'Crazy' Mohan, who did not act in 'Tiger Zinda Hai', is no more

By K Balakumar

BENGALURU, INDIA - JUNE 28: Ailing theatre personality Girish Karnad joins people to support a campaign 'Not in My Name' in protest against the lynching of Muslim boy, at Town Hall on June 28, 2017 in Bengaluru, India. (Photo by Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Yesterday, when acclaimed playwright, dramatist and actor Girish Karnard died, a popular news outlet put out a story where he was referred to as "Tiger Zinda Hai actor". It was like referring to Amitabh Bachchan as the "model who appeared in Dr. Fixit advertisement".

But it is also understandable why Karnad was referred to as the “Tiger Zinda Hai actor". It is to make him relevant to an audience up North who form a strong base of online readership.

How to strike a connection with your audience is a legitimate concern for any news outlet.

So how do we present 'Crazy' Mohan, another legendary playwright and one of the finest humorists in India, who passed away yesterday, to sections of the Indian public who did not have the opportunity to follow him as he wrote in Tamil?

Well, for starters, we can refer to him as: 'Crazy' Mohan, who did not act in Tiger Zinda Hai.

Nah, that would be a cheap shot at that above-mentioned news site. Well, we could look for some similar personalities in Hindi, who wrote consistent humour for around 4 decades spanning over 15 stage plays, 20 movies numerous skits and short stories.

Hindi and other languages certainly have writers of refined humour, but no one’s career spanned the years and various media like 'Crazy' Mohan’s did. In that sense, he was unique.

Or perhaps we can ferret for parallels in Bollywood for the kind of partnership that 'Crazy' Mohan stuck with Kamal Haasan? The duo churned out 11 movies that remain the gold standard for comedy movies in India.

They began with Apoorva Sagodarargal in 1989, which North Indian film-goers will recall as the ‘Tamil version’ of Appu Raja, and ended with Vasool Raja MBBS in 2004 --- a remake of Munna Bhai MBBS.

In between, they brought out extraordinary movies, combining mainstream film tropes with innovative storytelling techniques and Wodehousian humour. For instance, their film Michael Madana Kamarajan, which had Kamal Haasan playing four roles, is aninversion of the separated-at-birth-revenge-masala movie. The film was both an out-and-out comic caper and a masterclass in cinematic sophistication.

The famous Chachi 420 was also one of theirs- the original was a certain Tamil hit called Avvai Shanmugi.

Yes, maybe we should mention how Gulzar, who wrote the film's dialogues, found it hard to recreate the humour of the original. 'Crazy' Mohan was at hand to help translate the dialogues to English, but Gulzar still felt that the spirit of Tamil comedy was difficult to recreate in Hindi. 'Crazy' Mohan's humour used the phonetics of the language to create puns and word-play that could be (and were) lost in translation.

Or we can bang on about how Mohan, an engineer by qualification, became 'Crazy' Mohan due to the popularity of one of his early plays named: 'Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam'. But this may be an outlandish reference that may be lost on North Indian readers.

There are a few popular stand-up comedy groups who can be compared to Crazy Mohan and his troupe. But on second thoughts, you can ignore the comparison. For 'Crazy' Mohan's career is so well-storied, and his body of work so enormous that it will take decades for other comedic groups to measure up to him.

Heck! We can't think of a single peg that would help us easily introduce 'Crazy' Mohan to North Indian readers. There was no one like him.

Unfortunately, there may never be anyone like him, either, so we may never be able to explain.