There ain’t any stopping her
S.S. KAVITHA finds Aachi Manoram as dazzling as ever before
Photos: G. Moorthy.
Enduring and endearing Hard to imitate
When the personal assistant of actor Manorama called me confirming the interview time, my thoughts just focussed on one line — “Infinity, thy name is Manorama.” Words that come out of her mouth either always tickle or move you, and
you wonder what stuff she is made of.
As I eagerly wait at the venue with a flashback of all Manorama scenes clogging my mind in rapid fire, a baritone voice breaks my thought process. “Vanakkam” says the Aachi glittering in her gorgeous pink silk sari and studded with stone jewellery. Something in her voice and looks makes me comfortable instantly. Perhaps, that is the quintessence of Aachi, unperturbed after five decades of success in the tinsel world.
The evergreen Manorama continues to hypnotize the audience with her wit and passionate portrayal of characters ranging from a young comedian to character roles. She is a rare mixture of grandiosity and grace. She gets into every character, gains mastery over the lingo and presents the character with the eccentricity it warrants. If fact, she has painted her face for various enduring characters — mother, sister, sister-in-law, a widow, school-going girl, a pickpocket, a miser…
Name it she has them all in her gallery.
The classic actor was born as the third daughter for the couple Arumuga Clockudaiyar and Ramamitham at Raja Mannarkudi in Thanjavur district. She was named Gopi Shantha. Poverty and family situation drove Gopi Shantha and her mother to Pallathur near Karaikudi, where they began a new chapter in life.
“I was just a 10-month-old baby when my mother came to Pallathur in search of prosperity,” she says and adds poverty forced her to the stage. At the age of 10, she announced herself on the stage as a playback singer and a gypsy dancer for a play titled ‘Andaman Kaithi’ at Kottaiyur.
When she started her stage performances, baby Gopi Shanta who is still addressed as ‘papa’ by her near and dear ones, was rechristened as Mamorama by drama director Thiruvengadam and the harmonist Thiayagarajan.
Actress Manorama began her career on stage and slowly became a second heroine in the drama ‘Vithiyin Vichithiram’ and later ascended the ladder to become the heroine of the play ‘Yaar Magan’ when she was just 14. “Since then, I have given more than 6000 stage performances so far,” proudly she notes.
Her career graph moved to the silver screen with a role of a comedienne in Tamil film ‘Malayitta Mangai’ in 1958. Walking down memory lane, she says, “I actually faced the camera for the first time in my life for a Sinhalese film directed by Masthan in a friend’s role of the heroine.”
After ‘Malayitta Mangai,’ she slowly donned the role of heroine in four films namely: ‘Konjum Kumari,’ ‘Periya Manitha,’ ‘Alangari’ and ‘Athisiya Piravi.’ She also made her debut in Hindi film ‘Kunwara Baap’ pairing with Mehmood.
After a brief stint as heroine, Manorama resumed her comedienne cap and there has been no looking back ever since. Fifty years on as a hit comedienne, she says: “Comedy is a tough job and I do it with the blessings of the Almighty.” She has enthralled audiences in all South Indian languages — Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.
“Though I do not know the languages, I can render the dialogues. Directors even want me to dub the dialogues in their movies,” she says. “I simply go and perform with the blessings of the creator,” she says philosophically.
Long ago, in 1987, the doyen, who is popularly called ‘Female Shivaji’ brought laurels to the Tamils by entering into the Guinness of Book of World Records for acting in more than 1000 films. In 2009, the record remains unbroken. Even today, she moves with same vigour and vibrance with more than 1,350 films in her kitty now. “It is actor Kamal Hassan who gave me the exciting moment of my life that I have featured in the world record,” she says.
What keeps you going so strong? “I am young at heart. I have stopped growing after 26! Time has the right to tear pages off the calendar but certainly not my young spirit,” she laughs.
Leave her earlier roles, from her ‘Jil Jil Ramamani’ in Thillana Mohanambal where she scored amidst a score of stalwarts such as Shivaji Ganesan, Padmini and Balaiah, to the latest role of Chandramma in Telegu film ‘Arundhathi,’ a historic-thriller, where Manorama plays the role of a woman who has been living for three generations together, the versatile actor’s charisma mesmerises all.
Apart from films, she is busy acting in television serials and ad films. “I do not commit myself, unless I believe in the credibility of the product and the company.”
Is there any character you yearn to do after donning such varied roles? “Yes, there is one. I would like to do the role of a transgender (Thiru Nangai). It is not just a desire for doing a different role. But I want to do something like creating an awareness that transgenders suffer from one form of physical deformity for no fault of theirs,” she says.
Intend to direct films? “Why should I? I know only acting. I have a passion for it. I feel unwell if I do not apply make-up. I wish and pray to God that I die while acting,” she smiles.
Indeed, she is queen of infinite space. With harmony in her tongue and a band of expressions in her face, she binds her fans, from eight to 80 years, like glue.
Given 6000 stage performances
Acted in above 1,350 films
Worked with five Chief Ministers: Annadurai,
MGR, Karunanidhi, Jayalalithaa and N.T.Rama Rao.
Guinness World Record for acting in the maximum number of movies
National award for the best supporting actress for the film ’Puthiya Pathai’
Tamil Nadu Government’s Kalaimamani award
WHAT SHE LIKES THE MOST
Cooking: Chettinad varieties
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