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Nambiar Swami: A grandson’s biography that chronicles Kollywood’s greatest on-screen villain

Nambiar Swami - The Good, The Bad and The Holy is a biography of M N Nambiar by the actor's grandson Dipak Nambiar. It traces Nambiar's life and his friendships with actors in the industry, particularly with M G Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan.

Written by Shivani Ramakrishnan | Chennai |
September 16, 2019 5:37:15 pm
Nambiar, Nambiar Swami, Dipak Nambiar Nambiar Swami is a biography of late actor M N Nambiar by debutante author and grandson Dipak Nambiar. (Photo by Dipak Nambiar)

The name Nambiar is synonymous with villainy in Tamil cinema, courtesy late actor Manjeri Narayanan Nambiar who had donned the role of the antagonist for decades on the silver screen.

Nambiar Swami – The Good, The Bad and The Holy is a biography of Kollywood’s most versatile on-screen villain, Nambiar. It has been authored by the late actor’s grandson Dipak Nambiar. Released on March 7, 2019 to mark the actor’s birth centenary, Nambiar Swami captures three different facets of Nambiar’s life which were known by a select few since the actor kept his private and professional life separate.

Speaking to, debutante author Dipak Nambiar, who is the son of Nambiar’s daughter Sneha, said, “The title was given by my mother which in turn was inspired by the western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. ‘The Good’ talks about Nambiar who was a good person in real life which the people in Tamil Nadu realised in the late eighties. ‘The Bad’ talks about the Nambiar who defined villainy in cinema. Even today, actors who have donned the villain’s cape consider Nambiar to be their mentor. And lastly, ‘The Holy’ explores Nambiar as Mahaswami following his frequent trips to Lord Ayyappa’s shrine at Sabarimala which he undertook religiously every year.”

Dipak added that Nambiar had visited the hill-shrine 280 times until his death.

Having moved into his grandfather’s house at the age of 12, Dipak Nambiar was raised by Nambiar and his wife, Rugmini, who he lovingly called Appa (Father in Tamil) and Amma (Mother in Tamil), respectively. Being Nambiar’s first grandchild, Dipak had the opportunity of being raised by the stalwart who had a lot of time on his hands in the mid-seventies and eighties, with the latter taking up character roles in movies that gave him a lot of free time to spend with family at home. “The Nambiar that my mother and uncles saw was a father who went at 6 am for shooting and came back at midnight, while my grandmother was both a mother and father to them in everything. With me, Appa had a lot of time on his hands to raise me,” said Dipak, who completed his schooling at the Sishya School in Adyar.

Nambiar, Nambiar Swami, Dipak Nambiar Dipak Nambiar was raised in Chennai by his grandfather M N Nambiar and his grandmother Rugmini. (Photo by Dipak Nambiar)

“Growing up in the household of somebody who is famous, there were a lot of things as a child that I took for granted. I used to think that everybody in Tamil Nadu will give respect to my grandfather and that there will be a lot of goodwill and love. It was only after I moved to Aldridge in New Jersey, finished my MBA and began looking for a job that I realised how tough the real world is,” recounted Dipak. The distance from Nambiar gave the MBA graduate, who was looking for a job, some perspective. Having been asked to write down a few lines on what inspired him, Dipak had realised that the only thing that had inspired him was Nambiar’s life story. Dipak then scripted a few pages of the stories and life lessons that his grandfather had imparted and read them out to his grandparents after coming to India on vacation.

“I read them out and told Appa that I had written down a few pages of all the anecdotes and life stories that he had told me in my spare time. Amma’s first reaction was, ‘You cannot put all that in there. It is quite informatory and a lot of people may not like it!’. I said, ‘Hey this is what Appa told me and that is what I have put in the book’,” said the debutante author. He added that his grandfather had been very ‘cool’ with the fact that his grandson was penning down his biography and had given a small smile during the reading.

Dipak went on with the exercise, which was his pet project for a close to a decade, and did not have any intention of compiling them into a published book. However, in 2016, the author met with a major road accident and had to have his left leg amputated. “I realised then that 30 years or 50 years from now, though Appa would live on in the media, nobody would know his story. I decided then that I had to bring the book out into the open for the world to read,” said Dipak.

The author had later met with the then CEO of Harper Collins, Ananthakrishnan, a Tamilian, who knew who Nambiar was. Since Dipak was a debutante author, the CEO had sent his book to a three-member editorial board comprising of members from West Bengal, Assam and Maharashtra. “Ananthakrishnan had said that if the trio could understand the book by itself, then Harper Collins would publish it. By Ayyappa’s grace, they liked it and the book was released on March 7, 2019 on Appa’s 100th birthday,” said Dipak.

Nambiar, Nambiar Swami, Dipak Nambiar Nambiar Swami – The Good, The Bad and The Holy, which has been published by Harper Collins, was launched on March 7, 2019 to mark Nambiar’s birth centenary. (Photo by Dipak Nambiar)

Nambiar Swami – The Good, The Bad and The Holy, which is coupled with anecdotes, chronicles the personal and professional life of Nambiar and his friendships with actors in the industry, particularly with the late M G Ramachandran (MGR) and Sivaji Ganesan. After Nambiar’s death, Dipak completed the book with the help of veterans from politics and the cine industry such as former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who also penned the foreword for the book, late DMK chief M Karunanidhi, Rajinikanth, Sathyaraj, Bhagyaraj, P Vasu and the children of Sivaji Ganesan.

Recounting his childhood, Dipak Nambiar said that Nambiar the grandfather and Nambiar the actor were as different from each other as ‘night and day’. “At home, Appa was a very silent man. The only time he would open his mouth was after seeing my grades. He was also very witty and would often crack situational jokes. I learned a lot from him and the greatest lesson for me was the love that he had for his wife Rugmini. Appa was absolutely devoted to my grandmother and would often say that Amma was both the man and the woman of the house,” said Dipak.

Nambiar, Nambiar Swami, Dipak Nambiar Nambiar, who was a pure-vegetarian, would always give the first bite of his meal to his wife Rugmini. (Photo by Dipak Nambiar)

As somebody who had interacted with Nambiar in close quarters daily, Dipak could often see Nambiar’s sense of humour translate into his villainy on-screen as well. “He was a bad guy with a touch of humour about him and only I could see that. He really enjoyed playing a villainous role and he was never a psychopathic evil. It was more like ‘I am having a good time’ kind of evil”, revealed Dipak.

Growing up with Nambiar also meant that Dipak had the opportunity to accompany his grandfather to film sets. Recounting an incident which had occurred on a film set and had later found its way as an anecdote in Nambiar Swami, Dipak said, “He (Nambiar) once made the mistake of taking me to a shoot. He was very close to both MGR and Sivaji and neither of them liked the fact that my grandfather was close to the other person. I think I was four years old when he took me to the shooting of Ulagam Suttrum Valiban, a movie starring MGR. As MGR was sitting in the make-up room, I walked in and said, ‘Hi Sivaji!’. MGR was very furious and asked my father whether we had spent a lot of time with Sivaji. After that, Appa told me that he would never take me again since I always opened my mouth and said the wrong thing (laughs).”

While one would expect there to be a number of rules in place while growing up in the Nambiar household, Dipak said that it was not so. “Appa was very liberal. Although he was a pure vegetarian, he never forced us to follow his lifestyle. He often told us to live life the way we wanted to and encouraged us to try out new things. There was only one unwritten rule for all the males in the household, which was that it would be better to not have a sedentary lifestyle. Although none of us ever consumed liquor or smoked, we never found the rule to be restrictive. It was our way of trying to live up the man that Appa was”, said Dipak.

Dipak Nambiar said that his grandfather often encouraged his children and grandchildren to study well and pursue their interests rather than enter tinsel town. “Appa always urged us to study well and pursue a career. ‘After 23 or 24 years, when you have done well in your career and still want to act in movies, we shall see then’, he would often say,” said the author.

Nambiar, Nambiar Swami, Dipak Nambiar Dipak Nambiar with his grandfather M N Nambiar in Ooty in 1985. (Photo by Dipak Nambiar)

With Dipak having shared every good day in his life with his grandfather, he said that there was one incident which continues to tug at his heartstrings till date. “The fondest memory I have of Appa is one where I wasn’t actually there. I know how much he (Nambiar) had sacrificed for his family when he was still coming up in life and barely had any money. When I got my first job, I had cleaned out my salary and borrowed money to get him a Rolex watch. Amma had given him the watch and said that it was a gift from me. He kept quiet for some time and his eyes were glistening with tears. He then said, ‘This boy had turned out just like me. I had also always put family ahead of anything else.’ That is the greatest compliment that any father could ever bestow on a child, recalled Dipak with nostalgia. The author considered Nambiar to be father, having lost his father at a young age and being raised by his mother and grandparents.

Very few people today are aware that Nambiar was an excellent sportsman during his prime. The actor was good at fencing, wrestling and tennis and ensured that he practised them every day. In fact, Nambiar and MGR, who was also good at fencing, never used stunt doubles while sparring on screen. “He (Nambiar) used to spar and wrestle with me every day. I remember that one day, while wrestling, he picked me up and threw me onto the ground as Amma was walking in. She screamed and said, ‘Are you mad or what? You are going to kill your grandson at this age!’ At that time, Appa was close to 65 years old and I was 25 and he was four or five times stronger than me,” gushed Dipak.

Though Nambiar had acted in over 1000 movies (including Malayalam movies) in the South, Nenjam Marappathillai, starring Kalyan Kumar, Devika, Nambiar, S V Sahasranamam, Nagesh, Padmini Priyadarshini and Manorama, was a favourite of the grandfather-grandson duo.

Nambiar, Nambiar Swami, Dipak Nambiar Nambiar was responsible for getting his grandson interested in world news and current affairs. (Photo by Dipak Nambiar)

According to Dipak Nambiar, the biggest learning experience for him from his grandfather is to treat his work as God. “Appa would often say that work is God. Do your best at work and the rest will follow,” said Dipak.

Nambiar Swami was discussed during the Madras Week celebrations in August by Mohan Raman, a family friend of the Nambiars and a Kollywood actor who had acted with M N Nambiar in a few movies and TV serials. Published by Harper Collins, Nambiar Swami – The Good, The Bad and The Holy is available for purchase online on and in leading book stores in the country.

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