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Performer to the core

Charlie tells T. SARAVANANhow he always loves to chase change

Photo: S. James

Expressive True to the profession

Be it the role of a nutty professor or a jocular college student, T. Manohar is absolutely at ease performing either. Not many know the popular comedienne by this name in Kollywood. He is more famously known as Charlie.

“Nothing in my life is permanent. What I have always experienced or seen is the change.” If you think he sounds philosophic and is going to talk serious, he gives a dose of his wit.

“I was born in a place near Virudhunagar, which was then called Ramanathapuram district but now changed as Virudhunagar district. I studied in Kovilpatti. Earlier, it was under Tirunelveli district but now comes under Tuticorin district. I was named as Manohar then and now I am better known as Charlie” he rattles without a wink.

Turning point

He distinctly remembers how his performance as a Tamil-speaking boy among the English-speaking audience at a meeting of Humour Club in Chennai proved to be the turning point in his life.

“I was not fluent in English at that time. But I was itching to prove my mettle on stage. Initially, I was denied permission as only members were allowed to perform. Accidentally, the master of ceremony read out my name and I performed a mime of a weightlifter participating in a championship and a police constable regulating the traffic. At the end of the meeting one of the spectators, impressed by my performance introduced me to film director K. Balachander and from there my film journey began,” he recalls. A memorable debut in the film “Poikal kuthirai” pairing popular poet and film lyricist Vaali projected him as one of the potential comedy actors in the tinsel town. But has he faced any problem donning an old man’s role in the first movie that too at a young age?

Old getup

“Not at all. Most of the super comediennes have appeared in the old getup in their first movie. Starting with V.K. Ramasamy, K.A. Thangavelu, Chandrababu and Surulirajan, the list is endless. It is not the role you don but how you perform is more important. And I am able to sustain the spirit of performance.”

Charlie honed his acting skills under different directors including Sridhar in “Yaro Ezhuthiya Kavithai”, K.S. Gopalakrishnan in “Kaviya Thalaivan”, A.C. Thirulogachander and Bhanumathi Ramakrishna.

He feels that not many movies in modern times have stories that lend to humour. “In many films, humour is thrust upon and the end result is that it does not gel with the movie. The craft value is drastically coming down, though it is heartening to note at least a bunch of comediennes is trying to save it,” he avers.

Performing in alien language

Quite knowledgeable in all the South Indian languages, he had no difficulty acting in Telugu movies. Though performing in comedy role is not cinch. For, it demands enormous hard work from the actor to perform in an alien language.

“The role of a comedian in another language involves homework. It needs good understanding of the social history of the people and little bit of the slang and its usage. Some may need subtle action while delivering the dialogue, in some other cases you may have to make extravagant gestures to convey the comedy,” he points out.

He has done many memorable roles most of them under K. Balachander. None could forget the physical education teacher role he donned in the movie Raman Abdullah. Throughout the film he would maintain his character consciously or unconsciously.

Very down to earth person, he has no hang-ups. He is very considerate towards ailing fellow comedienne. In fact, at a time when many plan star nights in foreign shores with glamorous artistes, Charlie was interested in the some of the forgotten comedy artistes and took them around the world staging performances that attracted huge crowd.

“These artistes were not affluent and were left in the lurch. For the time they spent on film sets, what they got in return is pittance. They knew nothing but acting and dedicated their life to films. Hence, I decided to take them around the world and showcase their talent to the audiences far and wide. For talented people like the late “Pasi Narayanan” and “Loose Mohan”, life is one long struggle. They deserved more than what they got. Now, I am satisfied having done justice to my level best for my fellow artistes.”

Attending the Humour Club meeting in Madurai, he felt very happy to see his picture alongside the legendary Charlie Chaplin. He will always be remembered in the industry for his split second reactions in the face.

He is a kind of an actor, who does not need any dialogue to express.

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