Mohan is gone, but the craziness will go on

'Crazy’ Mohan, prominent Tamil theatre artiste and ace scriptwriter for Tamil films, passed away in Chennai on June 10, 2019/ PTI Photo

“I've seen Krishna Consciousness, only today I saw Krishna unconsciousness!" chuckled Maadhu (Balaji) as Lord Krishna (Crazy Mohan) fainted on his couch.

The audience roared with laughter.

It was the 777th staging of Crazy Creation's 'Chocolate Krishna' in Chennai’s iconic Narada Gana Sabha, and I, alongside my mom, teared up with laughter like so many others in the hall.

Hearing of the news of Mohan Rangachari aka 'Crazy' Mohan’s death it was difficult not to be struck by the life he had lived. Here was a man, the mere thought of whom, conjured up a storehouse of laughter even on the day of his death.

Wordy wise

Crazy Mohan stood out in the Tamil comedy scene with his talent for coming up with just the right lines, many of them most memorably delivered by his friend and long-term collaborator, Kamal Haasan.

"Kalakkitiye da coffee!" [Kalakitiye translates to ‘you mixed’ and is also slang for ‘you nailed it’] says Rajaram (Kamal Haasan) in the movie, Vasool Raja M.B.B.S and we’re still repeating it after all these years.

Mohan’s influence over the Tamil colloquial tongue is impossible to assess, like the ubiquity of idli sambar on streets – perhaps with him it was idli and an extra cup of sambar. He must have known that he was writing for an audience who knew a thing or two about playing with language, local idioms and catchphrases. His quick-witted humour almost bordering on the whimsical and the crazy, instantly endeared his work to people from all walks of life.

The last play of his that I saw of was the 'Return of Crazy Thieves', which involved a gang of dumb yet notorious thieves trying to rob a bank and hilariously failing at it. "When I saw this play's first version, ‘Crazy’ was one of the thieves," whispered my mother, while we watched. Mohan was now a part of the extended characters in the play when I saw it at Narada Gana Sabha in 2017. Nevertheless, his energy and vibe was as strong and inimitable as good, strong Mylapore filter coffee, the part of Chennai he hailed from.

English theatre was more popular among those of my generation. Tamil drama was not the most 'hip' entertainment option for those I grew up with. The halls were mostly empty even for major yesteryear theatre superstars. Well, almost for all of them.

Crazy Mohan's dramas were always house-full. Even celebrities and ‘mega-stars’ would watch his plays with keen interest. Crazy Creations redefined modern Tamil drama by putting pure entertainment first. Balaji or 'Maadhu' Balaji, Mohan's brother, was the constant protagonist in almost all of his plays. The character 'Maadhu' was so simple yet iconic, every striving middle-class husband could identify with him. Meesai Aanalum Manaivi (Wife even with a moustache), Jurassic Baby and Madhil Mel Maadhu (Maadhu on the Wall) – my personal favourites among many – were exemplary for sheer conception and execution.

"Periya engineer ah varaporan paaru!" [He will become a great engineer, you just see!] Shaktivel Goundar (Kamal Haasan) says, speaking about his son, in Sathi Leelavathi. Mohan himself was a mechanical engineering graduate as his family wanted him to be. Not surprisingly, speaking in an interview to Vijay TV, he once said that he owed his sense of humour to his joint family and a close friend, Ravi.

Comedy unlimited with Kamal

He found his passion for writing after he won the best writer award in an inter-college skit competition at the age of about 20. The prize was handed over to him by his icon, Kamal Haasan. In the years to come, Kamal’s sharp comedic timing would be complemented by Mohan's dialogues in the most memorable of ways.

For example, "Munnadi, Pinnadi... Enna irundhudhu?" is a comedic sequence from the film Panchathanthiram that celebrates this unbeatable pairing. This is wordplay and punning at its best. Both Munnadi and Pinnadi could mean "previously" in Tamil depending on the context. The characters go nuts on screen, and the audience off-screen. Starring multi-lingual icons like Kamal, Jayaram, Ramesh Aravind, Sriman, Nagesh – this was my first introduction to Crazy Mohan. There was no stopping me after that.

I watched Crazy Mohan and Kamal together K Balachander's Poi Kaal Kuthirai, Sathi Leelavathi, Kaadhala Kaadhala, Michael Madana Kama Rajan, Apoorva Sagodharargal, Indian, Avvai Shanmughi, Thenali, Panchathanthiram and Vasool Raja M.B.B.S to name a few.

Mohan worked far less with the other Tamil superstar, Rajinikanth. But when he did, he ended up giving us the line, "Andavan solran, Arunachalam mudikkiran!" [God commands, Arunachalam completes!] from the superhit Arunachalam.

Crazy Mohan's speciality was twisting casual words into jaw-dropping punch lines whether it was for Joseph (Goundamani) in Vietnam Colony, or the madly-in-love Eashwar (Vineeth) in May Maadham, a playful rockstar Romeo (Prabhu Deva) in Mr Romeo or the vein-popping angry young Ajay (Nagarjuna) in Ratchagan. Mohan went crazy with every genre and character handed to him.

Even in female-oriented movies such as Magalir Mattum ('Ladies only', a remake of the Hollywood movie, Nine to Five) Mohan's dialogues captured the patriarchal pressures on women brilliantly.

Given the popularity of his work, it's often easy to miss that this was an artist working at his peak in films such as Kaadhala Kaadhala (1998), where Kamal and Prabhu Deva themselves play striving artists.

Not surprisingly, he had another passion other than dabbling in words. Crazy Mohan once showcased all of his drawings, manual and digital on Vijay TV's chat show Koffee with Anu. “It is my first hobby. Even when I'm busy, I allot some time for painting. It’s more of a relaxation for me and helps me to be more creative,” he told The Hindu.

The night after watching 'Return of Crazy Thieves', the curious cat in me found out that it was the hit play, 'Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam', which had transformed Mohan Rangachari into 'Crazy' Mohan.

Crazy Mohan taught me that if life gives me lemons, I should add salted peanuts to make lemon rice and not mere lemonade. He taught me that situations can move you forward or backward (munnadi or pinnadi), but you project yourself as you are to the world, like a mirror (kannadi). He taught me to just say ‘Muruga! Muruga!’ no matter what the confusion.

He knew what he was saying when he quipped at the end of his shows, “Take it easy, Life is Crazy!". And he left a whole body of work to help all of us take it easy. There’s going to be no end to the craziness anytime soon.

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