Sometimes, we meet someone just once, but remember them for the rest of our life. This was one such meeting. I was at Crazy Mohan’s Mandaveli residence last year around May. I had requested an interview with the screenwriter-actor-playwright ahead of World Laughter Day. My editor was keen that I get him on video. It was 6.30 in the evening. Crazy Mohan, with a warm smile, welcomed me. “Nowadays, I don’t have a sharp memory. I tend to forget things. But let me dress up and get ready,” he told walking down the stairs. Little did I realise, I would write this obituary piece the following year.
He asked me to set the camera in the hall where the walls were adorned with photographs of celebrities who were close to him. “I love this man,” said Crazy Mohan, pointing his finger towards a photo where he was standing with Kamal Haasan. “Behind every successful man, there is a woman. Behind mine also, of course, there is one: Avvai Shanmughi. Even if I wrote a love letter to my wife, I would discuss with him,” he said, laughing. The laughter still rings in my ears.
Crazy Mohan and Kamal Haasan are old acquaintances having worked on cult classics Apoorva Sagodharargal, Sathi Leelavathi, Michael Madana Kama Rajan, Pammal K Sammandham and Panchathanthiram. “Kamal told me he would take care of my future,” he recalled.
Though Crazy Mohan believed comedy was his calling, his theatre and cinema stint was quite accidental. He wanted to make people laugh as long as he could, and was grateful for entertaining audiences for decades. He loved what he was doing, and felt it was way better than a 9-5 job.
Crazy Mohan’s variety of humour was wholesome and free from double entendres, which he thought was his biggest strength. “I find humour in simple things and don’t believe in making the audience uncomfortable. Also, I don’t have ego. I take feedback from everyone. Maybe, that is why everyone likes me,” he opined.
Despite audiences lauding his work, Crazy Mohan remained down-to-earth and was doubtful if his brand of humour would work today. “Now, things are different. Today’s crowd is less tolerant. I see them channelise their energy more on Facebook and Twitter. Social media poraaligal ellarum. I want more youngsters to attend stage plays and encourage theatre groups,” he added. There was an underlying tone of respect which he extended to the youth. “Ellarum budhisaali pasanga. Let’s take it easy; life is crazy,” he remarked.
Even as a close associate of Kamal Haasan, Crazy Mohan steered clear of groupism and showed no curiosity in politics. I remember him say his nature of work was, in fact, apolitcal. “But Kamal sir is a perfectionist. He would be successful in whatever he does,” he said.
Crazy Mohan never tried his hand at direction unlike Kamal Haasan. A self-confessed fan of Laurel and Hardy, PG Wodehouse and O’Henry, he was equally an excellent painter. As I wrapped up the shoot, Crazy Mohan excitedly showed me a Venkatchalapathy painting, of which I took a photo and still have on my phone gallery. “I also pen venpas (a form of Tamil poetry). I have them in my diary,” he told.
It was past 9 pm. I was waiting for the cab. The driver had some problem in finding the route. Crazy Mohan stepped out of his home and came to the gate. He said, “Call me once you are home. I will be worried if you don’t reach safely.”
We not only lost a screenwriter par excellence but also a wonderful human being. Truly, he was one of a kind. We may have, perhaps, preferred to watch him in roles that made us laugh but he was a natural yet spontaneous actor. You would have witnessed it in Indian, Vasool Raja MBBS, Kalyana Samayal Saadham and a few more. Though he played stereotypical comic roles in these films, there are some performances that stand out. You will be missed, sir.