Well-known theatre personality Suppini, who tickles the funny bone in many a UAA play.

Challenges have never bogged Suppini down. Commitment, candour and loyalty are his other virtues. A notable value addition to UAA, a troupe he has been a part of for more than four decades, Suppini believes that be it Uma, the woman he’s married to, Elforge Limited, the company he works for or the theatre group he’s a part of are too sacred to be neglected.

“I’ve been with Elforge for 43 years and with UAA too for as many years, but not once have I thought of moving away from either. These are people who have accepted me whole-heartedly, encouraged me and made me come out of my complex,” says Suppini.

His name is T.M. Subramanian but for theatre buffs, he’s always Suppini. He has been on stage more than 1,000 times, has acted in 24 UAA plays so far, and has played multifarious roles but is yet to gain recognition from the Government. Does it irk him? “Not at all, if I’m honoured, fine. If not, that’s fine too.”

Always wary

Life could not have been a bed of roses for this vertically challenged actor, and the complex has made him cautious. “I was scared directors would make me the butt of ridicule in cinema. As for theatre, for me it begins and ends with Y.Gee. Mahendra,” he says. It was ARS who had brought Suppini to UAA.

But even Mahendra pokes fun at Suppini in his plays, doesn’t he? “Yes, but it is all in good humour. And he doesn’t allow others to do so. The variety of roles he has given me, the interest he takes in my welfare and the affection he has for me make the few harmless jokes a non-issue. When the audience appreciates me, he is happier than I am! It was the same with YGP. The entire family are my well-wishers.”

Not that Suppini hasn’t acted in films. “I’ve worked with Rajinikanth in ‘Arunachalam’ and ‘Sivappu Sooriyan.’ And if I’m recognised by auto drivers and others on the road today, it’s the magic of those films. But even that offer came to me because Rajinikanth had watched me on the UAA stage.” Suppini was bowled over by the superstar’s humility on the first day of shoot. “It was at AVM Studios. I went near him to wish him. Imagine my surprise when he turned around, held my hand and said, ‘Thanks, Suppini.’ I’m yet to see a more humble person.”

Some years ago, Kamal Haasan had offered him a role in ‘Apoorva Sagodharargal,’ but Suppini declined it “…though I was delighted to meet Kamal. ‘I’m playing the role of a challenged person too, Suppini,’ he told me. ‘You can, Sir, but I won’t feel comfortable,’ I told him.”

But for the co-operation of his superiors Subbarayan Venkatraman and Ramachandran and his colleagues at Elforge, he couldn’t have travelled with UAA to almost all parts of the globe. “Even today, in the evenings, they say ‘Suppini, you leave, it’s getting late for your play.’”

But has he always been on time? Suppini laughs cheekily: “That’s a problem. Somehow or the other, I get delayed and get it good from Mahendra. Once instead of Vani Mahal, the venue that evening, I went to Rani Seethai Hall and had to scurry back.”

A product of P.S. High School and Vivekananda College, Suppini graduated in Philosophy. Why didn’t he study further? “Further? I was an average student even in school,” he guffaws. Why Philosophy? “… because that’s what I could get.” The frankness evokes a smile.

Love for the stage

Theatre has been a passion since he was a young boy. His brother Sankaran and mother have been very supportive. “They encouraged my love for acting, which in turn helped me overcome the complex about my height.” Ayyasami, the ‘Radio Anna’ at AIR, and later Koothapiran, nurtured young Suppini’s talent. “Even today till I enter the stage, I’m jittery. But once there, I’m confident,” he confesses.

Integrity and commitment are Suppini’s strengths. “I’ve imbibed them from my father,” he says. “He was a purohit. If he performed the ceremony of a dead person, he was paid Rs.10 and if he accepted to solemnise a wedding, he got Rs.100. He would have agreed to be present at a ceremony, when he would get an offer for performing a marriage the same day. My mother would suggest he accept the latter. But my father would say, ‘Commitment is more important’.”

Whatever the challenge, Suppini doesn’t swerve away from values.