Chandrababu’s singing career was dotted with huge hits, but his attitude and acerbic tongue led to his downfall.
After the Gemini Studios’ production ‘Moondru Pillaigal,’ Chandrababu met singing star and producer T.R. Mahalingam and did minor roles in two films during 1951 under his umbrella — ‘Mohanasundaram’ (A.T. Krishnaswami) and ‘Chinnadurai’ (Mahalingam). It was in this film that he sang the song, ‘Podaa Raja Podinadaiyaaga,’ in which he yodels driving a horse carriage, which became popular. (During the recording, his yodelling was stopped abruptly because the composer and others thought he had gone off key.
Chandrababu wasn’t amused. With ‘colourful’ expletives he told them how dumb they were to not know that yodelling was a style of singing associated with cowboys, and with Hollywood’s singing star Roy Rogers!)
He acted in ‘Kusumalatha,’ a Tamil film produced by Sri Lankans in which he sang the popular song, ‘Oh My Love…’ After a few films in 1953, Chandrababu attracted attention as a singer in the 1954 hit, ‘Kalyanam Panniyum Brahmachari.’ He did not appear in the movie but lent his voice for Sivaji Ganesan and the song, ‘Jolly life Jolly life,’ (T.G. Lingappa, lyrics K.D. Santhanam) became a hit.
During 1954, he sang for S. Balachandar (himself a good singer) in AVM’s ‘Penn.’ The song ‘Kalyanam…..venum’ was another hit.
‘Fabulous Senorita,’ a Hollywood movie with the Latin American actress Estelita, ran to packed houses in Madras city. The writer watched it with Babu at Minerva Cinema. He was so taken in by the film that he watched it almost every day. On one such occasion he suddenly jumped from his seat and began to sing aloud and dance in the cinema hall! It was made into a movie in Tamil (‘Manamagan Thevai’) and Telugu (‘Varudu Kavaali’) by P. Bhanumathi and her husband P. Ramakrishna. Chandrababu acted in the Tamil version.
A song he rendered in the film was ‘Bambara kannaaley…’ The same year, he acted in ‘Pudhaiyal’ written by Mu. Karunanidhi and directed by Krishnan-Panju.
In the movie Chandrababu’s performance attracted much attention in spite of Padmini and Sivaji Ganesan doing the lead roles.
Music by the fast rising composer duo Viswanathan-Ramamurthi was a major plus point for him and two songs he sang, ‘Hello my dear Rani…’, ‘Unakkaaga ellam unakkaaga…’ by Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram became super hits.
He was cast in a slew of films, including ‘Kaathavaraayan,’ ‘Nadodi Mannan,’ and ‘Pathibhakthi.’ His songs, ‘Thadukkadhey ennai thadukkaadhey’ (‘Nadodi Mannan’ – Music - Athmanathan) and ‘Rock rock rock, Rock and roll…’ (‘Pathibhakthi’, lyrics Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram, Music - Viswanathan-Ramamurthi) proved extremely popular. Chandrababu came to be associated with that song as a brand! In 1958, he was teamed with Sivaji Ganesan, as his poor friend, in B.R. Panthulu’s comedy ‘Sabaash Meena.’ He played a dual role, the hero’s friend and his look-alike, a typical Madras rickshaw-karan, who speaks the characteristic lingo.
Chandrababu virtually stole the show. Sivaji and Chandrababu were close friends. In fact it was Sivaji who suggested Babu’s name for the role. When he was approached, Chandrababu demanded one rupee more than the amount paid to Sivaji Ganesan, and Pantulu agreed to it with a smile!
Noted Karnataka stage and screen idol and icon, Gubbi Veeranna made a bilingual film the Tamil version being ‘Sahodari.’ It was bankrolled by AV. Meiyappan, who, as an excellent critic of judging a film felt that something was lacking in the movie, after it was shot halfway through. He suggested to Bhim Singh, the director, that Chandrababu should be brought on board and when the comedian demanded an astonishing salary of Rs.1,00,000 the producers had no option but to accept.
A major role was created for him as a ‘Madras-style’ milkman in which he touched rare heights and the song ‘Naan oru muttaalunga…’ became a huge hit, contributing to the success of the film.
The same year he played an important role in a thriller, ‘Maragadham.’ With Sivaji Ganesan and Padmini, S. Balachandar and Sandhya, Chandrababu held his own as a butler. ‘Kungoomapoovey… konjum puraavey…,’ a duet he sang along with Jamuna Rani picturised on him and Lakshmirajam, an attractive starlet, turned out to be a mega hit. It is popular even after half a century!
The year 1960 witnessed Chandrababu becoming a hero with films such as ‘Kavalai Illaadha Manidhan’ and ‘Kumararaja.’ ‘Kavalai Illaadha Manidhan’ produced by Kannadasan gave the lyric writer a lot of ‘kavalai’ (worry) because of problems created by Chandrababu. The song rendered by him in this film ‘Pirakkum podhum azhuginraai’ became the theme of his life and not a mere movie song.
Chandrababu’s personal life was indeed a disaster, with his marriage to a pretty young woman belonging to a wealthy Indian Christian family of Coimbatore failing miserably. The actor hit the bottle, and spoke brazenly about leading stars incurring their wrath. Opportunities became rare and he was pushed to financial bankruptcy.
He continued to act in films and render memorable songs — ‘Annai’ (1962, ‘Buthiyulla manidharellam’) ‘Policekaaran Magal’ (‘Porandhaalum aamballaiya’), ‘Yarukku Sondham’ (‘Ennai theriyallaiya’) and ‘Kadavullai Kanden’ (‘Konjam thallikkanum’)
In 1966, he directed a film ‘Thattungal Thirakkapadum,’ featuring R.S. Manohar, K.R. Vijaya and others. A thriller, it was well-made but did not work at the box office because of its offbeat story and the absence of formula ingredients.
The last straw was ‘Maadi Veettu Ezhai,’ which he began to produce with MGR and Savithri in lead roles. His comments to the press about MGR boomeranged and the film had to be dropped leaving Chandrababu in debt. As he told his friends, this writer included, he became an ‘ezhai’ and his ‘maadi veedu’ disappeared into thin air. None came to his rescue. The end came in 1974, when he was hardly 45.
In his heyday he lived in style. In his home in Mylapore, he had a ramp built inside so that he could drive the car right up to his room!
Even after three decades he is popular — audios and videos of his music and movie sequences are still much sought after.
(This is the second and concluding part of an article on J.P. Chandrababu. The first part appeared in these columns on September 25.)