The year was 1944.
A young man in his twenties went up to the director of the play and demanded
that a meaty role be written for him. Thenmozhiyaal was the title of the
play. The director however told the young man that there was no role for him
and that it was not possible to fit him in any other role. But that did not
discourage this witty young man. Irked, he replied
“Well, then I will
walk into every scene.”
The smirk on the
face and the mischief in the eyes made the director perspire. The director
hurriedly went to speak to the heavyweights of the drama troupe and mentioned
the encounter with the young man. They asked him to calm down and not take him
“Don’t worry. Do you think that fellow will
pull out such a threat?”
A voice from
behind said “You’re damn right, I will. I need atleast three scenes with
dialogues for me.”
The whole set
looked perplexed at the unfolding situation. Hurriedly, the director writes not
three but five scenes for him.
“There is a
problem. I am not able to come up with a name for your character.”
“Never mind. I
will go with my name.” The character was named Cho.
lettered sobriquet stuck with him for eternity. These three letters would go on
to define a legend who made a mark in every endeavour of his.
But how did he get
the name ‘Cho’? Neelu, a popular drama actor and a close friend of Cho recounts
in an interview to Times of India that as a boy, Cho was puny and weak. Elders
in the house and his friends used to call him as “Chozha Brahmmahaththi” which
is a reference to the king who was possessed by an evil spirit that made him
abnormally thin and weak. Little did they realize that this Chozha
Brahmmahaththi would go on to become an intellectual giant!
career as an advocate at Madras High Court, he helped his father and
grandfather in their law firm during his early years. Later he served as a
legal adviser to T.T. Krishnamachari group of companies for fifteen years. But
his interest towards drama made him shift his trajectory in life. Over a period of time, Cho became a well reputed
name in the households of Tamil Nadu. He acted and directed twenty three plays,
acted in more than a hundred films, wrote screen play for five films and
directed another five.
With the launch of
Thuglak magazine, his name however started spilling from the homes of
Tamil Nadu to the streets! Be it the
middle class mamas discussing politics in the living room or the working class
at the tea-kadai benches, every conversation would be about Cho’s take
on national and state politics. Laced with wit and humour he made politics
cool. The humour in his speeches and writing were never slapstick or vulgar but
was clean and usually self-depreciating which tickled ribs of people cutting across
Though he was called out for his Brahmin lineage by the rationalist ilk, he was unapologetic about it just like his friend and the late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. Nevertheless, he was never a Brahmin apologist. Through his plays like Sattiram Sonnadhillai (The Sastras Never Said So), he made a strong statement against casteism by exposing the hypocrisy of certain section of the Brahmins and their rigid and parochial mindset. His book Engey Brahmanan which was made into a series and telecasted in Jaya TV talks about what it takes to be a true Brahmin. His other play titled Yarukkum Vekkammillai (No One Has Any Shame) portrays how a society creates prostitutes and later condemns and ostracizes them. In this play, a young lawyer from a rich industrial family brings home a prostitute as his first case. As the events unfold, it turns out that the lady was driven to prostitution by the lawyer’s brother. An interesting aspect of the play is that it is a Muslim who stands by the side of the prostitute and exposes the elder brother. Such messages of social cohesion were part of many of his work in his later years.
His most well know
political satire Mohammad Bin Thuglak, which was later made into a movie
was the one that won him accolades. In the shows performed in the later years,
he thanks the audience for making the play relevant even today.
Be it his plays or
books, Thuglak the movie or Thuglak the magazine, he held a huge mirror towards
us and made us question ourselves. He conveyed that the country will not
progress unless its people do.
To elaborate on several of the hats that he donned and his contribution to the myriad fields he touched would require multiple books and cannot be condensed in a 1000 word article. Rarely do we come across such an eclectic personality. A lawyer, an actor, a dramatist, a director, a journalist, a political commentator and a kingmaker, Mr. Cho was not just a jack of all trades, he was a master of it all. The void left three years since his passing away remains unfilled and will remain so forever. It is the responsibility of every one of us to ensure that such a person is not lost to time and continue to remember him for his service to India and the Tamil society in particular.