More than just an actor: the life of Y.G. Parthasarathy

THE UAA TEAM OF 1964: (Sitting) The five luminaries in the centre are popular stage actor Chandini, Sandhya, Jayalalithaa, YGP and Mrs. YGP. Y. Gee. Mahendra is standing, first row behind Mrs. YGP, while Rajendra is seated on the floor. ARS, V. Gopalakrishnan, Natty and Gemini Mahalingam are also seen.  

The accomplishments of Y.G. Parthasarathy, the doyen of Tamil theatre, whose amateur drama troupe ushered in the era of social plays set in a milieu audiences could relate to, who treated his co-actors with care and concern, and who preferred to project his troupe rather than himself, tell us that he was an achiever and human being extraordinaire. Yet neither Mrs. YGP nor sons YG Mahendra and YG Rajendra deify the man. “That’s because he himself was a person who had his feet on the ground. As Deputy Chief Controller of Imports and Exports he rubbed shoulders with influential people. Yet he was a straightforward official. And like all of us he had minor flaws too,” says Rajendra.

YGP’s centenary is round the corner. He was born on September 30, 1917. It is 27 years since he passed away, but those who knew him have fond memories to share. “Ours was a middle class household but never a boring one, what with constant rehearsals, and people walking in and out,” recalls Rajendra.

YGP and his troupe, UAA, were inseparable. The three letter abbreviations worked magic on the stage. “None who has passed through the portals of UAA has been a failure. From the former Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, to Lakshmi, Cho, Nagesh, Moulee, Srikanth, ARS and I, all have been a part of UAA,” acknowledges Radha Ravi. “His acumen to spot talent was admirable,” smiles Mahendra.

“It was an amateur troupe but YGP ran it like a professional one. He instilled in us the importance of discipline and punctuality.” Ravi poignantly remembers the day YGP died. “Mahendra was out of town. Madan Bob, Nagesh and I spent the night there. YGP was an emperor among amateur troupes,” Ravi goes on.

More than just an actor: the life of Y.G. Parthasarathy

Support to family

Ask Mrs. YGP about her love story that blossomed in Delhi, took firm roots in Madras and culminated in their wedding in 1948, the nonagenarian blushes. The bright smile as she dwells on the romantic interlude is a worthy ‘click moment.’ “‘I don’t want you to cook. Open a school and work as much as you wish to,’ he told me. So I’ve never cooked in my life,” she chuckles. Bharat Kalachar, their cultural wing, was also his idea.

“Opening a school and running it successfully are herculean tasks. It was because of dad that several doors opened for her, and PSBB became a reality. It’s her loyalty and gratitude to him for her giant strides in education that has made her call herself only as Mrs. YGP,” contends Mahendra. Today few know her as Rajalakshmi. “And if theatre made me a success and paved the way for a solid innings in cinema, it was because of dad.”

YGP successfully straddled a responsible job, and stage. The success of the several worthy plays, which he produced along with his writer-friend-actor Pattu, stoked the fire of his passion.

More than just an actor: the life of Y.G. Parthasarathy

“They were the Laurel and Hardy of the stage,” Mrs. YGP states with pride. Indefatigable as YGP was, people from all walks of life visited him every day. “They just liked to be with appa. DKS from The Hindu was one such,” notes Rajendra.

“I can talk endlessly about our association, from end-1956 till his last days,” says D. Krishnaswamy (DKS). “I knew him through his brother Y.G. Sundar. He would often come to the office and chat with us. ‘I’m a sincere artiste not a good artiste,’ he would quip, if someone suggested improvement during rehearsals. DKS mentions YGP’s concern for technicians. He had no negative word for anyone, however big he was, who left the troupe. ‘Let’s get on with it,’ was all he would say.

“Mohammed Rafi and Pran were his friends too. He would converse with Pran in Urdu,” says Rajendra. “Rafi has stayed with us and sung for us in our one-bedroom home,” Mahendra reminisces. “Though father looked rather rough, casually clad as he mostly was, in a lungi, people understood his humaneness.”

More than just an actor: the life of Y.G. Parthasarathy

“Rajnikanth and Chiranjeevi were his students at the Film Institute. He was the Principal then. Rajini would never sit down in his presence,” says Mrs. YGP. “When MGR and Sivaji attended our plays, he urged me to be seated beside them for photographs while he, their good friend, stood behind. I was introduced to him at 5.30, one evening in 1963. By 6, he had become ‘Paachanna’ to me. He endeared himself to people easily,” ARS recalls.

“But he called a spade a spade. He was a perfectionist,” says Lakshmi, whose acting debut was with UAA’s ‘Kannan Vandhaan,’ from where cinema hijacked her. “If you messed up your lines you had it. He would get worked up easily and forget it all in a minute. So nobody took his anger seriously.” Says Radha Ravi: “People say I use foul language. I learnt swear words only from my father and YGP.”

YGP preferred the company of youth. “‘Old people only talk about their physical ailments da,’ he would say,” laughs Madan Bob. He was part of UAA’s music troupe. In fact, Rajendra’s friends would come home only if he assured them that his dad was around. “He had them in stitches with anecdotal humour.”

More than just an actor: the life of Y.G. Parthasarathy

Reprimands actor

Once, YGP had invited a popular female actor for his play. She sat in the first row with her feet on the parapet near the pit where the musicians sat. Madan Bob politely told her to remove her feet, but she didn’t. He stopped the music. “Mahendra and ARS were frantically signalling to me but I refused to play. I was just an ordinary musician in my 20s. But YGP didn’t yell at me. Instead he went to her and said, ‘I shouldn’t have given you a seat in the first row. It was my mistake’,” Madan Bob reminisces.

“He went out of the way to help Neelu go to Calcutta with Cho for a play. The office refused to grant him leave and Neelu sought YGP’s help. It wasn’t easy, but he did it,” says ‘Crazy’ Balaji. “At the age when people chant ‘Rama Naama’ he kept chanting ‘Drama Naama’,” quips ‘Crazy’ Mohan. “He wanted me to write a play for UAA but somehow it never happened.”

“We were an up-and-coming troupe then. He would introduce us to sabha secretaries and help us get dates for our plays,” Balaji continues.

“The goodwill he earned was enormous. He was my guru, without actually being one,” Mahendra gets nostalgic. “When we travelled out of the city for plays, he would see to it that every member got a room, before he did. I’m still trying to emulate him.”

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 3:18:20 PM |

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