Sunday, 15 February 2009

NONE LIKE NAGESH - a tribute

One of the enduring images in my mind of the late actor Nagesh is from ‘Pacchai Vilakku’- in the song – ‘Kelvi Piranthathu anru’. He walks with a skip in his step, keeping time to the music, listening to engine driver Sivaji Ganesan singing. He is wearing a pair of jeans (in the 60 s very few people wore jeans!) a t-shirt and cap - and looks every bit the Anglo-Indian railway employee.

This is his stellar quality – he would look the part whatever he was playing. His face somehow had the anonymity which could adapt itself to any character, allowing him to play older roles even when young. He had a lean, lanky figure, with which he could do wonders, and which allowed him to dance beautifully with any kind of gyrations, even the ballet dancer’s splits, as in ‘Neer kumuzhi’ and later in ‘Kathalikka Neramillai’.
The dance segment in this video clip is from 'Kathalikka Neramillai'

If a picture had Nagesh in it, I was definitely interested in seeing it. He peaked in the 60s and 70s, and by the eighties he had been overtaken by a younger crop of comedians (jokers?). I remember seeing him, in the early 80s in our local departmental store Royal Stores, now defunct, and there was nobody around him, no one asking for an autograph, nobody even turning round to look twice. A younger me would certainly have bounded over and talked to him.

Nagesh often said that he modelled himself on Jerry Lewis, but I would say he outgrew that, and shone after he found his own niche. His first movie was ‘Thamarai kulam’, (and not ‘Server Sundaram’ as many media reports have said. It was his first movie as a hero). And for some time he was called ‘Thai’ Nagesh, after the movie ‘Thai’ in which he made a name for himself.

Sridhar was the director who brought Nagesh into the limelight with ‘Nenjil Oru Aalayam’, in which he is a ward boy. Till then Nagesh had been content to play any role – no role was too small for him. And he touched the heights with his role of wannabe–director Chellappa and his Oho productions in ‘Kathalikka Neramillai’. I know people who saw it several times (some of them up to seven times) just to enjoy his comedy. In those days (1960s ) there were no TV channels telecasting comedy sequences ad nauseum. His narration of his film script to his father (T. S. Balaiah) was something new. He could deadpan with the best of them.

His portrayal of a waiter-turned-actor in ‘Server Sundaram’, left people asking for more. His friend and mentor K.Balachander had created the role specially for him as a play, which was then made into a picture. He repeated this success as a hero with K. Balachander in ‘Ethirneechal’. The rapport between this director and actor was something special. They were simply made for one another. In the comedy 'Anubhavi Raja Anubhavi' he played the double role of a foolish city boy, and a country bumpkin – a rare feat for a comedian then. In fact, in the movie ‘Panakkara Kudumbam’ with MGR, he even played three roles - himself, his father and his grandfather!

One of the best roles he played was that of Dharumi, the impoverished poet, who is looking to win a bonanza in a poetry contest, in the mythological ‘Thiruvilayadal’. No verbal report can do justice to the interplay between him and the arrogant regal poet (Lord Siva in disguise), played by Sivaji Ganesan – in the acting, the dialogue and the body language Nagesh almost outdid Sivaji . In fact he is quoted as having said that it was Sivaji Ganesan’s magnanimity that insisted on retaining the scene as it was shot, for it was evident that Nagesh was the scene-stealer.

Another memorable role was Savadal Vaithi in ‘Thillana Mohanambal’, a semi villainous role, displaying a versatility rare in comic actors.

His one-liners were really funny, and delivered with such an expression (expressionless?) that the audience burst out laughing. The humour was always clean. One scene in ‘Neerkumizhi’ at a hospital, an old patient sighs, “There is not a single doctor I haven’t seen.” Nagesh’s comeback - “Did the doctors see you?’

In later years he played character roles, right up to ‘Dasavatharam’ last year. He acted in Rajnikant’s first movie ‘Apoorva Raagam’, parts of which were shot on the first floor of our house. The production unit borrowed some furniture from us – and one of the chairs (we still have it) was the one Nagesh sat on. For a long time we joked about never dusting that chair.

There can by no means be a comprehensive list or enumeration of this great scene stealer’s films. Only recently, about a week before his death, there were discussions online and in the media about how a current comic actor had been awarded the Padma Shri, while Nagesh had never been given one.

To many, like me, Nagesh was the king of comedy, and he will remain that. That would be his true reward, I suppose.

Links to some of his best scenes:

Server Sundaram:

Then Mazhai


Soul Searcher said...

I am not a very avid watcher of Tamil films but the script narration in "Kathalikka Neramillai" is an all time favourite of mine too. I enjoyed the Hindi version with Mehmood too but the original was too good.

As you rightly said comedy is being replaced by vulgarity and buffonery in today's times.

Gowri Mohanakrishnan said...

A really good tribute. Thanks for all the information, and for all the links!!

Maddy said...

he was a great guy & will be remembered - i still remember him in 'vietnam veedu'...and his screen rivalry with the other aspiring comedian cho...

Indrani said...

Great tribute!
I have seen some of his movies and I liked his comedy acts very much.

Anonymous said...

That's a really great tribute.

It's a shame that our Govts fail to offer him any awards (despite the fact that CMs were very much associated with him while they were in the cine field)

His one liners were amazing...

Ashvin said...

We really shouldn't be disappointed for his not having been awarded the Padma Shri or any such award from the government - if you see some of the people who have got it, especially this year, such so called recognitions are not really worth it and have no value any more.

Kat said...

Neerkumizhi and Ethirneechal were wonderful movies. Nagesh can bring tears to one's eyes... by comedy and pathos..!!!

wonderful tribute.

Swarna said...

Excellent tribute, Raji
I am glad my son (in this age) is happy to watch movies of Nagesh. Shall we call Nagesh's genre 'aesthetic comedy'? I read today in a non-public blog - "This veteran was not the recipient of many big awards and titles in his heydays, probably because of being slotted as a "comedian". Perhaps, instituting a "Nagesh award for acting" may be an appropriate tribute that we can pay him."

Gowri Mohanakrishnan said...

I totally agree with Ashvin.


Thanks, everybody for agreeing Nagesh is nonpareil

Viji said...

Raji I never knew Nagesh passed away - so caught up in my routine and all this travleing this last month i have not even been reading the papers and as you can see am catching up on your blog - Nagesh's death - it is the passing of an era . You have paid a tribute that needs nothing added. But you know what comes to my mind ? Little Sankar at the Kapaleeshwara temple , gazing searchingly at the Navagraham idols and asking "Nagesh engai ?" What more need one say ?

Dhivya Dharsanam said...

Wonderful Tribute!

One just can't forget Nagesh for his tremendous lifetime of performances in Thamizh Cinema.

Though I was not born in 70's I never missed many of his classics including Edhir Neechal, Neerkumizhi, Server Sundaram,
Thiruvilaiyadal, Thillaana Mohanambal (all in all Vaithi) etc., of which Maadhu, Tharumi and Tharumi can never ever get out of the minds of any Thamizh film goer.

Thanks to our great Govts. who never recognized such great talents.

Only in this country Nagesh won't be recognized while Vivek can be conferred Padma Shri.

Though with wealth of humour and wisdom, when it comes to awards or recognition, Nagesh has remained a Maadi Veettu Maadhu or a Tharumi only.

It's not a loss for Nagesh but shame for us and Govt for not giving timely recognitions to him.

Even during his public appearances, I've never seen him to be with usual Bandhaas or hifi costumes. He was very normal and level headed. One can't even figure out that he was a great comedian who dominated Thamizh cinema for decades.

As you rightly put, his comedies were so clean and one liners were so witty (unlike many)

Great job madam... I envy you for having that chair which you mentioned.

Unknown said...

I enjoyed your post...a few small corrections if I may be pernitted.
Thamaraikulam released on 14/4/1059 was his first film,he played a small role in it directed by Muktha srinivasan.Server Sundaram was his first film as a hero.
He was called "thai" nagesh because of the problem of spelling in english - Tamil words. He did a PLAY in which he played a Character called Thai ( as in thai maasam) Thandapani, a film producer ....the hindu praised his performance and since then was called Thai nagesh which became Thaai over a period of time.
I do agree that he was the King of Comedy ,did you know that he himself felt that his role as a Sabha Secretary in "Kalaikovil" another Sridhar film (1964) WAS HIS BEST PERFORMANCE.
For all his greatness he went away unsung by the Government - for he was not even given a Padma Sri.....

Unknown said...

please read as 1959


Thank you, Mohan, for visiting my blog, and leaving a comment here.

I must admit I never knew that this is how he got the name "Thai Nagesh'. Thanks for this interesting information.

But I believe I have correctly mentioned his first film (Thamarai kulam)and that 'Server Sundaram' was his first picture as a hero. Many reports in the media, no doubt picking up wrong info from one and passing it on, had got these facts wrong.

Please keep visiting.

Yuvaraj said...

This is a very late post to ur blog on mr nagesh.
I was just surfing the net to find some information on mr.Nagesh and came across your blog. It is a wonderful piece of blog which pays rich tribute to the legend. Nagesh comedies were a class apart and so clean that they will be enjoyed by all generations.Could'nt agree with u more when u mention nagesh is nonpareil.

Mam i also believe u should have enjoyed nagesh sir's performance in Major Chandrakanth as a lovable brother as i didnt find any reference to this film in ur blog.

And it was so heartening to know that KB has honoured nagesh when he staged his latest play. We as tamil cinema fans are grateful to the combination of KB and nagesh as they have entertained us with wonderful films like ethir nichal, nirkumizhi,bama vijayam etc.

shyamala balram said...

Nagesh indeed was really great, you seem to have expressed a lot about him which I would have wanted to say. In fact, I am not aware that he is no more, it is such a shame, thanks for this

vj said...

thanks for an soulful post. We watched kathalikka neramillai last week ( again) ...and were in splits. such endurance, we watched panchatantram after than - ice cold coffee. He was a truly a stalwart


Sylvian said...

Nagesh - For me he is arguably the best actor Tamil cinema has ever produced. I have even mentioned it in my 50 Tamil movies to watch posts. Nobody can match his versatility, comedy was just part of him

I like to some other movies for people to watch apart from what you have done

1. Major Chandrakant
2. Vietnam Veedu
3. Navagrahangal
And my most favourite of all Apoorva Sagodharargal :)A lot more are there - we need a book to discuss him :)

Wonderful tribute aunty :)

Sylvian said...

And of course how can I forget - Magalir Mattum as the dead body :)- Can anyone else do that ?

manoharan said...

Wonderful Blog Raji madam. Thanks to Divakar who gave this link. And who can forget PANCHATHANTHIRAM . Great actor who lived his roles.