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Ha!Ha!Ha! Mouli is here

It was a laughathon with dramatist-actor-director Mouli, says MALATHI RANGARAJAN


THOSE WERE the days when Mouli was part of YGP's drama troupe. The SIAA Grounds had just found a place on the city's entertainment map and was still a remote jaunt for many. So even the most popular drama, dance and music troupes performing there found few takers.

Naturally a full house and positive response from the crowd is what any stage showman thrives on. Yet, the grim scenario didn't deter YGP. It was decided that even if only a handful was present, they would perform with gusto. The curtains went up and the opening scene was received with claps and a cheerful guffaw.

The stage was well lit but out there it was dark and so the size of the crowd could not be gauged. "Heard that reaction? Only a few could be sitting out there. But if this is going to be the encouragement from such a small audience, shouldn't we be giving our best to them?" It was YGP backstage plucking a sentimental chord to pep up the spirits of the performing crew. So gripped with enthusiasm, Mouli went for the second scene and the hilarity of the sequence and dialogue was again backed by full-throated laughter. Slowly the lights turned away from the proscenium towards the chairs. Imagine the actor's reaction when he saw that besides just one gentleman sitting in the first row, the entire auditorium was empty! And worse, that person too was a troupe member who had to make his appearance in the fifth scene!

Mouli himself could not contain his laughter as he recalled the incident and several such, at the Emeraldo hall of Hotel GRT Grand. He was the chief guest of the evening organised by the Rotary Club of Madras Ashok Nagar, T. Nagar and Madras West.


Having met Mouli early this year at a time when he was terribly busy with the Kamal Hassan production, "Nala Damayanti", the invite for a face to face with the dramatist, filmmaker and actor on Thursday last, kindled your curiosity. Mainly because previously he had come across as a taciturn person and eliciting voluble responses from him had been a challenge of sorts. Also folks known to him maintained that he is a man of few words, serious and sedate — far from the humorist that he is on stage and in cinema. So what was this "wizard of humour", as the card described him, going to say to a whole group of people and how well would he field queries, you wondered.

But sporting a casual demeanour and constant smile, Mouli looked relaxed and friendly. The informal session that lasted for over an hour often had you in splits. His voice modulation and timing added to the humour. The punch lines were in place and intact. He spoke of the power of the stage, the dwindling public support for it at present, and compared and contrasted drama with films and their making. All these interspersed with comic anecdotes pertaining to his theatre days and to his solid stint in the Telugu industry.

Surprisingly, Mouli was able to give a string of jubilee hits in Telugu, without knowing a word of the language. His initial days in Andhra lent themselves to some hilarious happenings, which he narrated to the group that lapped it up. Also his first brush with theatre, the gaffes that he and his friends had committed on stage, today's trend in films and the odds and the evens made for some interesting listening. After hinting at the public reaction to a recent release ("Boys"?), the filmmaker went on to say he was happy that when blatant crudeness and double entendres are an inescapable norm in cinema today, he was able to make a film like "Nala Damayanti", whose concept though different, was understood and appreciated by filmgoers.

But why did this man with a constant glint of mischief in his eyes that evening, look so preoccupied the last time you saw him? As if in reply to the unvoiced thought, you hear Mouli say: "People ask me whether we have a lot of fun on the sets during shooting. I am appalled by such questions. How can anyone even think of fun when crores of rupees are involved and the fate of so many people are in your hands? During the few months of the making of a film, I am always tense ... my pressure shoots up. But I like the stress and strain. That's why I am still in films... "

One of the posers from the gathering was: "Sir, I have watched all your films. I want to know why you carry a shoulder bag in all of them?"

Mouli replied with a smile: "For a moment I was thrilled when you said you had seen all my films ... but I had a shoulder bag on me only in one film, "Oru Pullanguzhal Aduppu Oodhugiradhu." The slight sarcasm laced with humour was not lost on the audience.

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