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Friday, February 26, 2010

Nipped in the Bud

My ambitions to become an actor was nipped in the bud

( for good ,thank God for that ,why did u think ever think of becoming one ?

are three possible responses I hear from the reader )

It all started when in 10 th grade , in my budding teens and with raring hormones ,an advertisement in the daily that they were looking for young people with the yearning to act to be part of a theatre group in Madras ( ya chennai today ) ,it went to bill the person owning it as professor Shakespeare Sundaram ,that really shook me !

This Sundaram was a septagenurian who could reel off Shakespeare with the right intonations and voice fluctuations in a jiffy and would amaze audiences by his diction ,memory and style of presentation ,one could conjure visions of great British drama actors and thier deep voices hearing him but seeing him was a different matter which I would come to .

By then he had become popular having lent his voice and a shakespeare dialogue

TO BE OR NOT TO BE from Hamlet to none other than the reigning king of drama in cinema the legendary Sivaji Ganesan in a film called Rajappat Rangadurai where the don of acting was a drama actor donning great characters .Both sundaram and sivaji did justice to thier parts in the movie though Sundarams part started and ended with dubbing for to be or not to be

it gave him some fame .

I went to his house as suggested in the advt ,it was in one of those winding backlanes of crowded Mylapore and not very impressive for me who expected a plush actors office .

I entered a house with long corridors and with many people busy with thier own things ,I cleared my throat and asked can i meet Professor Sundaram ,one lady looked at me and asked you want to meet who ? turned to another one who said Oh for dad it is another of those from the advertisemsnt

you go up he is there she said ,I climbed the staircase and into a dingy room ,there were two people both old ,one was bald around fifty five or so and the other which I presumed would be Sundaram older thinner almost gaunt and sitting in an easy chair ,thinking back I think he had an uncanny resemblance to J Krishnamurthi the eminient philosopher ,he had the same starved look ( this is not to cast any insinuation on Krishna murthy who made up for his asthenia with a fat intellect but the same cannot be said for Sundaram ).

Came for the interview saar seeing the advertisemsnt

oh so u came for that......... this from the sidekick who I found was called mamma

( meaning uncle in tamil not mummy )

Sundaram seemed lost in mediatation ,he had to give the impression that he was a great actor ruminating on his possiblities to the newcomer and this I found later was his regular countenance in such situations .

he took a book of Shakespeare drama and pointed to me some lines READ he commanded !

I could read english pretty well by then of course the Montforts convent and its Fathers had seen to it that my accent was reasonably good too but my later classes from 6 th to 10 th was in a high school where I had lost some of the sheen I read the passage , he stopped me shortly ENOUGH I wanted you to read Shakespeare not a newspaper ,how old are you ?

fourteen saar

I can try to mould you though it would be a uphill task but you should be regular for rehersals we are planning a small theatre group and you could be part of that declared the old man .

Mamma took me aside ,look you are lucky to get selected like that he is very selctive ,so be punctual for rehersals and you should start working for his charity cheque too !

what I asked ?

yes there is a big group planning to give him a purse in a celebration and cheques from many people has to be collected for filling this purse !

but you said there is a group it is thier job ,well we are all part of the group so dont argue ,mamma gave a slight smell of old whisky when he talked and looking at sundarams red veined nose I could make out they had thier parties and what the purse was needed for .

( no wonder the daughters were contemptous of him )

shortly I was part of the shakespeare theatres and we had a lively group

each character was unique I mean the real life characters .

Rajkumar ( dont know where he is these days ) was in his early thirties he was a personal assistant to CVRDE director and was into wearing coats and smoking a pipe !

he loved everything British and was a brown Burrasahib ,he was slow in his talk with a laugh at the end of every sentence ,being a bachelor then ,he had lots of money and used to treat me and Seshu often and we were his close chums .

Sundaram could never get Raj deliver his dialogues in the way he wanted for he had developed his own style having viewed all shakespeare films many times ,only thing that didnt fit the bill of his being British was his brown black skin,he had a thin mustache and loved sitting in hotels with a book in his hand ,Madras waiters are known for thier quick deliveries of the goodies asked for and they would be at thier patience end with Raj sitting hours over a cofee and reading his books in a oh so British high tea fashion ,but he tipped them well and they would allow him his quirkiness .

once Seshu and myself went to his office in Avadi and he came to gate as security was tight he looked different suited and booted and with a glowing pipe and all the security salaaming him he really impressed us but he was a great friend with a fine sense of humour .

i lost touch with him after many years .

Sam was another one he was older plumpier with a paunch he too was dark and round but he was tall too and had a booming voice ,his masterpiece was the last minutes of Socrates and he was always telling others that he was well known for this great piece ,he looked at Sundaram with disdain

Raj and Sam both were rivals to a small extent Raj used to decribe him as the boor ,

when a petite looking young lady joined the group both Raj and Sam ( married with kids ) were at thier best trying to impress her with thier antics ,me being too small for that watched the fun ,at the end of the day they would fume at each other ,the triangle closed in a few days as a handsome boyfriend came to take the young lass home both accepted thier defeat graciously though Raj used to feel sad and tell me she looked just like my Audrey Hepburn .

there was Seshu who like me was in his school finals he was good company for me and had his own ideas of actingdom

the first programme I was given the role a spear holding soldier in a court ,which was chnaged due to my virulent protests that this was way below my expectations,

a spear holding soldier did not reel out shakespearean sonnets and I would have landed this role anywhere and I demanded a meatier one so I graduated into a minister who had a seat but still a silent one who could maybe laugh I did not know how Shakepearean ministers laughed ,so Sehsu took up the gauntlet and bore the spear .

All he had to do was walk with his spear with another similar bimbo and stand erect for the rest sad job indeed ,at least I sat and watched his discomfort .

Sam got a heavy role in tune with his physique and he insisted that he would do Socrates as a seperate act whatever comes before the shakespeare play started and Sundaram did not dare to refuse

Raj was also given a good role and he was in his smiling best

there were some others too but I dont remember all of them

It was in Ranade library auditorium

these were the days when I was learning guitar so I suggested to Sundaram whetehr i could do the background score ,he agreed as he could save some money that way

we sold tickets and soon the hall was crowded many were from our families and many friends who had to buy the tickets on our insistence .

Mamma went to the mike and gave pep talk on sundaram after all he was his man friday he eulogised on his greatness and on how the doyen of acting Sivaji had trembled at the dialogues when Sundaram had taught him !

the next talk was by the great man himself ,he elaborated on his voice modulations and how to remember shakespear, all very impressive and then he gave some samples

they were done well and the audience clapped he went to another and this time I felt I had to do my bit of providing background support ( I was a learner in guitar too and my talents were limited )so when he ended a sentence dramatically I spoilt everyhting with a noisy strumming actually my idea was to give it dramatic flourish but it was truly not melding Sundaram looked at me sternly and conveyed the message "stop that you idiot" ,

I always misintrpret things and I thought maybe he liked it and after the next one strummed with more confidence the glare became murderous and after the third one sundaram came to me and said GO IN NOW

so I came back sheepishly to the green room

it was a greater mess here Sam was purple with rage as his socrates beard was giving him a royal itch and he was yearning for a smoke which could burn his weed he was waiting for Sundaram to finish his peice so that he could start his magnum opus and sundaram never stopped once he had a mike ( this according to Mamma )

by then Sam had declared to all and sunder "I am going to kill him on stage yes now "and we had to physically prevent him from doing that .

Mamma went and whispered in Sundarams ear that the green room was heating up and he would shortly be a murder victim with that Socrates baying for his blood .

Sundaram knew this was serious and he still did not want to be former professor Sundaram so he quickly ended his sermon and Sam strode into the stage and enacted Socrates ,

surely Socrates would have had greater convulsions seeing that than when he really drank the poison,because Sam took to the Tamil isthyle of acting where everything was exagerated and imagine how he would do Socrates in his death throes ,the stage shook while he delivered his homilies and the scene where he took the cup of poison was most dramatic ,my attempts at background music here too was a failure as nothing was heard beyond Sams booming cries .

He came from the stage with a victoriuos flourish and tore at his beard and went for his smoke before his next act

the evening ended with my being a sitting minister and Seshu a standing soldier and Raj doing his oh so english bit and Audrey in her coy self and mamma counting the pickings

so much for my acting !

but I did have some good friends in the bargain and pleasant memories too .


umesh kumar said...

All are actors/actresses in real life. Why can't you try your luck now. For next annual day we can have a good drama by you.

harimohan said...

true umesh we act everyday in the drama of life !
why make annual day a tamasha ?

Maddy said...

so finally sheshappa iyer found a compatriot to utter his lines eh? great job....wish i was around to see the scene..

harimohan said...

he di real nostalgia those days

Uthiram Vinmeen said...

Sheakespeare Sundaram used to a freelance artist demonstarting his skills in the early and mid 1960's in schools of Tamil Nadu. I too was inspired to read Sheasperse in my college days in early 1970s and listen to BBC plays on shortwave radio. Sundram and Shivaji combination did one other Sheakspeare scene in a movie together - Raths Thilagam - a Chinese War propoganda Tamil movie produced by lyricist Kannadasan with a famous song Oru Koppaiyele En Kuddiyirruppu ( a song inspired by Omar Khaiyyam's persian poem).
Thanks for recording Sundaram and taking me on Nostalgia trip too.

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