Fifty years since its release Kadhalikka Naeramillai still remains a benchmark in comedy. Malathi Rangarajan talks to theatre and film actors about how the film impacted their career and lives

Getting veterans to talk about Sridhar’s Kadhalikka Naeramillai is probably the easiest thing to do. The willingness with which they share their views on the film that enters its 50th year of release and the joie de vivre, which the very thought of the film kindles among those who were youngsters and children then, seem incomparable. “Two of the very significant contributors to this vibrant affinity for Kadhalikka Naeramillai are dialogue writer and Sridhar’s associate, Chitralaya Gopu, and Nagesh,” says Kamal Haasan.

Interestingly, when I approached Kamal for bytes on KN, he categorically informed me that the accent of his bytes would be on Gopu and Nagesh. As an actor who has made indelible impressions on the comedy genre in Tamil cinema, he should know. “Gopu anna is one of our most talented, but most under-sung comedy writer-directors. His dialogue was healthy comedy at its best. KN is a classic example, though there are others, like his Kasedhaan Kadavulada. “

“Kadhalikka Naeramillai wasn’t mere inspiration, it is a film that has given me the impetus all along as a writer,” says ‘Crazy’ Mohan. “In fact if there had been no Kadhalikka Naeramillai there probably may not have been Crazy Creations at all,” says ‘Crazy’ Balaji, Mohan’s brother and member of the theatre troupe. “I still remember the days when I would slip out of school with friends to Casino cinema on Anna Salai and find Mohan already there.” Nods Mohan with a smile: “Yeah, we have watched it at Casino more than 60 times. And yet never felt satiated.”

“Very true,” agrees Y.Gee. Mahendra. “KN was Wodehouseian humour at its best — unadulterated and pure.” He is an avid fan who catches up with the film even now, when it’s beamed on television. “I must have watched it 120 times so far and nearly 50 per cent of it was at Casino.”

“R. Ramanujam, my classmate and friend at Don Bosco School, Egmore, then, is now a professor, but together we’ve done several theses on Kadhalikka Naeramillai,” laughs Mahendra. Ramanujam responds cheerfully, “We’ve watched the film several times and the most striking aspects of it are Viswanathan-Ramamurthy’s RR, the impacting static visuals at the beginning and the end, and of course, the story-telling sequence between T.S. Balaiah and Nagesh.”

Kamal’s take is a little different. “I’ve watched the film only twice. Generally one viewing is enough for me to remember all the nuances vividly. Kadhalikka Naeramillai was a big break for dance choreographer Thangappan under whom I apprenticed. Sundaram, Prabhu Deva’s father, was his assistant then. So my association with KN goes a long way back. The innovation in the footwork of the ‘Viswanathan Vaelai Vaendum’ song was and still is so modern! I was gleefully referring to the much-talked about story-telling sequence when Thangappan master told me to watch out for the technical brilliance, dialogue and other such aspects of KN. That made me go back to the film the second time, and they have remained with me.”

Mahendra can whistle away every bit of the RR of Kadhalikka Naeramillai. “The film has been part of our lives for five decades almost,” he laughs. “At Casino, once the ‘Nenjathai Alli Konjam’ song sequence began we would feel low as we knew that the climax was just 10 minutes away. We didn’t want the film to end.”

“What does KN not have,” asks the ‘Crazy’ duo. “It’s Tamil Cinema’s dictionary for humour, but it has a tinge of sadness too. Nagesh, who plays an aspiring filmmaker, doesn’t get a chance to shoot a single scene throughout the film and conveys it subtly,” says Balaji. “And it has a solid message camouflaged in humour, that if you go in for ostentation and sycophancy you are bound to bite the dust,” adds Mohan.

Kamal would constantly ask Nagesh about two characters that the late actor made memorable — Chellappa (KN) and Dharumi (Thiruvilaiyaadal). “As Chellappa, I only followed Sadagopan (Nagesh always referred to Gopu by his original name) to a T. The modulation I used to utter the name Chellappa and Meena (Sachu) in various ways, was completely his,” Nagesh told Kamal.

“Nagesh never complimented people unless he really felt so. And he made us realise the storehouse of talent that Gopu anna is,” remembers Kamal. “Not many would have retired in their heyday, like he did. He was contented to remain in Sridhar’s shadow — an ace technician who never sought to project himself!” Kamal’s paeans on Kadhalikka Naeramillai, Gopu and Nagesh in that order are fascinating to listen to. “Director Sridhar was lucky to have a friend like him. Not everyone is.”

“In many a film I have aped Gopu’s style and I’m not ashamed to admit it,” says Mohan. Sridhar was a visionary in cinema, always ahead of his times. Otherwise, as early as 1964, would a director thought of opening his film with a colourful duet on the Marina beach? “No cheap rib-ticklers for Sridhar and Gopu! They could have made many a joke with the false beard Muthuraman sported in the film, but they didn’t. Classy comedy was their forte. And imagine approaching an airhostess on a flight for a heroine’s role in his film! But that’s how Kanchana came on board KN. I’ve interacted with Sridhar for 10 days and I feel blessed!” The ‘Crazy’ encomiums continue.

Kadhalikka Naeramillai is Tamil Cinema’s Mount Everest of comedy. There’s no other Tenzing in sight so far. I was aghast that some people even considered re-making Kadhalikka Naeramillai. None should attempt it. It is blasphemy,” says Mohan. And he means it.