Maadhu Balaji

Courtesy: THE HINDU, April 7, 2016 – Friday Features Section

Actor Balaji, who will be conferred the ‘Nataka Choodamani’ title speaks to V.Balasubramanian about being Maadhu in his brother ‘Crazy’ Mohan’s plays for 38 years

The script and the title keep changing, but Madhu is the hero’s name in all the plays of Crazy Mohan.

Balaji also known as ‘Maadhu’ Balaji has set a record of sorts donning this role for 38 years without a break. He will be awarded the ‘Nataka Choodamani’ title on April 10 by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, T.Nagar.

On a cloudy Sunday morning Balaji goes down memory lane on a long drive along the Marina.

“There are certain places imbued with good influences and positive vibrations. Our ancestral home where we all grew up is one such and it was a joint family,” begins Balaji and continues, “It was my childhood dream to become a stage actor. Returning from talkie houses after watching a film, I would lock myself up in a room and repeat the lines of Nagesh, who was my favourite.” Probably this laid the foundation for his consistently flawless performances.

“My first stage appearance, for an inter-collegiate competition, on a borrowed script was a failure. We were booed out. My elder brother Mohan (Crazy), as a student of Guindy Engineering College had penned many scripts. We began using some of them and won every competition. Never did I realise that seeds were already planted by the Divine for the Mohan-Balaji combination. Mohan then ventured into writing plays for Kathadi Ramamurthy and S.Ve Shekar and they were all runaway hits,” Balaji recalls.

Yet another dream of Balaji was to work in a bank which too got fulfilled after his graduation but not before enrolling himself for M.Com at Pachaiyappa’s College. His mother wanted him to leave theatre and pursue Chartered Accountancy. “It was my grandfather V.K. Venkatakrishna Iyengar, who intervened and helped me pursue acting,” adds Balaji adds.

In August 1979 Crazy Creations was born with Mohan at the helm. Mohan’s ‘Allaudin and 100 Watts Bulb’, after initial struggle, took off successfully. “Appa Ramesh, Subbu, Sundararajan, Krishnan, Sathyamurthy, IOB Mohan and Venkat(late) joined us. Vasu, a close associate of Mohan, is the coordinator. Over the years, he has ensured the group performs like a well oiled unit. Khanthan who has been directing all our plays, apart from managing the music, has this uncanny knack of turning Mohan’s 400-odd page script for every new play into a concise 150-minute drama.

Though make up man Natarajan and Coffee Babu have been with the group since its inception, a few quit due to health reasons or for a career in films,” says Balaji.

That Balaji is a team person gets revealed when asked about offers in films. “I have turned down several film offers that came my way particularly after 1999 when the popularity of the group was at its peak. Balancing both would have been a difficult proposition. Also taking into account the journey that we as a team of 25 embarked upon 25 years ago. I decided, not to accept films. And I have no regrets.”

Every time the brothers returned after a performance their grandfather, who was a theatre actor in his younger days, would ask ‘How was the play? How did the crowd react? How was the collection?’

“When he died in 1989, our entire group was by his bedside and Khanthan took the momentous decision of renaming the group as VKV Visions in his memory.”

More than 6,000 shows in India and abroad and they are still going strong. “I have to thank our team members for their invaluable contribution.”

Balaji who got married early, mentions his wife’s unflinching support. He turns emotional when he talks about his mother passing away without seeing his journey to glory. “My sister-in-law (Mohan’s wife) has been like a mother since then. Living in a joint family has been a blessing for all the domestic needs were taken care of by people at home so much so that I even missed my children growing up.”

A conversation with Balaji is never complete without a reference to Kamal Haasan. “After Mohan began working with the great actor and they churned out quite a few hits, the group’s popularity grew manifold. Shows were sold out.”

Soon the stage became Balaji’s world and he resigned his bank job to focus totally on theatre. The group also began to tap other performance avenues such as corporate shows. “Children have been our biggest fans. A reason why Mohan re-invented himself and scripted plays such as ‘Jurassic Baby’, ‘Chocolate Krishna’ and ‘Google Gadothgajan’. It’s heartening to see children who have grown-up watching our plays coming to our shows now with their children. It feels nice to have such a loyal viewership,” smiles Balaji.

R.S. Manohar, Cho S. Ramaswamy, Manorama, Nagesh, ARS, Mouli and Y.Gee. Mahendra are his idols. He has honed his skills, especially dialogue delivery and body language, under the watchful eyes of Kathadi Ramamurthy, who continues to inspire him.

Are you not bored of acting as Maadhu? “A few years ago in the U.S. when I came on stage in the first scene of the play ‘Maadhu Plus Two’, the crowd clapped for three long minutes. We had to wait to deliver the next dialogue. I was in tears and thought of my mother who should have lived to see this. I will continue as long as the audience wants to see me as Maadhu. After all it is for their enjoyment that I act,” signs off Balaji.