COMMITTED TO THEATRE: Thangavelu and M. Saroja. Forty-two plays in 42 years. And Raadhu (S. Radhakrishnan) writes on. He is hard at work on his 43rd play. The playwright-director was recently honoured by the Nungambakkam Cultural Academy with the ``Nataka Siromani," the latest in a string of awards. Raadhu has seen the best in Tamil amateur theatre. Film and stage actor `Danal' K. A. Thangavelu and M. Saroja, `Kathadi' Ramamoorthy, V. Gopalakrishanan and `Navrang' Viswanathan have acted in many of his comedies and family dramas.
``Thangavelu acted in my plays from 1974 till 1994, the year he passed away," says Raadhu. ``The members of our troupe adored him. His sense of timing was extraordinary. He was not only a great actor but a wonderful person as well... His devotion to the stage was such he would insist that you know the lines of each actor, not just your own." Another actor Raadhu admires is Kathadi Ramamoorthy. ``We became friends in the Sixties. `Kalyanathil Galatta' was the first play of mine in which he acted. We were trying to get sabhas to stage it when one of the secretaries said he would put it up only if Kathadi acted in it. The actor immediately agreed to do so which is typical of him. This was at a time when I had not established myself. His commitment to the stage is total."
``Kalyanathil Galatta" was a roaring success. Shot with humour and suspense, the play traced events in a marriage hall from the eve of a wedding to the reception. ``Actor Nagesh gave me the idea while we were attending a janavasam," recalls Raadhu.
The play has remained a winner for decades, making it to the small screen too as a serial with Nagesh, Kathadi and Sachchu featuring in it. When it was staged eight times in one day in 1988, the feat got Raadhu into the Limca Book of Records. He made it to the book three more times — for the staging of 10 of his works in one day in 1985, for the inauguration of five of them in one day in 1990, and for a 36-hour marathon when 15 of his plays were presented by various troupes in 1992. But was that not gimmicky? He shakes his head refuting it. ``I wanted to see how well my plays had weathered time."
Strangely, it was the Chinese aggression in 1962 that started it all. When the Reserve Bank of India decided to have a fund raiser for the war effort, Raadhu, who loved watching dramas, came up with ``Jayam Namathe." ``I got to know many artistes acting in Major Sunderarajan's troupe, Cho's mentor Sambu Nataraja Iyer and other stage personalities during my days at the Bank. And met `Thottakara' Viswanathan at the YMIA when I did a course there."
Raadhu formed Geetha Stage in 1966. But when writer Manian established Mayan Theatres, he joined him. ``Manian suggested we ask Thangavelu to act in our production `Saptha Swarangal,' and he agreed."
The playwright has written on varied themes in these four decades. In 1992, he founded the Nataka Academy which spots and honours talented Tamil theatre personalities.
Raadhu revived a set of vintage plays in 1999. ``Now we are planning to stage classics such as `Policekaran Magal' `President Panchaksharam' and Kalki's `En Deivam.' We want to record them on film as there is no documentation of these wonderful dramas," says the veteran who has had his wife Sundari and daughter Priya supporting him in his theatre activities all the way.
K. A. Thangavelu (Tamil:டணால் கே.எ தங்கவேலு) popularly known as "Danaal Thangavelu" was a Tamil film comedian popular in the 1950s to 1970s. Not known for physical, acrobatic comedy like his contemporaries J.P.Chandrababu and Nagesh, Thangavelu's humor is recognized for his impeccable timing in verbal agility and the characteristic twang of his delivery. He and M. Saroja formed a successful comedy pair, and his role as a phony writer Bhairavan in the movie Kalyana Parisu [Wedding Present]was much appreciated by Tamil movie fans. Thangavelu's humor enriched movies such as Thillana Mohanambal in his role as a nattuvangam master (dance choreographer) to the heroine. He died on September 28,1994.