When the Tamil film world was dominated by two big heroes – Sivaji Ganesan and MG Ramachandran – a comedian commanded salary on a par with them and, on a few occasions, even received more. He had the distinction of singing in his first film Dhana Amaravathi (1947). He was a dancer and singing-actor, who introduced yodelling in playback singing. But J.P. Chandrababu’s life was a tragedy and he died a pauper in 1974, befitting the title of the film Maadi Veettu Yezhai that he directed.
‘Nagaichuvai Chakravarthi: J.P. Chandrababu’, a soon-to-be-released biography, tells the story of the actor with details hitherto unknown, including his differences with MGR, which ultimately led to his fall.
He led a royal lifestyle and bought a 20-ground plot on Greenways Road and began constructing a house. “He designed it in such a way that he could drive the car straight to the first floor. But Maadi Veettu Yezhai put paid to his hopes and he plunged neck-deep into crisis. The property was attached by the court,” says Sornarajan T. Victoria, the book’s author.
The shooting began, with MGR acting in a few scenes, but the film could not be completed. “During the intermission of the film Thattungal Thirakkapadum , it was announced that Maadi Veettu Yezhai would be released soon. But it never saw the light of the day,” says Mr. Sornarajan.
Chandrababu acted in 76 movies and his rise in the film industry was achieved through versatility. “He comprised in him the talents of the singing and dancing comedian Danny Kaye, the facial features of Jerry Louis and the body language of Bob Hope,” describes Mr Sornarajan.
Born Joseph Panimayadasan Rodriguez to freedom fighter J.P. Rodriguez in Tuticorin, it is still a mystery how he assumed the name Chandrababu, though people used to address him Babu.
His father, a friend of freedom fighter V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, was running a magazine ‘Sudhanthira Veeran’ at Mannadi in Chennai and was exiled to Sri Lanka for his campaign against British rule. Writer Jayakanthan has said it was Chandrababu who first addressed him as J.K.
There is an apocryphal story that on the night of his marriage, he allowed his wife to join her lover after she disclosed her love for another man. “There is no basis for the story. They lived together for six months and spent their honeymoon in Bangalore. But when he realised that she would be happy with her lover, he agreed for separation,” says Mr. Sornarajan.
He was known for his abundant generosity and the lines of the song Thannalam Maranthaal Perum Perinbam ' sums up his character. It was Sivaji Ganesan who bore the cost of his funeral expenses. “Kingmaker Kamaraj, a family friend of Chandrababu, broke down even as he tried to console his father Rodriguez,” according to Mr. Sornarajan. He was laid to rest at the Quibble Island graveyard in Chennai.