To Aachi Manorama, with love!

On one of Tamil cinema’s finest actresses, Manorama’s birthday, recalls some fine qualities and achievements of the legend

Remembering Manorama

On one of Tamil cinema’s finest actresses and only genuine comedienne, Manorama’s birthday, recalls some fine qualities and achievements of the legend that not many know of…

Actress Manorama, better known as Aachi to those in the film industry and fans, was not only a great actress, a gifted singer and a graceful dancer but also a fine human being, who cared as much for her co-stars as she did for society and her audiences.

Her performances were so good and the audience love for her so strong, that she ended up working in over 1,500 films, a record by any standard.

Her pairing with comedian Nagesh, in particular, is considered to be one of the best that the Tamil film industry has ever seen. Films featuring Aachi and Cho too were equally good and continue to be immensely popular to this day.

To describe Aachi as a brilliant actor would be an understatement. Her sense of timing when it came to comedy, her ability to adapt herself to any genre and any era, her ability to deliver dialogues with precision, all made her a powerhouse of talent.

From Thillana Mohanambal in which she played the nadaswaram in the presence of Sivaji Ganesan, and her role as a kick-ass grandmother in Paaty Sollai Thattathey to uber-glam elderly Baby Amma in Nadigan and the outrageously hilarious house maid Kannamma in Samsaram Athu Minsaram, Aachi excelled in a manner no other actor probably could.That is probably one of the reasons she was honoured with a number of awards, including a National award for her role in Puthiya Paadhai and a Padma Shri for her contribution to cinema. But her biggest award is the admiration, respect and love that she won from her fans – both from within the film industry and the public.

Did you know?

Fact 1:
Manorama was not just a brilliant actor but also a mellifluous singer. Not many know that her song Vaa Vathiyarae Vootanda was so popular that when it released juke boxes in all the star hotels in Tamil Nadu would play that song every time somebody dropped a 25 paise coin in them!

Fact 2:
Film industry professionals, friends and fans, who have known her well, have said that she had the kindness of a mother but not many know that Manorama also had the heart of a lion 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), Manorama amma had to play an ultra-modern character. It was such a risky character for that time that it was nothing less than dicing with death. A slight lapse in portrayal could have resulted in the film becoming a disaster. But Aachi, being the thorough professional that she was, took on the challenge and delivered exactly what I had in mind. 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.

Says P Vasu, “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’.” Back then, Vasu was worried if whether people, who had just watched her in Nadigan as a spinster pining for the love of a bachelor, would be able to accept her as a widowed mother within a matter of 100 days.

But Aachi being the exceptional professional she was is believed to have told Vasu, ‘Even if one person from the audience compares my Nadigan character with my role in Chinna Thambi, then I have lost as an artiste. But take it from me – that will not happen.’

Vasu says that when she came out dressed as a widowed mother for shooting, he himself forgot about her role in Nadigan.

“Both films went on to become blockbusters,” recalls Vasu with admiration.

Fact 3: A brilliant make up artiste:

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.

Fact 4: Her compassion:

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.”

Fact 5: Punctuality:
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.”

Fact 6: Minding one’s own business:
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.”