In fond memory of C.S.Hariharan Senior

(Contd. From Part I)

Part II

The basic premise is as simple as they come – Rich man’s brother plots his downfall. While escaping from the brother’s pursuit, rich man’s wife gives birth to 4 sons under the refuge of a good samaritan. The brother orders the children to be killed. In Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs fashion, the person assigned to the job undergoes a change of heart and abandons the children instead of killing them except one of them whom he adopts himself (Michael). One reaches the rich man himself (Madan), the second grows up in a Paalakkaad Brahmin cook’s house (Kameswaran) and the last of the quartet is Rajan or chellamaaa surukkamaa Subrahmanya Raju for short (sic).

A neutrino size   break   at this point. All the foregoing is encapsulated in ONE TITLE SONG SEQUENCE !! This begs the question, why would the makers of the film compress what took one-third of Amar Akbar Anthony’s screen running time into half the time it took to formulate and type the previous paragraph ? Because………there were too many goodies in store for the audience and why waste valuable time on what is merely a foreword.

Catch my point ?

End of neutrino size break. Years later, Madan has completed an MBA in England (not the USA), Raju is a fireman, Kameswaran assists his father in his wedding catering service and Michael is a small time hood. The brother of the rich man – Madan’s father – and his son (played by Nasser) are still plotting his death. They run his car off a cliff and make it look like an accident but he survives. The bad news is he goes mad in the process but the good news is he is reunited with his wife who went missing years ago.

Interesting sidelight, the actors who played the rich man and his brother are also brothers in real life.

The events which bring together the 4 sons after they’ve become adults forms the rest of the plot – not story – P..L..O..T.. A story can put you to sleep………..

Kamal is first and foremost an ace writer. The intricate, unflagging plot, show cases Kamal’s script writing skills. One segment flows seamlessly into another segment, linking up seemingly unconnected settings and events even before you realize it. The James Bond school of script writing’s influence is strongly in evidence here. Kamal had applied it quite successfully 3 years earlier in ‘Vikram’ – a screenplay that Albert R. Broccoli would have been proud of – a spy hideout and chase through the most unlikeliest of places, an agraharam with a crescendo ending in a movie theatre while the Films Division news is going on. The Films Division newsreel headlines an event in the land of Salaamiya (the chase is immediately out of our minds) which in turn sends the hero on a different trail.

Catch my point ?

Kamal carries on the good work in the script department here. You never get the impression that any part of the film is a set piece. During the entire journey, the manner in which the brothers cross each other’s paths, literally within yards of each other yet remain blissfully unaware of each others’ existence is so well thought out – there is always an invisible wall or character forming a bridge between the brothers which is never crossed.

A case in point is the scene where the Pathani moneylender browbeats Raju into paying up his dues . It ends in the moneylender being taken by surprise flinging a plate of fish from the verandah which lands on the next Kamal character to be introduced, Kameswaran.

It is at this juncture that dialogue writer Crazy Mohan bristling at the non-striker’s end with a long period of inactivity fires the first salvo with a barrage of Paalakaad lingo “Kathrikkai Kashnaththa vitterinjaa yellaam seriyaapoachchaaa ?” which forms the meat of the movie’s comedy (more on that later)

Similarly, Madan’s cousin (Nasser) sends 2 small time crooks on Madan’s trail. They follow him, and Madan’s giant valet Beemboy (Praveen Kumar of Mahabharat fame) from the airport. When they lose his trail, Kameswaran comes out of nowhere on a scooter with his helper, Varudhukutty on the pillion seat. The script teases the viewers repeatedly in this fashion by bringing Kameswaran tantalizingly close to the crooks surveillance car till you realize you’ve been unconsciously holding your breath like the car’s occupants. Ofcourse, Crazy Mohan signs off the scene with “Anga oru Adi aal….Inga oru podia al. Pala sizela adi aal vechchirukkaanda…Dei ivan jagdjaala killaadidaa….”

The James Bond influence is visible in other departments also. Madan’s sidekick Beem Boy, to whom he delegates all the heavy work in typical MBA fashion, is a desi version of the Bond comic giant villain Jaws, played so well by 7 foot tall Richard Kiel (In ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, Jaws   lands up in the middle of the ocean after a failed chase to kill Bond and when waylaid by a shark retaliates by biting the shark !! ). Only there is huge touch of Big Moose’s innocence in addition to his brutish strength.


In the early days of animated cartoons, due to the astronomical cost of producing even one cartoon short, Walt Disney ensured that there were no lulls between the gags. The script had to be relentless till the very end.

The same principle is applied here. Not a snip of film is wasted.

The movie takes a dig at practically everything , most of all, Tamil cinema itself. Raju on the phone with his paramour Shalini asks her what dress she’ s wearing and she replies ‘Black and White ‘ and he replies ‘Appo Naan Colorla release aaidrayn’. The Peyar vechchallum song pokes fun at the frequent dress changes in song sequences but takes choreography by the scruff of its neck into the next century. Shalini (played by   Khushbu) is baffled and even conveys her astonishment at the speed of the dress change while the song sequence is on.

There’s even a dig at Doordarshan also. But the cardinal principle is obeyed here also – viz. NO Wastage of screen time.

Beem is watching cartoon network while eating a banana – his Pluto-ish expression belonged inside Cartoon network not outside. In exasperation, Madan asks him “Beem, why don’t you watch something else – give some food for your thoughts ?” (an oblique reference to Beem’s swallowing the banana. Beem replies in all sincerity “Doordarashan Paakkavaa boss ?”

While Madan is on the phone and absent mindedly watches the TV, his attention is violently diverted to the screen as he finds out that Manorama and Roopini have pulled a fast one on him and Roopini is not a blind cripple.

Bottomline, even the Doordarshan dig moves the plot along.

Catch my point ?

End of Part II

(To be Concluded)

Next Part : The Wizard of Ohz



“Can you ask your son to wait outside the room for a few minutes ?” asked the doctor. A wave of trepidation swept over my wife and myself. In all the years that we had known him we had never seen him display such depth of feeling. He seemed grave and puzzled at the same time and had the air of someone about to communicate very bad news. He looked at us quietly for what seemed like an eternity and then asked “why is the boy so stressed ?……….” Looking at our confused expression, he said vehemently “There is NOTHING wrong with him ! This whole pain has been brought on by stress and worry – nothing else”.

Imagine our relief when he said this. For the last couple of months we were in and out of the nearby hospital and clinic – what started as an innocuous swelling on the finger metamorphosed into unbearable pain in the abdomen, especially at night. The sight of our son writhing in pain was pure torture and there seemed to be no answer in sight.
Though he was on the threshold of entering high school, and not a child any more we still took him to Dr.Subramanian, our paediatrician of many years. And the doctor didn’t once evince surprise or refer us to someone else.
Slightly relieved after his gentle admonition to us, my thoughts went back in time over the years to our first visit to his clinic. The summer was particularly bad even by the standard of Madras summers. My family was still trying to come to terms with our return to Madras on my joining a new company after years spent in Baroda and Bangalore.
And added to the rigours of shifting from one city to another and setting up house, my son fell ill and was vomiting. As luck would have it, before I could even think of which doctor to see, my co-brother referred me to Dr.Subramanian , whose clinic was luckily a few streets away from where we lived.
A high gate led us into a residence cum clinic with a large garden-cum-sit out – obviously the place had been bought in an era of benign real estate prices. The waiting room looked like a converted garage with inviting red oxide flooring with a fish tank in one corner and themes from all religions adorning the walls dominated by a poster with a translation of the Gayathri Mahamantra.

We didn’t have to wait long before one of the pillars of our existence, the doctor’s receptionist, motioned to us to go in to his room-clinic. In that first meeting I found him to be quietly and fiercely focused until the diagnosis presented itself like another minor station on a long train journey.

“You should have brought a towel” he said, somewhat irritated when my son vomited on the chair. And that was my introduction to dehydration as a cause of vomiting. When he heard that I’d recently joined the World Bank, he nodded and mentioned another patient of his who was also employed at the Bank. When he enquired what I did at the Bank, my answer which had its source in half frustration (I was going through a rough period at that time) and half self-mockery seemed to amuse him.
In fact that’s one of the things I’ve come to associate with him in the years that followed, his air of mild amusement. Nothing seemed to surprise him or cause depth of feeling. His concentration was well disguised by a far away look which seemed to border on carelessness but he’d catch you off guard with his next remark which put paid to any doubts on that score.
I could never figure out if this was relaxed concentration or concentrated relaxation !

I like to think of the years that followed as the wheezing years.

We were constantly in and out of his clinic due to my son’s respiratory problems and like an experienced opening batsman enjoying the variation in the armoury of a veteran fast bowler I had the opportunity to see a master at work from close quarters.

He had a constant no-nonsense air about him and his instructions were peppered with healthy doses (pun intended) of common sense.
Quite unlike what one would expect of a paediatrician, he never changed his manner when communicating with the children who visited his clinic. He probably felt it distracted him from the more serious business of diagnosis. In fact he seemed to speak both to parents and children in the same way !
And the children also responded to him inspite of the absence of empty endearments or misdirected attempts at fun and games to get an “in” with them.
Though not given to over the top displays of emotion he did have his pet ideas about which he was quite passionate.

He was an advocate of steaming in addition to the prescribed medicine and religiously worked it into his prescriptions.

When my wife once asked what medicine to take, he replied sternly “First steaming. If you do steaming then No medicine required”
On one occasion, I mentioned once that getting caught in the rain might have caused the severe cold, he launched into one of his rare lectures. “Jalaththunaala Dhosham Varaadhu “ he stated. (Doesn’t translate well – means plainly that the water (Jalam) is not the cause of disease – it was a play on the word ‘Jaladhosham’ meaning cough & cold in Tamil). “It is the impurities in the water which are the cause of disease and not the water itself”.

He was also vehement in his denunciation of fruit juice. “How many fruits go into making a fruit juice ? In a country where scarcity is abundant, why take the fruit out of the mouths of so many poor people ?” Realizing that logic doesn’t sell as much as raw emotion, he just plainly admonished the parents of his patients “Avoid fruit juice, its VESHAM (POISON) !!!” He spat it out like some Sicilian swear word, knowing that he held some influence with this audience especially the influential female side of the parent equation.

On another occasion, when I was about to leave for Washington amidst the swine flu scare and asked him what kind of mask I should take with me, without answering me directly, he just sneered that he had just come back from the airport “what nonsense ! People trooping around in masks everywhere – as if that’s going to protect them”.

For the first time that I knew, he reluctantly wrote out a list of medicines more as a fall back option as he could foresee that I’d never get to use any of them on my short trip.

Amidst all this was the humour which defined the man and his innate curiosity about people and machines like his beloved Enfield Bullet from his student days. At times he would talk enthusiastically for uncountable minutes when the mood seized him and when he found a patient with similar interests. Sometimes this irritated the women who felt the doctor was being unfair to the crowd of patients waiting outside his room.

I fell sick once and though Adyar is heaven if you’re looking for any kind of specialist, strangely there are no general practitioners who immediately come to mind. So, it didn’t strike me as odd to visit Dr.Subramanian and wait outside along with other child patients.

“Next batsman” he quipped without batting an eyelid when I trooped in – his lips crinkling in an amused smile, eyes half closed.

On another occasion when my wife asked him one doubt too many and as an after thought suddenly asked him when she should discontinue the medication, he replied without looking up from his writing pad “after the case is finished” (a reference to the Shankar Raman murder case which dominated the news at that time). Then quick not to give offense to his constituency of patients’ mothers, he quickly smiled “I’ll let you know when”.

Jonathan Swift , the author of the classic Gulliver’s Travels once said that the three doctors most essential to one’s well being were Dr.Diet, Dr.Quiet and Dr.Merryman.

#Dr.No #Dr.Subramanian #Shastrinagar
And a certain Dr.Subramanian too perhaps ?


Srinivasan (name changed on request) reached the office and logged in purposefully in the morning. Things weren’t great at the office, more work piling up, more pressure, more uncertainty at the workplace, more conflict, his son close to finishing school and on the threshold of college. But for this morning all this was scrubbed out of his resilient mind.
His pulse raced, he was elated, he’d struck a small amount of pay dirt, he’d discovered a NEW JOKE in Michael Madana Kama Rajan -MMKR for short – or “Mykale (colloquial for ‘Michael’ as it was lovingly called back then) !

A treasure trove of gags, one liners, and belly ache inducing comedy sequences, he had watched it more than 20 times and knew all the jokes packed in every nook and cranny, or so he thought until he discovered yet another one quite by chance.
Sirisha (again name changed on request) had logged into her school batch WhatsApp group about 40 minutes into a euphoric exchange of posts on Mykale’s hilarious one liners. One male member had posted a line from the film “aambala kettaa verun adhyaayam thaan ….aanaa pombala kettaa pusthakamay poatturuvaa” (loosely translated to mean that if a man commits a peccadiloe he can continue with life as before after negotiating a small period of acrimony but if a woman commits a similar indiscretion her life is pretty much finished). Sirisha responded lightheartedly to the post with “is that hearsay or experience talking ?”.

Immediately all the MMKR afficionados were all over her like a cheap suit. She was dubbed an oddity – someone who had seen the film but didn’t remember any of the dialogues. And even more, this was not just a movie………. this was an experience !

At its very least, Michael Madana Kama Rajan was one of the few out and out comedies of Tamil cinema upto that point, a tamil movie genre, the constituents of which you could count on the fingers of your left hand, with not a moment of typical tamil film ‘sentiment’ (read emotional gymnastics). The tamil movies of the eighties were more like an assorted L.I.C Moneyback policy offering an unfathomable mixture of life insurance cover, investment returns, return of principal and not enough of anything. Possibly due to the lower income levels and the attitude of more bang for buck, a film production had to contain myriad elements to cater to different sections of the audience or different wants of the same section in one sitting. Movies like Kanni Raasi which started out very well with a great comedy track meandered to a melodramatic whimper. MMKR would have none of that. Apart from the delicious comic lines which flowed from the very essence of who the characters were at the core, the slapstick sequences had ace choreography – from the Peyar Vechchaalum song to the final collapsing house sequence on the hill.

Released in 1990 on Deepavali, it was a beacon of light in what was a forgettable, dry year for the Tamil film industry which included a lukewarm response to Mani Ratnam’s Anjali and damp squibs like Rajnikanth’s Adhisaya Piravi and Karthik’s Idhaya Thaamarai.

Rear Window 1C

(This is a RED HERRING)



It didn’t create much pre-release hype or even anticipation beyond some polite curiousity about the same actor doing 4 roles- unlike Aboorva Sagodharargal where the anticipation of seeing Kamal playing a dwarf pre-sold the movie to a large extent. Triple roles were perceived as having been done before and done well by Sivaji in films such as Bale Paandiya and Navaraathri. Double and triple roles were after all nothing new in Tamil cinema………… but all that changed when the Oliyum Oliyum telecast on Deepavali carrying the song ‘Sundari Neeyum’ with its class picturization, zapped the audience out of their living room chairs similar to what the ‘Rajaadhiraajan Indha Raajaa’ song did for Agni Natchathiram.
Sundari Neeyum, is an example of perfect fusion – a total Carnatic tune in the foreground and a totally Western background. The intersection is magical. It conclusively proves that so called fusion never works unless both the classical and modern forms maintain their integrity.

Cars were starting to be fitted with sophisticated stereo systems at that time and it wasn’t uncommon to find youngsters playing the opening percussion beat of the song umpteen times on their car sound systems.
I recall my friend’s father getting a special pass for the Income Tax Commissioner for a pre-release show and word soon got out that this was a laugh riot that was not to be missed.

(To be Concluded)

#Michael MadanaKamaRajan #Kamalahasan #Crazy Mohan