Cinema

Saroja will stay on

I vividly remember the morning, three years ago, when I met M. Saroja at her house in T. Nagar. She lived on the first floor, with her daughter’s family. Impeccably dressed in a grey and blue sari, she had welcomed me with a warm smile. “I’ve been living here for a long time now. Shall I show you around,” she asked and took me on a tour of her place. The large drawing room, the furniture, the tiled flooring, the rows of photographs of her parents, husband and actor K.A. Thangavelu and herself, and other family portraits that adorned the walls – Saroja’s home had an appealing old world charm. And the lady of the house looked very contented. I told her so. “I am. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs in life. I cherish the memorable moments and move on. But I miss K.A.T. terribly. He kept goading me to do better,” she said.

Saroja and Thangavelu ruled the roost as a comedy pair for a long time, in the 1950s and early 1960s. “He didn’t believe that vulgarity was needed to make people laugh,” she said.

Together they acted in more than 300 films, though they did pair up with other actors now and then. Can you forget their comic capers in films such as ‘Deivappiravi,’ ‘Adutha Veetu Penn,’ ‘Thaen Nilavu’ and ‘Kalyana Parisu’?

“I never knew the meaning of fear,” she told me. “Whether I was acting in a scene with MGR, Sivaji Ganesan or N.T. Rama Rao, I could do my job with confidence.” And she felt she owed it all to her husband. “He was my guide and guru.”

“Chronologically, the huge age difference between us hardly mattered to me. It is more than 10 years since he died but I still miss him,” she had sighed.

The sudden news of her death four days ago sent me on a memory trip all over again. “Mom was thrilled with her interview that appeared in The Hindu. She kept talking about it for long,” recalls Sumathi, Saroja’s daughter who took care of her till the last moment. She’s the only child of Saroja and Thangavelu.

The couple’s stage endeavours earned them accolades in all the Tamil speaking towns and cities. Mayan Theatres was a very popular troupe in those days. Radhu was behind it, but it was Thangavelu and Saroja who formed its fulcrum. All the plays were very successful. ‘Kalyanthil Galatta’ for instance, was staged more than thousand times.

“But for the weakness that comes with aging, she was absolutely normal. She was fast asleep, when I went in to make coffee for her at around four that evening. I came back to wake her up and she was gone. She must have died when I was in the kitchen. Not even a murmur, she just went away. Severe cardiac arrest the doctor told us later,” says Sumathi.

What about the huge pet dog that was hovering around her the entire time I was at their place? “She loved her dog. Tears streamed down its eyes as mom’s body was lifted to be taken to the burial ground. My son, who dotes on the pets at home, pointed out the dog’s reaction to me. I couldn’t believe my eyes,” says Sumathi.

Saroja had touched several lives with her timing for comedy and cheerful demeanour. The veteran comedienne was blessed with a painless death probably because she deserved a quiet end!

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 6:46:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/saroja-will-stay-on/article3283900.ece

Next Story