a walking stick,' he said,” recalls Murthy.
His father, K.R. Nataraja Sastri, was a leading criminal lawyer in the district. “We lived in Chidambaram. Initially my idea was to toe his line,” he smiles. Like many famous film personalities, Murthy's Chennai sojourn began at Club House, a lodge opposite Siva Vishnu Temple in T. Nagar. The young student of Law had no inkling of the waiting turnabout!
“Actors Nagesh and Srikanth, and their friend N.C. Chakravarthy were regular TT players at the place I stayed,” says Murthy. After college his job with Remington Rand kept him busy. And when he met Chakravarthy at the Woodlands Drive-in restaurant one evening and learnt that Chakravarthy was an associate director to Sridhar, Murthy casually asked him whether he could get him to appear in a scene in a film. “Chakra had seen me act in the plays staged at YMCA, where I was staying then and knew I can carry off comedy. “A new cast has already been fixed. But you can come over to the office (Chitralaya) and meet Sridhar,” he told Murthy.
“Why do you wish to do comedy? There's nothing funny about your appearance. In fact, you are good looking,” commented Sridhar. (The picture of him as a young man which you get to see is proof enough.) “Because I'm confident in the genre,” Murthy replied, and as he was leaving, added, “I've heard that appealing looks are a fortune. Now I realise they bring ill luck.”
“True to God, the words worked like magic,” says Murthy. “Let's try him,” suggested Sridhar, and the words threw open a new world of fantasy and fame for the young man.
Hailing from an orthodox family where fine arts in any form was taboo, Murthy couldn't bring himself up to tell his folks that he'd got a chance to play a comedian in Sridhar's ‘Vennira Aadai.' The youngest of seven, Murthy insisted on studying at the Madras Christian College, Chennai, only because his father had been a student there, and thus came to the city. Changing tack could shock the family.
“My dad was unwell and I had gone over to Chidambaram. That's when I found the guts to tell him that I was acting in a film,” remembers Murthy. “‘I've no strength to disagree or argue. If you earn too little, life will be difficult. And earning too much will be dangerous,' is all that my father said. The words have been prophetic. I've never scaled the top nor have I hit rock bottom,” he observes.
Murthy has worked with notable directors, producers, writers and actors of the time -- Joseph Thaliath, ‘Chitralaya' Gopu, Ramanna, K.S. Gopalakrishnan, Pa. Neelakantan, Mahendran, T. Rajendar, Kalaimani … the list is endless. He has worked in 817 films so far, including five in Telugu and a couple in Malayalam and has hobnobbed in theatre with ‘Major' Sundarrajan, and as a member of Chitralaya Gopu's Unity Club. Now it's television time for the veteran.
Murthy was the first to present a series on astrology on television. “Titled ‘Astrology and Vaasthu' and telecast on Jaya way back in 1993, the response it evoked was incredible,” says Murthy. He wrote 222 episodes of ‘Meendum Meendum Sirippu,' the 11-year hit show on Sun. Murthy's latest comedy trip, ‘Sirikka Sirikka Sirippu,' is now on air on Kalaignar.
How did interest in astrology come about? “Like acting, I stumbled on it by accident. When I found a great teacher in Krishnamurthy, I took it up seriously. He gave me books to learn on the subject. But he warned me not to make a career of it. ‘It won't help you,' he said,” says Murthy. When he met his mentor in February 1964, he predicted that the young man will be in cinema by October 30. “I laughed it off because I had no such thought then. But on October 24 when I first donned make-up for ‘Vennira Aadai,' I realised he was bang on,” says Murthy. Awe-struck he went over to tell him about it. “I'm happy you've come all the way to inform me. Not many bother. Astrology is not magic, it's science,” was his response.
Murthy's staying power is surprising. “Simple. By nature I'm a very patient person. I don't get flustered easily. If you ask me to come over at 10 in the morning and don't call me in till even five, I wait, or if I have another important meeting I politely inform and leave. Secondly, I treat all production houses, big and small, equally. And by nature I'm very cordial. You can check it out with the 3,000 odd film folks. Or better still ask any driver who drops me at home after shooting, he'll tell you. I never walk away without thanking him. I believe in being good and kind,” Murthy signs off.
Keywords: Vennira Aadai Murthy