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Contented with her lot

MALATHI RANGARAJAN

A back-to-the-past journey with actor M.N.Rajam, whose career that began at the age of seven is still going on.

Photo: R. Shivaji Rao

M.N. Rajam.

When MGR met her after many years he asked her whether she was still in films. She replied in the negative and he at once said, "You can be idle, your Tamizh shouldn't," and made her give the voice over regularly for the Tamil Nadu regional newsreel, which she did for quite a few years. M.N.Rajam re-lives the scene. "We had actors who partook in the joys and sorrows of fellow actors. If NSK and MGR offered assistance and helped artistes tide over crises, Sivaji Ganesan guided them in acting, while Gemini Ganesh ("It was he who helped me find a good car when I first decided to buy one.") would advise us on other matters. So it was with SSR," she remembers.

Those were the times when training in theatre was on the gurukula pattern. "We were in theatre only because of poverty at home. We did not live rich lives, yet it was a happy childhood. Dance, music, expressions and dialogue delivery were taught systematically in the acting school run by Yadartham Ponnusamy Pillai, where veterans such as Sivaji Ganesan, `Kaka' Radhakrishnan and V.K.Ramasamy were also trained," she says.

Acting with Radha

M.N.Rajam's first big break was with M.R.Radha in `Ratha Kanneer.' "NSK bought our troupe and we played small parts in his comedy tracks in films. Later I joined TKS' theatre, when Krishnan Panju called me for `Ratha Kanneer.' None of the heroines was willing to do the vamp's role with M.R.Radha. But he was a very nice person," she says. `Ratha Kanneer' was a runaway hit. There was this vital scene in which she had to kick Radha down from the staircase. He was an established actor and she, almost a debutant in cinema. "I refused. But he wouldn't budge. Shooting was stopped. Krishnan then came up to me and said if I didn't kick him I would be replaced. I had no option," she laughs.

You last saw Rajam as recently as in `Imsai Arasan ... ' where she plays Vadivelu's mother. She beams: "Among the present day comedians I like Vadivelu and Vivek a lot. Even a child can enjoy Vadivelu's intonation, and Vivek, reminds me of Radha Anna and comes out with socially relevant messages."

Playing heroine, vamp and comedienne, Rajam worked 20 hours a day, for nearly three years. She also did Telugu films opposite NTR, Nageswara Rao and Kantha Rao. "I learnt a little Telugu from Savitri's father. Even if you didn't understand he would go on in Telugu," she laughs, sighs and adds: "Savitri was a good friend. So was Padmini. She came here to be with all of us. Once she had a copy of The Hindu on her lap and said, `Did you see the list of national awardees, Rajam? After having been in the field so long, don't I deserve a Padma Sri?' Padmini is the only female artiste from here, in whose honour a stamp was released in Russia."

Rajam's was an arranged marriage. Husband A.L.Raghavan, yesteryear playback singer, still presents light music shows. He was also in theatre from an early age. "We'll be celebrating the golden jubilee of our marriage soon," she laughs and adds: "Since both of us have had no formal schooling we saw to it that our children did not lose out on education. My two younger brothers, one a doctor in the U.S. and the other a retired engineer, have also done well."

Rajam smiles contentedly. "I'm happy with whatever God has given me." The couple lives in Royapettah, Chennai. As she sees you off, she says: "Both my husband and I want to work till the last."

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