Looking back with a smile


REMINISCENCES ‘Chitralaya’ Gopu’s journey on the humour track has been long and healthy.

Gopu’s first big break outside Sridhar’s camp came with ‘Galatta Kalyanam.’

The new hero was walking up and down trying to memorise the tongue twisters given to him. The director called out for the shot, when the young man diffidently said that the words were too tough and he needed a little more time. “What words,” asked the puzzled director. “Naalaam Naalaam Thirunaalaam, Nangaikkum Nambikkum …they aren’t easy Sir!”

“This isn’t the dialogue. Who gave it to you? This is a social film, a comedy. Gopu must have done it. He’s always pulling a fast one, don’t you know?” That is quintessential Gopu humour!

The actor was Ravichandran, the director was Sridhar, and the film, ‘Kaadhalikka Naeramillai’ (KN) which re-wrote the grammar of healthy humour in Tamil cinema.

Hit duo

Director Sridhar and Gopu have made several all time hits. “It was a 66-year old bond. We were close friends since the time we were in Class V, at St. Joseph’s High school, Chinglepet. Sridhar would write plays for the annual day and act as hero. I wrote the humorous parts and acted as comedian,” recalls Gopu, when you meet him at his home in Thiruvanmiyur.

“Chitralaya had a solid technical team. The ‘Kaadhalikka Naeramillai’ crew had Vincent, MSV-TKR, Kannadasan, V.N. Sundaram, Ganga, and Thangappan the guru of Prabhu Deva’s dad Sundaram. Thangappan’s choreography in ‘KN’ is timeless and combined with MSV’s magic, looks modern even today,” says Gopu.

The entire story and screenplay of ‘KN’ was conceived on the Marina beach. Gopu says: “Sitting in Sridhar’s open Harold, we discussed the script for days on end.” And for the first time the titles read, ‘Story-dialogue — Sridhar-Gopu.’ “I was moved by the gesture. He was already a big name in Hindi too but shared credit with me.”

Even in Sridhar’s serious films such as ‘Kalyana Parisu’ comedy stood out. The scenes with Thangavelu as the ever-fibbing husband of M. Saroja are a comic treat to this day! What was the inspiration? “In school we had a common friend called Venkatesh, a compulsive liar. Nothing he said was true. Thangavelu’s character was based on him. But the funny incidents were Sridhar’s own,” laughs Gopu.

‘Kalyana Parisu’ marked Gopu’s entry into cinema, as assistant dialogue writer. “Not once would Sridhar refer to me as his assistant. He always introduced me to others as his friend,” recalls Gopu.

After the duo’s success with a spate of films, Gopu’s first big break outside Sridhar’s camp came with ‘Galatta Kalyanam,’ this time with Sridhar’s cousin C.V. Rajendran as director. The combo went on to churn out more hits including the ever effervescent ‘Sumathi En Sundari.’ The greatness of Gopu’s scripts lies in the fact that even with a massive cast, he provided ample scope for every role. ‘Utharavindri Ullae Vaa’ and ‘Ooty Varai Uravu’ are cases in point.

A star night was being organised for donations during the Chinese Aggression. A whole lot of artists from Sivaji Ganesan, Muthuraman, Thangavelu and Nagesh had to be accommodated in a one-hour play. Sridhar told Gopu, “Stay put at home, and complete the play.” Gopu sat on the terrace of his father-in-law’s house in Triplicane and finished the job in two days! The result was a comic bonanza called ‘Galatta Kalyanam.’ Seeing the reception it received at all the places it was staged, Sivaji told Gopu, “I want to make it into a film. Don’t give it away to Sridhar. I’m from theatre. I can gauge the potential of your story.” The film was another roaring success!

Later simultaneously Gopu began writing and directing stage plays. He took up roles too, in fact, he has even sung in his plays. “Yeah, I can sing,” he says. His troupe, Unity Club, comprised imposing names such as Manorama, Muthuraman and ‘Vennira Aadai’ Murthy.

Sridhar would advise him not to pursue theatre because he already had his hands full. “For the pittance you get why do you slog so?” To Gopu, it wasn’t the money but the instant feedback he got from the audience that was irresistible. “Looking back I wonder how I straddled careers,” he says.

It was during one of the stage shows of ‘Kaasae Dhan Kadavulada’ that the troupe had an unexpected guest — AVM Chettiar. “Mark my words Gopu! Chettiar plans to make it into a film,” said Manorama. She was right. Though Gopu wanted to stop with the story, screenplay and dialogue, AVM insisted he direct it too. Sridhar told him to go ahead and Gopu successfully donned the avatar of director! ‘Kaasedhaan …’ proved a runaway hit and more films as writer-director came his way. Gopu’s AVM association continued through ‘Paatti Sollai Thataadhae’ and the Mohan starrer, ‘Vasanthi,’ up to the Satyaraj film, ‘Ulagam Pirandhadhu Enakkaaga’ when Gopu decided to call it a day.

His television forays were also successful. ‘Washingtonil Thirumanam’ which he directed and acted in was shot in the U.S.

Calling it a day

“Suddenly I felt I had reached a saturation point. If I’ve inherited my mother’s humour streak [Oh, her one-liners were so spontaneous] I’ve also got my father’s trait of being contented with my lot. He was a humble man, a school teacher.”

His wife, Kamala Sadagopan, is a Tamil novelist in her own right. “My wife is busier than I am,” guffaws Gopu. “She still has two books published every year. At the time of marriage I didn’t even know she wrote! And when I quit my job and joined Sridhar, I didn’t tell her. Seven months later she read the news in Paesum Padam. ‘Why didn’t you tell me? Anyway it’s Ok. I’ve hidden something from you too. I’m a writer myself,’ she said.”

Even today Gopu receives offers but he isn’t keen.

Your hibernation saddens many Mr. Gopu! We are still waiting …

What a memorable drive it was!

Gopu was working at the office of Exports and Imports on Second Line Beach, Chennai, when Sridhar came over.

“Put in your papers straightway. I’ve got a chance to direct a film [‘Kalyana Parisu’] and I want you to join me,” he said.

When Gopu hesitated, he said, “Come with me for a drive up to Madurantakam, we have to talk.” Gopu came out and stood fascinated by the Fiat car there. “Owning a Fiat was a great luxury then. I even remember the number – MSY 5022. We got into the car and I asked, ‘When did you buy it.’ ‘Yesterday,’ he replied. ‘So when did you learn driving? ‘Yesterday,’ he replied coolly. The speedometer showed 90 miles as maximum. Oh! It can touch 90, is it? I said with apprehension. Imagine my shock when he replied, ‘I don’t know. Let’s try’ and pressed the accelerator hard! Speed and zest were his hallmarks which he showed in his profession too,” smiles Gopu.