Another light day during Madras Week when I could get on with other activities, all of which have been crying for attention. That done, went in the evening for Mohan Raman’s talk on Madras Bhashai in Tamil Cinema, held at the Park Hyatt Velachery. His presentation is one of the highlights of the Madras Week each year and draws record crowds. The hotel called in the morning asking if attendees needed passes as several people were making enquiries. One mama called me and asked if it was free and when I said yes replied that he was grateful as he only attended free programmes. This is a particularly well to do mama by the way.
The Chief keeps harping on the necessity for conducting Madras Week programmes in North Chennai. I notice that he does not feel the same about South Chennai, or as I think of it, the mofussil that now claims to be part of the city. The reason I bring this up is that having embarked on the long journey to Velacheri from RA Puram, I drove on and on, one foot perpetually on the clutch (should have gone in for automatic transmission). I felt like a bit part player in the song Koto Door Ar Koto Door Bolo Ma in the Bengali movie Morutirtha Hinglaj. You can watch it here to get that feeling of despondency when you think you are driving forever to Velacheri – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPCJNjLtSBI
Having reached in due course I found that most people were yet to come. The video camera man was not there, much of the audience was absent. Mohan was there, as was the projection equipment man, thank heavens. Also there sadly, were most of the food predators. By the time Sarada and I had reached the food was all over and the Woolly Mammoth having picked up a wax aubergine, was asking a hotel staffer if it was real or artificial. It is a pity that the waiter said it was synthetic. Watching the Woolly Mammoth bite into it would have made for some fun. The question is, does he eat aubergines raw? Mammoths probably did. By the way, even as hardened predators such as the Boa could only gaze wistfully at empty plates, Woolly Mammoth had his plate full. Must be a devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba. Did not the darling old man say that his devotees’ plates would always be full?
Many of my friends now demand a heritage tour of sorts at these talks, wanting to know who is who among the animal kingdom I describe in these diaries. On the 25th it was Mathangi and Ranjana Ramakrishnan; yesterday it was AS Diwakar. I took him around, pointing out Woolly Mammoth, the Love Birds, the Vulture and the Boa. Not present were Gorilla and The Wig. The latter is such a fixture that even Mohan noticed his absence, as he did the absence of the saturnine inveterate questioner who is usually obsessed with the sex-related queries.
This was one of Mohan’s best talks. He dealt with the topic of Madras Bhashai with much warmth and empathy, not dismissing it as some do as a language of the unlettered. He drew parallels with cockney and played some great movie clips. While we all laughed our heads (or should I say loaves Mohan?) off I could not help reflecting on how much joy people such as NS Krishnan (who according to Mohan perhaps made the first reference to Madras Bhashai in films), Chandrababu, Manorama, Cho, Nagesh, Thengai Srinivasan, Suruli Rajan and other comedians brought to our lives. The sequences from films such as Kasethan Kadavulada had the audience rocking with laughter. Mohan did not leave out the matinee stars who made Madras Bhashai famous – Sivaji (Bale Pandiya), Kamal (in several but Pammal K Sambandam stands out), Rajini and Dhanush. I also noticed no heroine took to this language, certainly I cannot imagine Bhanumati, Padmini, Savitri or Saroja Devi speaking in it. But I do remember some movie of KR Vijaya’s where she talks entirely in this lingo.
He then went on to reflect on how Madras Bhashai itself has evolved and continues to grow, its current lingo being vastly different as compared to what was spoken even a decade back. To illustrate this he quoted from the gana paattu expert Rokesh, who is now much in demand for Madras Bhashai songs such as Aluma Doluma.
Overall it was a super evening macchi. The journey back was as painful as the drive to the hotel. Late at night got a call from a TV channel wanting me to be part of a panel discussion ‘regarding the Madras Week controversy’. I refused, stating there was no controversy.