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Stage's where his heart is

Y.Gee. Mahendra is coming to Bangalore with three well-known plays. The famous comedian of Tamil films has undying faith in theatre.

THEY ARE back on Bangalore stage after a gap of three years. The United Amateur Artistes (UAA), led by Y.Gee. Mahendra, will be entertaining Bangaloreans with three of their most popular plays — Ragasiyam Parama Ragasiyam, Lights On, and Judgment Day — on September 12, 13, and 14, respectively, under the ageis of Sri Parthasarathy Swamy Sabha.

Mahendra needs no introduction to Tamil drama fans. An illustrious son of the patriarch of Tamil theatre, Y.G. Parthasarathy (YGP to his friends and fans), Mahendra was "born on stage" to put it in his own words. YGP was to Tamil theatre what Gubbi Veeranna was to Kannada stage. He, along with his best friend and playwright, Pattu, started UAA in 1952, which went on to become a sanctum for aspiring artistes. Pattu was known for coming up with Tamil plays with catchy names — Oh! What A Girl (1954, along with PTK), It Happened At Midnight (1953), Dial Mr. Sanjeevi (1955), Fabulous Fools (1957), and Hut Chup Chup (1953). Those who had their grounding in UAA include Cho. Ramaswamy, ARS, Jayalalithaa, her mother Sandhya and aunt Vidya, Gemini Ganesan, Vyjayanthimala, Lakshmi, Sivakumar, Jaishankar, Nagesh, Venkat, and Mouli (a college-mate of Y.Gee. Mahendra.). UAA was known for its atmosphere of an extended family of artistes.

UAA has produced some of the greatest Tamil plays in post-Independence era, including Petral Thaan Pillaya, Under Secretary (in which Jayalalithaa made her debut on stage), Flight 172, Kannan Vandhaan, Ragasiyam Parama Ragasiyam, Imperfect Murder, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Didir Dharmarajan, Padma Vyuham, and Kurukshetram. It is, incidentally, the only Tamil troupe to have survived for 51 years, excepting for a four-year hiatus between 1957 and 1961. It has 53 plays to its credit, and has completed more than 5,000 shows. Of these, Ragasiyam Parama Ragasiyam, written by Venkat in 1975 that has seen 500 shows so far, is the most popular. It has Mahendra in the lead.

Kannan Vandhan, written by Vietnam Veedu Sundaram, is another play by UAA that is considered a corner stone in Tamil theatre. The screen version of the play, Gowravam, with Sivaji Ganesan in the lead, became an all-time hit. It may be mentioned here that Sundaram got the prefix to his name after he wrote Vietnam Veedu in which Sivaji Ganesan played one of his best roles as Prestige Padmanabhan, along with Padmini. Ironically, YGP is said to have rejected the same script when Sundaram offered it to him first.

YGP is acknowledged for introducing colloquial Tamil for the first time on stage, which was considered a sort of revolution in the Fifties. YGP and Pattu were the first to bring modern social plays to Tamil Nadu.

For the first time, they used English dialogues on stage, which initially displeased the puritans.

When YGP died in 1991, the mantle fell on Y.Gee. Mahendra. Not that theatre was new to him. Mahendra made his debut on stage at the age of three in Petraal Thaan Pillaya (written by Pattu) in which Cho was at his hilarious best as Mechanic Madaswamy. The young Mahendra had a natural flair for theatre, music, and films. After all, he grew up watching Harindernath Chattopadhyaya perform some of the most memorable roles. At home, music was a way of life. His family used to be a regular host to legends such as Mohammed Rafi and M.S. Subbulakshmi. His mother once said that he would keep awake late in the night, listening to Omkaranath Thakur and Vallathikulam Sami. Mahendra is also said to have had that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of listening to M.S. Subbulakshmi and Balasaraswathi sing together. Himself a good tabla player, Mahendra used to play tabla to Mohammed Rafi, when he stayed in their house for a few days. Mahendra also used to play dolki and congos for his music troupe.

Mahendra's mother, Reshma, initially insisted that he first concentrate on his studies and then enter the theatre world. But she could not stop him from making a debut in K. Balachander's film, Navagraham (1971), which won him much praise. One thing led to another, and soon, Mahendra was a busy film star, playing a variety of roles with the leading lights of the day such as Sivaji Ganesan, Nagesh, Kamal Hasan, and Rajnikant. He has acted in 250 films.

Mahendra has also made a mark as a television actor. His serial, Rudraveena, currently telecast on Sun TV every Wednesday, has become a hit. Right now, he is busy shooting for K. Balachander's mega-serial, Sahana, directed by Venkat, aired on Jaya TV. It is a sequel to the hit film, Sindu Bhairavi. He is playing character roles in Success, a Tamil film, and in Shringar, an art film being produced by Padmini Ravi. He is also planning to produce and direct a film soon.

Even as he is a popular comedian in the Tamil screen, Mahendra is uncomfortable about being typecast. "I can't deliver the putrid stuff they call comedy in films today," he says. "Variety is our forte," he says about UAA. "A good artiste should be able to do any role and that's why I was chosen for Rudraveena and Sahana."

But even as he is known in films, theatre continues to be his Mahendra's first love. Crime thrillers, laced with wit, are his favourite variety of plays. That he has found time to come to Bangalore with his plays, amidst his hectic shooting schedules, is itself a mark of his commitment to theatre. About coming to the city after a gap of three years, he says: "We have always had a special audience in Bangalore."

Man of multiple roles: Y. Gee. Mahendra in the play Kavala Kavala.

Part of the proceeds from the three plays being staged in the city will go to Amar Seva Sangam, at Ayikudy in Theni district of Tamil Nadu. The Sangam runs a residential care centre for disabled children and a day care centre for mentally-challenged children.

Popular Tamil serial, Sahana.

The genesis of the organisation, incidentally, has a Bangalore connection. It was here that its founder, S. Ramakrishnan, became a paraplegic when he met with an accident in 1981 while performing obstacles at naval officers' selection. It was this incident that spurred him to plunge into the cause of the disabled.

(For details about tickets for the plays, call 3345665 or 56704779.)


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