Nonagenarian K.V. Srinivasan, the actor who dubbed for N.T. Rama Rao in all his Tamil films including ‘Karnan,' which is seeing a successful re-release, embarks on a nostalgic journey …

It was a very special occasion for the members of Nawab Rajamanickam's theatre troupe, Madurai Devi Bala Vinoda Sangeetha Sabha. They were enacting the story of Nandanar, and seated in the audience was Mahatma Gandhi! In fact, the play was particularly chosen because it espoused the evils of untouchability, a subject close to Gandhiji's heart. When the curtains went up the Mahatma expressed his wish to be on stage to have a clear view from the wings. And as he was being helped the three steps, he noticed the board that said ‘Leave your footwear here.' Immediately, he removed his sandals, went up and sat on the floor.

K.V. Srinivasan, a 12-year old member of the troupe, who was watching the great leader's humility, was moved. And when he sang ‘ Vaishnava Janatho,' along with two other boys – Iyyampettai Narayanasamy and Azhwar Govindan -- the Mahatma looked at Srinivasan, smiled, nodded in appreciation and said, ‘Achcha!' “If there is an actor in this country whom Gandhiji himself complimented, it's me,” K.V. Srinivasan's voice swells with pride. “Discipline was the watchword at Nawab Rajamanickam's. It was like an ashram where all of us imbibed values,” says Srinivasan.

The nonagenarianhas another rare distinction. He has given voice for N.T. Rama Rao in all his Tamil films. “About 55 totally, whether it was track change or straight dubbing, it was my voice that was used for him. Track change is done when the actor has spoken the dialogue in the language it is made in and yet his voice is replaced. Here, lip sync is tougher because it has to match the utterances of the actor perfectly.” KVS, as he is known, pauses for a moment. “But dubbed films are those made in other languages and brought to Tamil, and hence the process is easier. For Rama Rao, either way, it was my voice.” The day after he dubbed for ‘Jagadala Prathapan,' NTR, its hero, saw KVS at the studio and was all praise for his work. “ ‘Bale,' he said,” chortles KVS.

Now that the re-run of ‘Karnan' is playing to packed houses, KVS, who is the voice of Krishna (Rama Rao) in the film, is garnering attention all over again. It's surprising that he has also given voice for S.V. Ranga Rao in his early Tamil films. “‘Petra Manam' was one.”

“You may not be aware that Sivaji Ganesan himself has dubbed for another hero, before he debuted in ‘Parasakthi,'” smiles KVS. “The film was ‘Nirabaradhi' in which Mukkamala Krishnamurthy played the lead. I was a small time actor in films but a busy theatre and dubbing artist. I also acted in several AIR plays.” KVS has acted in more than a 100 films and has given voice for many main actors in an equal number of films. Not surprising, because the voice is still commanding!

Did KVS ever aspire to play hero? “I know my limitations. My physique wasn't suitable for it. I could only act in character roles. But my voice was an asset,” he laughs.

“It was Sivaji Ganesan who insisted that director Panthulu should think of none other than KVS for the voice of Krishna in ‘Karnan.' “ ‘As always it has to be KVS,' he said,” he fondly recalls. In the film, KVS also played the sage who christens the baby found in a box, as Karnan. His association with the thespian dates back to the era when Sivaji Ganesan played Padmavathy on stage and KVS was Manohara. Theatre troupes in those days always comprised an all-male cast. “Ganesan was brilliant in the female role. The finesse and the nuances he lent to the part were incredible.”

The two were part of Shakti Krishnaswamy's Shakti Gana Sabha. Krishnaswamy later became famous as the dialogue writer of ‘Karnan,' ‘Veerapandiya Katta Bomman' and ‘Periya Idathu Penn.' “Ganesan and I were there for more than a decade,” he says. KVS can't stop talking about the deference with which Sivaji Ganesan always treated him, even after he became a part of Ganesan's theatre troupe, Sivaji Nataka Mandram. “He was a big hero then. But whenever I entered the green room for make-up, Ganesan who arrived early, would get up from his chair and greet me,” he says. “He would ask me why I didn't visit him at his home often. ‘You live in a palace, Ganesa. I can't walk in just like that,' I would reply. But whenever possible, he suggested my name for roles,” smiles the actor. KVS should be familiar to avid watchers of Sivaji Ganesan films -- the Buddhist monk in ‘Annaiyin Aanai' and the lawyer in ‘Bale Pandiya' to name a couple. “I've acted with MGR too,” he adds.

Nambiar, a dear friend

His eyes turn moist when he talks of M.N. Nambiar, a dear friend from childhood, who went on to become a very popular screen villain. “We were in touch till the very end. Ours is 75 years of close association. We grew up in the same drama troupe. Age-wise the difference between us is just six months. For every Deepavali his wife would send new clothes for my children,” he remembers.

Today KVS is a contented man. “I never earned in excess. Nor was I in want. I live comfortably. My children, two sons and three daughters, are well-settled. I gave them the best of education, something which I missed out on,” he says. His sons and one of his daughters live in the U.S. “I'm 91 and my wife Sulochana, 83. We are waiting for the call from above, to leave the world. But for my wife's care I wouldn't have survived this long,” smiles KVS, as he walks up to the door leaning on his walking stick, to see me off. “Don't forget to mention my interaction with the Mahatma,” he requests, as I open the gate.

In sync

Many filmgoers of the day were under the impression that it was N.T. Rama Rao’s voice that they heard on screen. “I acted out a role in the AIR play, ‘Dharmayuddham,’ written by Dayanidhi. Suki Subramaniam, the producer at AIR, called me up a couple of days later. ‘Could you come over and see what we have for you,’ he asked, and showed me the letters he had received. The content in all was nearly the same. ‘Why wasn’t N.T. Rama Rao’s name mentioned in the announcement that gave the list of actors in the play,’ they wanted to know. We laughed, and I was happy that people identified my voice with Rao’s,” recalls KVS. He then imitates NTR’s powerful baritone to demonstrate the difference in their voices.

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