CHENNAI: Laughter is the best medicine’, they say. When it comes to that, the best doctor would be the popular theatre artist-cum-actor Sundaresan ‘Kathadi’ Ramamurthy. His stage presence, body language and dialogue modulation can crack up any audience and his plays are always a laughter riot. Completing 60 years of theatre this year, the versatile actor shares his journey from Kumbakonam to Madras with City Express.
Often called ‘Dramamurthy’, he landed in Chennai from Kumbakonam in 1953 to pursue higher education in Vivekananda College. Little did he know that his life was going to change forever! “I had completed SSLC from Banadurai High School and came to Madras because my uncle insisted. As I boarded the train, I was actually excited about my life that is to take a new turn. But, when I landed…It didn’t feel new. I felt like I was meant to be here. I was just 15 then,” reminisces the 78-year-old.
His first brush with theatre came during his first year of college when he took part in the annual day drama. “Every year, our college used to stage a Tamil, Sanskrit and an English play. I decided to be part of the Tamil play Gomathiyin Kadhalan,” he shares.
Directed by writer Devan, the play gave him an opportunity to play the role Pakiri, the villain’s assistant. “I was always interested in drama. But I didn’t realise that I could pull my first role without much pressure,” he says. He along with Jaishankar, Narayanaswamy, Ambi, P N Kumar and A N Radhakrishnan, became part of the college’s drama troupe. Thus began Ramamurthy’s theatre journey.
Spending time at one of Mylapore’s famous landmarks, Nageswara Rao Park, along with his troupe, was his favourite pass time. Discussing dramas, plays and the possibility of starting their own troupe, Ramamurthy along with his friends started the Viveka Fine Arts Club in 1958.
“During college, we were on a roll. Inter-college competitions were a rarity and whenever we got a chance, we used to participate. That’s how we participated in College of Guindy’s cultural fest and bagged the first place in drama consecutively for three years,” shares the recipient of Nataka Kala Sironmani.
After the troupe’s successful stint in theatre, they were approached by famous actor and writer Cho Ramaswamy for the play En Idam Kedaithal where he essayed the role of a cartoonist named named Kathadi.
“After the play was staged everyone kept calling me Kathadi! Kathadi! I was upset by that, and I shared my frustration with Shambu Nataraj Iyer. He said that people recognising me by a character means that I have done justice to my role and asked me to add Kathadi to my original name! Thus I became Kathadi Ramamurthy,” beams the veteran. Sambavami Yuge Yuge and Mind is a Monkey are some of the plays that Ramamurthy had staged along with Cho.
After being a part of several plays, he started his own production house, ‘Stage Creation’ in 1965 along with Shivaji Chaturvedi, Bobby Raghunathan and T D Sundararajan. A reference by Aravalli Easwaran to contact Kothandaraman (K K Raman) landed them their first script Inai Illa Jodi. This was staged in Mylapore Fine Arts club and the production house has staged over 45 plays till date.
Ramamurthy got his biggest break when Bobby Raghunathan introduced him to Crazy Mohan in the 1970’s. He became a part of Ayya Amma Ammamma, a three-part-serial scripted by Mohan. Playing the role of Raghupathy, he earned the hearts of viewers around the world for his dialogue, ‘The Indian economy is the best economy…’.
Talking about one of his memorable performances in Visu’s drama Pattina Pravesam as Innocent Dhandapani, he shares, “I consider that one of my milestone plays and reprising the same role in K Balachander (KB) sir’s movie (a reprisal of the play) was a life time opportunity. He came to watch the play over four times and was surprised to see us stage it without any change (even the positions), He said, ‘How do you guys manage to stage a play the same way every time? It felt like watching a movie!’ and he roped in most of us from the play for the movie. That’s how Delhi Ganesan was introduced to movies.”
Recalling the drama scene back in the 80’s and 90’s he says, “We never used to get paid but well we didn’t do drama for the money; it was just
passion that took us there. If there were, say, four musicians…they were paid `40 and the women artists used to get lesser than that.” `40? We exclaim in disbelief. “I know it was very hard those days.”
And that’s why he cannot stop praising his wife, for sticking with him through it all. “None of this would be possible without my wife Meenakshi. Though she didn’t know much about drama before our marriage in 1966, she got a whiff of it once I started dragging her to all the plays I was a part of,” he quips. Sitting right across the table, Meenakshi laughs, “Yes he did! But, later I started liking it a lot and now I accompany him to all the plays.”
Ramamurthy is not just a veteran theatre artist, but also a sought-after actor. But, for him, theatre was love and drama was life. “In those days, having a name in cinema was important…‘cinema pugazh’ was necessary and that’s why I entered the arc light,” he admits candidly.
He went on to act in movies like Keezhvanam Sivakum (1981) and Simla Special (1982) but considers Pattina Pravesam (1977) to be one of his best movies out of the 70-plus he has acted in till date. He was last seen in movies like Kalyana Samayal Sadham (2013) and Onnume Puriyale (2014). “I still act in some movies and am also part of serials. They treat me with a lot of respect and it keeps me going,” he smiles.
Still running between dubbing theatres, shooting spots and drama rehearsals, Ramamurthy’s heart lies in the cultural hub of the city, Mylapore and he remains humble and humorous as ever. “I will be a theatre artist till theend and I’ll be a drama veriyan forever,” he adds.
Milestones in Dramas
Dowry Kalyana Vaibogame
Ayya Amma Ammamma
Sirithu Kondu Azhugirom
Satyavan vs Savitri
Kathadi Ramamurthy has plans of staging the famous play Thupariyum Shambu (Detective Shambu) in June. He will also be donning the role of Shambu.
Pattina Pravesam (1977)
(Visu’s drama to movie)
Keezhvaanam Sivakkum (1981)
Shimla Special (1982)
ONE drama EVERY day
Ramamurthy doesn’t miss out on a single drama and watches a minimum of one drama every day. “I spend 365 days watching at least one drama. If it’s good I don’t mind watching the same play again. You can find me on the front row during a play. You might think I am obsessed, but I call it passion!”