Sunday, February 01, 2009

RIP - Nagesh

Tamil cinema's evergreen comedian Nagesh passed away yesterday in Chennai. Arguably Tamil cinema's finest comedian, he was one of the few actors whose demise can be described with the phrase 'the end of an era'.

Nagesh was undoubtedly a gifted comedian. A single move - like the one where he widened his eyes and shrugged his shoulders simultaneously when he was surprised - was enough to make us laugh and his facial expressions, body language and voice came together to reveal incredible comic timing in movie after movie. But 'comedian' would be too tight a slot for him. He was an amazing dancer with some unique, trademark movies and a superb character actor too.

I haven't seen too many films where Nagesh appeared purely as a comedian. Ofcourse I've heard of his hilarious comedy tracks, his perfect comic chemistry with Manorama in numerous movies and his indispensable part even in movies that starred MGR and Sivaji. But I haven't personally seen too many of those movies. But remembering the old adage Oru Paanai Sotrukku Oru Soru Padham, his role in ThiruviLaiyaadal is proof enough of his comic genius. His role as the impoverished poet Tharumi in that film is legendary and it is almost certain that his sequence will figure in any Tamil cinema viewer's list of favorite comedy sequences of all time. The initial mix of disbelief and disdain, the grudging admiration for Sivaji's talent after the questioning, the grief at losing the prize and the subsequent anger at Sivaji were all emotions that Nagesh brought out inimitably and together, they made it one of Tamil cinema's most memorable roles.

I'm more familiar with the movies where he was more than just a comedian. He had the central role in movies like Neerkkumizhi(where he played a terminally ill patient in a hospital), Edhirneechal(where he played an orphan in a large building housing many families) and Server Sundaram(where he played a waiter who went on to become a successful hero) and proved that he could make us cry just as well as he could make us laugh. Not that these directors never tapped his comic prowess. He was hilarious as the husband in one of the three moviestar-obsessed couples in KB's Bama Vijayam and as the aspiring director in Sridhar's Kaadhalikka Neramillai(his narration of a horror story to a scared Balaiah is another of Tamil cinema's unforgettable comedy segments).

If it was KB who gave Nagesh his best roles earlier, it was his student Kamal who gave him his most memorable roles in the last stage of his career. Whether it was playing a villain in a comic vein that went perfectly with the film's tone in Aboorva SagodharargaL, a greedy manager in Michael Madana Kamarajan, a father broken-hearted by his daughter's suicide in Nammavar or a drunk make-up artist in Avvai Shanmugi, Nagesh brought his experience and unique portrayal to every role and made it his own. So it was fitting that he was last seen in Kamal's Dasaavathaaram.

Nagesh may have passed away but the laughs he gave us will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in peace...


At 10:22 PM, Blogger Srivatsan Sridharan said...


Really sad indeed :( , was hearing to FMs in Chennai (aahaafm and suryan fm) no mention of it. Just wondering these guys talk abt worthless stuff, Nagesh sure deserved a word or two.

My favourites would be Kaathilikka Neramillai and Pattinathil Bootham

At 10:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nagesh was a true artist in the era of hamming and anything-goes in the name of acting. He truly was along with Sivaji Ganesan the leading light in all kinds of roles. In fact in movies where he was paired with Sivaji, I always felt Nagesh acted much better than Sivaji himself. Such was his calibre.

RIP Nagesh. You will be terribly missed and impossible to replace.

At 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Srivathsan, just like FMs not mentioning it, another thing that I hate is national news channels like NDTV etc. not even providing a great mention about one of the greatest comedians in the whole of India breathing his last. It's almost like those people have no life beyond Maharashtra.

BB, great obit and you highlighted almost all his important roles beautifully but you forgot to mention one which I cannot think anyone else could have played and it also came in a Kamal movie. I am talking about Magalir Mattum where he appeared as a dead body, I still cannot imagine how he played that part so perfectly. Another role that reminds me of Nagesh immediately is that of Broker Vaithy in Thillana Mohanambal. I cannot imagine anyone else playing that role.

Kamal mentioned that Magalir Mattum role in his speech when he said "He was an actor who could play any kind of role. Even this part he is playing right now (that of his death), he has played perfectly in one of my movies." And what Manorama said is what all of us are feeling right now -- "I have still not recovered from the passing away of Nambiar but now this has come as a huge double blow for me." I think that perfectly highlights what everyone of us are feeling right now with the loss of Nambiar, Nagesh, Sridhar, Raghuvaran over the past year.

Truly a very sad day in tamil cinema indeed. May his soul rest in peace.

Balaji Sivaraman

At 12:04 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

srivatsan/balaji, i was in chennai when nambiar passed away and the national channels like NDTV did give good coverage. so a li'l surprised about nagesh's death not getting mentioned. not sure about the radio channels though.

bharath, not sure about other movies but nagesh defly stole the limelight from sivaji in 'thiruvilaiyaadal'.

balaji, i did remember 'magalir mattum' but considering this was an obit, i felt a little odd writing about his role in that. but what kamal said is really poignant.

At 1:09 AM, Blogger MJith said...

A legend indeed...Here's an amazing scene,

At 1:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nagesh's best known movies have all been repeated ad nauseum. But there are hordes of tamil movies which are best forgotten but for nagesh.
one should see
then mazhai
aayiram poi
ninaivil ninraval
(all by muktha srinivasan)
galata kalyanam
patanathil bootham
athey kangal
madras to pondicherry
sadhu mirandal
veetukku veedu
the list is endless.
His impeccable timing, rat at tat dialogue delivery, and most importantly his reaction to others dialogue ( body language thy name is nagesh) are unmatched.
But for some unlucky choices he would have made it even bigger!
the greatest ever by a long mile!

At 1:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Maadhu vandhirukkaen" and "smashaanathil mutham, kathi munayil ratham" are unforgettable.

An amazing actor who refused to be typecast in a single role.

One more loss to Tamil Cinema :(

At 3:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The greatest thing about Nagesh is he never overacted in his times so We can safely say that Nagesh was definitely ahead of his times. His Second best contribution to Tamil Films after his Acting Genius was his Student Kamal.
Even Kamal might deny it but his histrionics sure reveal that he's more a Nagesh Fan than Sivaji.
This loss cannot be replaced.

At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

he was a terrific actor. he was a very complete actor who was in total command of the grammar of acting - comedy, pathos, drama, dance, all came to him so effortlessly...

some of my favorite nagesh performances (to illustrate his versatility):

kadhalika neramillai
edhir neechal
aboorva raagangall
aboorva sahodharargall

At 12:57 PM, Blogger NS said...

I am surprised no one mentioned Major Chandrakanth, where Nagesh plays a meaty role, no trace of comedy whatsoever, but played to perfection. It is one of my favorites of his. Undoubtedly the best comedian Indian cinema has seen.

At 1:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was one post here that mentioned that Nagesh was better than even Sivaji himself.

Well, I'm a big Sivaji fan. But I agree with this sentiment 100%, because I'm a bigger Nagesh fan.

There are so many so called comedians and then there is Nagesh. In fact, I consider it demeaning to Nagesh, to typecast him as just a comedian. He was an actor who happened to do comedic roles more than any other role. It's probably because, comedy without getting vulgar OR loud is the most difficult art there is. And there is absolutely no match for him in that regard.

Today's comedians like Vadivelu and Vivek should be extremely proud if in their finest creations they get to at least 10% of Nagesh's calibre.


At 7:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The endless list of comedic roles of Nagesh seem to take some shine off his dramatic ones... rather unfairly.

The Nammavar scenes in which he portrayed the trauma and grief in a manner never seen in Tamil movies - where loud wailings and chest beatings are common - and the subtlety in which he unfolds the grief of a father is worthy of a great character actor / artiste.

Rest in Peace, dear Nagesh - who brought laughter and smiles in every manner possible.

At 9:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In their earlier movies when Nagesh and Manorama were both mainly comedians, I used to think Manorama was so much better than Nagesh. Quite honestly, I didn't like a lot of Nagesh's earlier comedy roles too much. Sure, there were a few great ones, but he was quite annoying in some of his comedies. Manorama, on the other hand, was consistently great.

In the last couple decades, I feel the opposite. Manorama after 'Chinna Thambi' has been mostly intolerable in her dramatic roles. Nagesh after 'Apoorva Sahodarargal' has been mostly genius.

So I guess I don't consider Nagesh a comedian. He is a genius character actor, who just happened to do a lot of comedy. His best roles have been mostly non-comedy.

At 11:44 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

manoj, oh yeah, an unforgettable sequence :)

vengayam, "his reaction to others dialogue" - thats exactly what i was talking about when i wrote about eyes widening and shoulders shrugging :)

gans, where's that second line from? :)

anon, agree with every part of ur comment :)

ram, thanx for pointing out his role in 'rhythm'. another of my favorite performances :)

nithya, i have seen 'major chandrakanth' but it was too long ago and don't remember much about the movie or nagesh's role in it. hence the omission :)

krish, again, agree with every part of ur comment :)

anon, yep, definitely a great character artist :)

prakash, i guess that he's done so many comedy roles that barring some, they blend into one another for me. but each of his character roles has been unique and special. that's probably why I remember more of his character roles too :)

At 2:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Kaadhalikka neramillai... the scene where he tells Muthuraman that he is going to make films under "Oho productions". Superb scene

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a great loss to Indian Cinema. Rest In Peace Nagesh.


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