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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XVIII No. 22, march 1-15, 2009
He made you weep
while you laughed
(By Mohan V. Raman)

Cheyur Krishna Rao Nageshwaran was his parents’ 13th child – and they say 13 is an unlucky number! Contrary to popular belief his name was NOT Gundu Rao. It was a nickname given to him by his childhood friends as he was a plump boy.

The King Cobra

He was born on February 8, 1931 according to his school records; August 27, 1933 according to his passport; and on Maha Navami (Saraswati Pooja) according to his elder brother’s wife... so his real date of birth will, I guess, remain shrouded in mystery. His father was a Railway employee and as a boy Nagesh was clad in bright red or green trousers – his father, a Station Master, used to bring home the old flags that he used to wave trains off with and have clothes made for Nagesh.

After he completed his schooling in Tharapuram, he went to do his Intermediate in PSG Arts College, Coimbatore. Just before his exams, tragedy struck in the form of small pox. He had three consecutive attacks that left his face permanently scarred.

Nagesh followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Railways. He was in the Claims Department in the Goods Section at the Southern Railway headquarters, next to the Central Station. It was here that he was able to develop two of his passions, one of which, acting, became his profession and the other, Snooker, an addiction.

Nagesh got himself a small role – that of a person suffering from chronic stomach ache – in a play. He had but one line to speak: “Doctor, Vayiru valikkudhu”. On the day of the play he went on stage, rolled on it, howled, cried and shouted and took so many minutes to say his one line that the Chief Guest awarded him the cup for best actor, a cup that he retained for quite a while, because the Chief Guest who prophesied that this lean boy would one day become a great actor was MGR. That first stage appearance of Nagesh was in Gokhale Hall, Armenian Street.

He moved from a room in Deenadayalu Street to the ‘Club House’, opposite the Shiva Vishnu Temple in T’Nagar. It was at this time that he started to blossom as a stage actor, free-lancing with several drama troupes, but most notably with the UAA, where he became the pet of its founder, Y.G. Parthasarathy. Staying with him were actors Srikkanth, then known as Raja, who worked with the USIS (a part of the US Consulate-General), and Rangarajan, an aspiring poet later to become famous as Valee.

One day, actor Balaji called him, praised his acting in a play and told him to move to his house in Montieth Road where he literally took care of all his needs. Balaji introduced Nagesh to several film people and Nagesh made his debut in the film Thaamarai Kulam directed by Muktha Srinivasan (1959). This was shot in Golden Studios (earlier known as Rohini Studios), its premises now the Central Warehousing Corporation godowns opposite AVM School. His first performance was severely criticised by Ananda Vikatan and Nagesh never forgot that first review, though there were several reviews later praising his performance. Despite moving into films, Nagesh remained fond of the stage and worked in both mediums simultaneously.

His next big break was when he was introduced to director Sridhar by Balaji. Nagesh was cast as a village patient, with Rama Rau scheduled to play the main comic role in the film, Nenjil Oru Aalayam (1962). Rama Rau was late for the first day’s shoot and Nagesh was asked to fill in while they checked the lighting and other technical details.

When they wanted to take a trial, Nagesh did such a hilarious job of searching for a child that both Sridhar and the cameraman Vincent gave him the role. Rama Rau’s delayed arrival cost him the role, but gave the Tamil film industry a treasure.

1964 saw the release of Sridhar’s Kaadhalikka Neramillai and AVM’s Server Sundaram. In mid-1965, there came Nagesh’s high point – as Dharumi in Thiruvilayaadal. He never had to struggle again for work.

In 1962, while still a struggling actor, Nagesh married Regina. She was a great influence in his life and it was her financial acumen that ensured he led a comfortable life. They had three sons and seven grandchildren.

Nagesh was a very simple man with a simple lifestyle. He was not just a perfectionist in his ‘timing’ but in real life too. Things would have to be neat and tidy and everything had to be in its proper place.

He was very religious and remained a strict vegetarian, avoiding masala and garlic too! He loved to do his pooja and would insist on personally snipping the stems off the flowers and arranging them in front of the pictures in his pooja room. His favourite eating places were the Rayar Café and Karpakambal Mess in Mylapore.

Once, when he was taken to the buffet at a five star hotel, he walked past the variety of dishes kept there, looked at them and then asked to speak to the chef, who came immediately to see this great actor. Nagesh asked him in his inimitable way, Saapda enna irukku (What is there to eat?). The flabbergasted chef made him some thayir saadam, which Nagesh ate with relish.

He used to play snooker and billiards regularly at the Mylapore Club and at the Tamil Nadu Billiards’ Association. In fact, Nagesh was a great sports lover and a life member of the T.N.C.A. He loved to watch cricket and football. He also used to play a decent game of table tennis.

This simple soul who had more than his share of tragedy gave all of us so much to laugh. As Kannadasan so aptly wrote, “azhudukondey sirikkindraen.”

In this issue

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CZMA puts a stop to...
A tribute to Nagesh...
The lawyer who gave...
Historic residences...
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Short 'N' Snappy
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Quizzin' with Ram'nan


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