On 'Kudanthai' Mali and his 50-year relationship with the Tamil stage.

It was Ma. Po. Si., who, half a century ago, christened this young stage actor N. Mahalingam as ‘Kudanthai’ Mali. Says Mali of Mali’s Stage, “He was the one who inspired me to read the best of Tamil literature, when I was a student of English and Sanskrit in school.”

Author of 14 plays and director of over a dozen scripts written by other playwrights, Mali completes 50 years on the Tamil stage this month.

“I must confess that it was N.K.T. Muthu who urged me to write and stage my plays, when I was studying in Vivekananda College. In my maiden play, ‘Thanthai En Deivam,’ the important roles were played by Bharadwaj, father of Sridhar, Srivatsan of the now popular Dummies’ Theatre and K. Subramanian, brother of our college principal K. Ganesan,” recalls Mali.

He has had the opportunity of interacting with personalities such as S.S. Vasan, Kothamangalam Subbu, MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and Kamal Hassan in his career. It was his play Kadavul Engae?’ (adapted from the prize winning short story of A.K. Pattusamy in Ananda Vikatan) that projected Mali as a successful playwright. The music was by the doyen G. Ramanathan and the songs were sung by T.M. Soundararajan, P.B. Srinivos, K. Veeramani and T.S. Bhagavathi. The songs were penned by Ku. Sa. Krishnamurthy, Ku. Ma. Balasubramanian, Pulavar Keeran and Puthaneri Subramaniam. All of them had leanings towards Ma.Po.Si.’s Tamil Arasu Kazhagam then. “After watching the play, Sivaji asked me whether I would write a play for him. When MGR and T.K. Shanmugam appreciated the play, I was on cloud nine.”

Another milestone was the dramatisation of Na. Parthasarathy’s novel ‘Kurinji Malar’ that catapulted Mali to greater heights. It was for this play that the well known poet Gnanakoothan wrote the lyric; it was tuned by Hariharasubramaniam. Following the success of this, Mali dramatised R. Choodamani’s ‘Aazhkadal’ and Tirupur Krishnan’s ‘Poi Sollum Devathai.’

Mali had to keep away from his passion from 1968 due to work pressure at TTK & Co., where his colleagues included Cho and Pattu of YGP’s UAA. Then it was ‘Mappillai Murukku,’ the play of Marina that brought the two together. For six months, the Mali-Marina duo entertained the sabha audience with their comedy. The entry of Sundaribai enabled Mali to present thought-provoking subjects with the veteran actress playing the major roles, notably Gopuram Thaangum Bommaigal.’

Playwrights such as Soundaryan, SRK, Kovai Anuradha, Puduvai Mukundan, Manimohan and K.S.N. Sundar collaborated with Mali. However, when Mother Sarada Devi’s centenary was celebrated, R.S. Manohar offered to direct the play written by Mali, which Mali considers an honour.

The one play Mali considers challenging, but which caused him much agony is ‘Gnanapeedam,’ which had a revolutionary theme and had to be handled with care and caution. “I had booking for 19 dates from various sabhas and yet had to cancel them all!” rues Mali.

Mali recalls the roles played by Chandigarh Ramani and T.P. Kannan, especially the latter who was bent upon celebrating the golden jubilee in a big way but was snatched away by death. Trisakti Sundararaman, the industrialist and publisher of many periodicals today, has been in Mali’s troupe for more than a decade and has in fact, taken the initiative in organising a grand celebration for his colleague.

“How can I forget the sabhas which provided me the opportunities to stage my plays, many of them over 100 shows?! They are indeed pillars of support,” acknowledges Mali. The unforgettable moment has been his meeting former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, when Mali was invited to present a few plays in Delhi Tamil Sangam. Kalam appreciated the play ‘Nammavargal’ which won several awards for its theme of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Mali has been conferred many titles such as Nataka Semmal, Nataka Sevaratna and Nataka Kala Bharathi, and cherishes the many words of appreciation he has received from his friends and fans.

Plans are afoot to celebrate Mali’s Golden Jubilee this month-end. “This is an opportunity for me to thank all those innumerable supporting artists, stage technicians, make-up artists and others who were with me during my 50-year journey,” signs off Mali.