Saturday, February 5, 2011

J. P. Chandrababu

J. P. Chandrababu (1927–1974) - Tamil film comedian-actor, singer and dancer, whose chaplin-style on-screen movements and unique singing style, with some humorous yet philosophical Tamil lyrics and a bass voice, made him popular from the late 1940s to the early 1970s.
He was often likened to the styles of Jerry Lewis, the famous Hollywood comedian-actor. His slapstick style of comedy was then used by later generation actors like Prabhu Deva in Kaadhalan movie. Chandrababu's eloquence in Madras Bashai, a dialect unique to the lower socio-economic status, was incomparable for a long time until Kamal Haasan could do it, a couple of decades later. Many of Chandrababu’s songs have remained popular through the generations to this day - to the old and young alike.
Chandrababu’s Christian family originally hailed from Toothukudi Tuticorin, India - from the Tamil Paravas community -. He was born in Toothukudi, but raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where his father worked for a Tamil daily published there, during the British colonial days. His initials J.P. stands for Jacob Pitchai. The middle name 'pitchai' (meaning, beggar in Tamil, or beggarly munificence)was an endearing dimunitive as his parents prayed piously to Joeseph for a healthy baby, after his birth. He had schooling at St.Josephs College, Colombo and Aquinas University College during the Second World War period.
If there was a contest for the most misunderstood actor of all time, then Tamil cinema’s multifaceted genius JP Chandrababu will certainly be the winner, if not one of the finalists. “Not only was he misunderstood during his lifetime but even after his passing away, many have been writing about him without the correct facts, “ says his brother JP Jawahar.
For a start,J.P.Chandrababu's real name was Joseph Panimayadas Rodriguez, not Fernando or Pichai. Babu, as he was affectionately called and was born on August 4, 1927 and not the August 5 as mentioned in a few books. Babu’s father was Joseph Pichai Rodriguez and his mother Roselin.This probably accounted for a few people adding “Pichai” to his name, while the family still wonders how “Fernando” was added to Babu’s name as Fernando was the maiden name of Mrs Jawahar according to his brother JP Jawahar.
Babu was born in Tuticorin, the sixth child to his parents. His father, a freedom fighter, ran a paper called 'Sudhandhira Veeran', which, along with the family assets, was seized by the British government. His father was arrested in 1929 for participating in the salt Satyagraha and was exiled to Colombo on being released.
Babu studied in Saint Joseph’s Preparatory School, Colombo, up to his Intermediate. It is this Lankan experience that probably helped him sing the first ever “Baila” tune-based film song — 'Bambara kannaaley' for the film, 'Manamagan Thevai' (1957) under the music direction of G Ramanathan.
After the Second World War took its toll on life in Sri Lanka, Chandrababu and his family came to Chennai in 1943. They lived in Triplicane and struggled to make ends meet, as his father earned a meagre salary while employed at the Dinamani newspaper.
In these early years, Babu, with dreams of a career in cinema, wandered about and made the acquaintance of actor Sriram, BR Panthulu and through them TR Mahalingam. They were amazed at his talent in singing and mimicking famous Hollywood stars like Charles Boyer. Babu made his debut in the film 'Dhana Amaravathi' in 1947,after this came several failed attempts to meet producers and directors.One day, in a fit of depression, he consumed poison and collapsed in the Gemini Studio canteen. He had written a suicide note explaining the reason and that his body was to be handed over to BS Ramaiah, the director of his first and only film.
He was rushed to a nursing home and when the case came up for hearing, Babu told the magistrate his sad tale. The judge asked Babu to prove his acting ability. Babu rendered a Shakespearean monologue that so impressed the judge that the latter advised him to keep trying and not give up. One of the witnesses examined in this case was R Ganesh, later to become “Gemini” Ganesan. When SS Vasan came to know of this episode, he promised Babu a role and later gave it in the film 'Moondru Pillaigal' (1951).
Babu also did 'Chinnadorai' and 'Mohanasundaram' the same year. In 'Chinnadorai', produced and directed by TR Mahalingam, he sang the song 'Poda Raja Podi Nadaya' which was the first time that “yodelling” was heard on the Indian film screen. Kishore Kumar, the other famous yodeller, did so much later. There is a version that Kishore yodelled (uncredited) in a song — 'Duniya mein ameeron ko aaram nahin miltha' in the 1949 film 'Kaneez'. There is no yodelling in this song but a voice, sounding much like Kishore, does a lot of vocal gymnastics in between the singing of Rafi and SD Batish.
Babu was paid Rs 200 for his role in 'Mohanasundaram'.The family was hoping he could contribute to the rent and provisions when he walked in with a gramophone record player and a number of records. Babu loved western music and learnt the art of yodelling listening to songs of singers like Gene Autry and Hank Williams. Babu used to sit outside his home in the verandah from 10 at night and sing till the early hours of the morning, much to the amusement of his neighbours and passersby.
Chandrababu was multi-talented. He was an actor, a singer, a great dancer, a mimic, a writer, a director and a producer. The film industry had never seen such a person. When AV Meiyappan completed the film 'Sahodari', he watched it and found that it lacked something essential for it to succeed in the box-office. He called Chandrababu over and showed him the film. Babu added a comedy track for himself, wrote it and even sang the famous song 'Naan oru muttalunga', for the film, converting what would have been an average film into a hit.
As years rolled on, Babu became the star he always wanted to be. Poverty was a thing of the past. His love for western music, dancing and dressing was evident from his songs and films. The paradox is that it was Chandrababu who first spoke the slang “Madras Baashai” in movies and popularised it; he learnt this dialect from the rickshaw pullers and street vendors near his home in Triplicane and later Mir Sahib Pet.
Babu went through a broken marriage about which many a story exists. The true reason was that Sheila, his wife, told him that she loved someone else and they divorced. Over the years Babu helped her till she left the country.
A funny anecdote about J.P.Chandrababu is when a group of south Indian actors had gone to the border to entertain our jawans. They stopped at Rashtrapati Bhavan and met President S Radhakrishnan. Babu sang the song 'Pirakkum podhum azhugindrai' and Radhakrishnan appreciated it, when Babu in his child-like manner jumped on President's lap, held his chin and said “Nee rasiganda kannu” (You are a true fan)according to J.P.Chandrababu’s friend, music director MS Viswanathan, who was present on that occasion.
He passed away on March 7, 1974, impoverished but not penniless as is often reported. But yes, the man who made millions laugh was one who laughed rarely in his own life.
Chandrababu elevated himself among the second generation of popular Tamil film comedians, after N.S. Krishnan. His only rival in 1950s was K.A.Thangavelu. Whereas Chandrababu was more oriented towards physical and miming routines with singing, Thangavelu was more focused on cerebral, verbal comedy. This dichotomy was a blessing to the producers, directors and heroes. However, in a world used to sycophancy, Chandrababu turned out to be a rarity in not mincing his words. One can say that this sort of spunk and irreverance, along with Chandrababu’s habit of calling a spade a spade earned him a lot of enemies. It was this naiveté that finally sealed his fate. Though multi-talented and successful in his career, he could not emulate the same level of success in his personal life. Thus, he became addicted to alcohol after a failed marriage and died in 1974, at the relatively young age of 45.
'Sabash Meena' was one of the best Tamil comedy movies for its times and in it, Chandra babu acted with Sivaji Ganesan, in dual roles. Due to his alcoholism and non-cooperative attitude towards producers and also due to the rise of comedian Nagesh, Chandrababu dug his own grave in the 1960s. However, he embarked as a director for the movie 'Thattungal Thirakkappadum,' which was highly acclaimed for its cinematography. Chandrababu, well-known for his wits, in this movie, acted as a physically challenged person who couldn't speak. For this reason, as critiques say, the film bombed at the box-office. The film's first half is still praised for its quality and difference, thanks to Mr. Babu as a director, but the second-half is criticized as soaked into the hoods of a regular tragedy Tamil movie. That was, allegedly, Chandrababu's last directing venture.
Chandra babu then attempted to reverse his financial fortune with a movie named 'Maadi Veettu ezhai', arranging with M.G.Ramachandran (MGR) as hero. Eventually, he failed on this venture as MGR did not cooperate with him. The movie was also dropped. The reasons for MGR's non-cooperation is well explained by script writer Aroordhas, in his 2002 memoirs Naan Muham Paartha Cinema Kannadigal. Its because Chandababu became abusive towards MGR's elder sibling M.G.Chakrapani.


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