`Chithralaya' Gopu, proprietor of Mannar & Co, Oho Productions

Years ago director and comedy playwright `Chithralaya' Gopu started `Mannar & Co.' in the film "Kalyana Parisu". Gopu, its "sole proprietor," is still going strong and is entering the 50th year in the film world. He talks to S.R. Ashok Kumar about his experience in the filmdom and his association with Sivaji Ganesan.

You `sport a kudumi (tuft) and I will get you a job in a local post office. Forget cinema within 24 hours.' Had this ultimatum not been served on Chithralaya Gopu (Sadagopan then) by his uncle 50 years ago, he would not have stepped into the celluloid world. The fear of having a tuft made him to reject the job and enter films. Gopu says, `In those days only persons with a tuft were preferred for government service. I put my foot down and said `No.' With nothing else to do, I joined films. But never did I imagine that I would stand before the White House 45 years later with a `kudumi' playing the role of sastrigal in the famous television serial "Washingtonil Thirumanam," which I scripted and directed.'

Unlike others, Gopu did not struggle to get into the film industry. His classmate director, C.V. Sridhar, was already an established dialogue writer. He decided to make use of Gopu's sense of humour and asked him to handle the comedy track in `Kalyana Parisu'.

Even today the imaginary firm `Mannar and Co' track, involving Thangavelu and Saroja, evokes laughter.

"I myself was the inspiration for the track. As I come from an orthodox family, I could not tell my in-laws that I worked in films. I simply told them that I was working for a shipping firm called `Mannar and Co'. When the film unit sent a car to pick me up, my wife cross-checked with the driver and the cat was out of the bag".

Another masterpiece of his was `Kaathalikka Neramillai' with its famous track `Oho productions' headed by Nagesh. He and Baliah gave life to Gopu's dialogues.

Then came "Ooty Varai Uravu", "Kalai Koil", "Nil.. Gavani... Kadhalee", "Shanthi Nilayam", "Uththaravinri Ullae Vaa", "Moondru Deivangal", "Veetukku Veedu" and "Gallatta Kalyanam." "Kasethan Kadavulladaa'' and "Paati Sollai Thattathae".

`Gallatta Kalyanam' was originally a half-an-hour skit written by Gopu for a starnite organised by Sivaji Ganesan to raise funds for the Army during Chinese aggression. When Gopu read out the play to Sivaji, he burst out laughing and immediately gave an advance to him, saying he was going to film the play. Jayalalitha acted with Sivaji in the movie, which became a super-hit. The same paired again in `Sumati En Sundari'. Ms. Jayalalithaa had mentioned to Gopu about a Bengali story, which he scripted for Tamil.

Gopu always enjoyed writing comedy. His drama troupe in the 1960s, `Unity Club', had Muthuraman, Manorama and Gopalakrishnan. Many of his stage plays such as `Kaasethaan Kadavulada' were made into hit movies.

In this movie produced by AVM, Gopu took to direction.

He entered small screen after `Patti Sollai Thattathe'

When he received the Kalaimamani Award from Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa in 1992, she recalled: "I still remember your dialogues."

"Many stars have told me whenever they face a problem, they watch my films. And later, when they deal with the problem, they find it nothing," Gopu says.

Perhaps, it is this feedback that keeps him going strong.