CHENNAI: Apart from being a brilliant actor, which by itself is a gross understatement, actor Manorama was also an incredible human being. City Express tries to throw light on some of the fine qualities of Aachi, as she was popularly known.
A true professional
She might have had the kindness of a mother but Manorama had the heart of a lioness when it came to facing challenges. The veteran actor never hesitated to take on a challenging role. Explains director P Vasu, “When I was shooting Nadigan (1990) (which Manorama had said was her most favourite film of the more than 1,500 films that she has acted in), Manorama amma had to play the role of an ultra-modern character, who was also glamourous. It was such a risky character for that time that it was nothing less than walking on a knife edge. If something misfired, we would have been torn to shreds. But Aachi, being the perfect professional that she was, took the challenge head on. Thanks to her brilliant portrayal, the film became a huge hit.”
Aachi’s role as Baby Amma is still considered to be one of the most iconic characters ever played in Tamil cinema. Immediately after Nadigan, she began shooting for Chinna Thambi (1991) in which she played a widowed mother of a son with a disability. “When I was narrating the script to her, she asked me about the role of Prabhu’s mother’s character. I said, ‘I want to cast someone like you’,” he adds. Back then, Vasu was worried whether people, who had just watched her in Nadigan, would be able to accept her as a widowed mother within 100 days.
“But Aachi told me ‘Even if one person from the audience compares my Nadigan character with my role in Chinna Thambi, then I have lost. But take it from me - that will not happen’. When she came out dressed as a widowed mother for shooting, I forgot about her role in Nadigan. Both films went on to become blockbusters,” says Vasu, tears rolling down his cheeks.
Aachi was also well versed in several other crafts of the film industry. In fact, she was brilliant when it came to make-up. Actor Sarath Babu, who has worked with Aachi in a number of films including the Rajini-starrer Annamalai (1992), shared little known details about the stalwart.
“Just before Annamalai, I had a major accident. I suffered burns on my right hand that left a permanent scar. Aachi noticed my scar and enquired about it. She said, ‘An artiste can’t afford to have that’ and she did my make-up in such a wonderful way that nothing showed on screen,” he recalls, even as he points to the scar that exists to this day.
Manorama’s compassion is legendary. Recalls comedian Suri, who has worked with Aachi in a serial, “She was very kind. Even when people mobbed her and security personnel insisted on using force to clear them, she would ask them not to use force and be gentle with fans. She would say ‘They don’t get to see us every day and so they are excited. Be gentle with them’.” Vasu concurs and adds, “I have neither seen her lose her temper nor have I ever seen her utter even one single word against anyone. More importantly, when my mother passed away just before the release of Mannan (1992), Aachi came home. She held my hand and said, ‘Don’t think that your mother has left you. This mom will always be there.’ From then, every time she called me on the phone (it was landline then), she would always say ‘Amma pesuraen Vasu’.”
It is common for stars these days to turn up late to work. However, Aachi was known for her punctuality. Says director Mangai Arirajan, “If the shoot was supposed to begin at 8 am, Aachi would be there by 7.30.” Giving more details about Aachi’s discipline and focus, director Vasu says, “One other important aspect about Aachi was that she would never get frustrated if she had to wait her turn to act. She wouldn’t go up to the director and insist on having her portions shot first.”
In an industry where rumours thrive, Manorama was one artiste about whom there were no rumours. And more importantly, she never indulged in gossip. Says director Vasu, “I have never seen her cribbing or gossiping about people. She was always someone who was truly genuine and never believed in talking behind people’s backs.”