My grandmother was a vivacious character for her time and age. The mother of nine children, each with their own character like the Navagraha gods – it must have been a humongous task holding the family together. Add to the mix, my grand-father, and you have a gripping sitcom that could run for decades.
My grand-parents lived in the village with their brood. It fell on my grand-mother’s shoulders to procure provisions, feed the family, feed anybody who comes begging and feed the constant barrage of visitors (my grandfather was known for his generosity, and many a mendicant has eaten my grandma’s cooking). Monthly once, she and her friends would undertake the journey to the city and buy provisions for the month ahead. Inventory management and reorder levels were second nature to these maami’s.
Meenakshi Maami, Visalam Maami (my grandmother) and some other maami. (My father regales these stories to us, and I forgot the name of the third maami.) It can’t be too difficult to guess – we South Indians like to think complexity stems from length and scoff at variety and modernity. So, you can pick Lakshmi maami or Jayam maami – both are equally probable. Let’s pick Jayam Maami for the purpose of this story.
These maamis had zest and fervour. But, they carefully concealed it behind 9 yards of saree each.
Which other mother of nine would hurriedly finish her monthly purchases in a blurry hour or so, and go charging towards the Sona-Mina-Tina theatre complex for a back-to-back 3 movie marathon movie-watching adventure?! (Note: No movie was considered worth the money if it was shorter than 3 hours and 15 minutes!)
“Ayyo, Visalam, puli vaanganum” (We must buy tamarind)
“Parava illai Jayam – ennutta irukku, naan tharaen. Padam aarambichuduvan” (Oh come on Jayam, I’ll give you some, the movie is going to start!)
Once in the theatre, they would watch a movie per theatre. An MGR movie in Sona followed by a Gemini movie in Mina and a Jaishankar movie in Tina.
The trio would then trump home with all the purchases where the kids would be waiting with their hearts a-flutter! You see, they would get to hear the stories from the three adventurous dames, who escaped into their fantasy world for all of a day! After lunch, the kids from Meenakshi Maami, Visalam Maami & Jayam Maami would gather around their mothers. I would like to imagine a setting like a village school sans desks and chairs. All the children looking up eagerly to hear the story.
Apparently, my grand-mother’s brood being the largest, she got the honour of primary narrative lead. In loose translation, it would go like this:
Visalam: blah..blah..MGR came and he was just rescuing Saroja Devi, when that nasty fellow came!
Meenakshi: Oh .. that fellow! One day, I would like to capture him – what a rowdy element he is!
*The kids knew the choice adjectives must all refer to the most preferred villain of Tamil Cinema at the time – M.N.Nambiar*
Visalam: And then, MGR ran with his sword just before that horrible fellow touched Saroja Devi and started fighting him. He pushed him to the floor and …
Jayam: Ayyo Visalam – he runs with the sword in the Gemini movie with K.R.Vijaya tied to the tree illayo? In this one, they fight over the upturned drums right?
Visalam, after a moment’s contemplation, may or may not agree with Jayam maami’s point, and proceed. Nambiar must have been the villain in all the three movies, and it must have been rather hard remembering the one in which he fought fist-to-fist, and the one where he put up a valiant sword-fight.
The resulting story essentially had all three movies tied haphazardly with various elements of drama and villainy suffused to form a murky liquid! Any director would have killed for the script – an entirely new movie would have arisen from the effort.
Yet, it was M.N.Nambiar who tied all these narrations together. The quintessential villain in over 1000 Tamil movies – he must have had a thousand curses directed at him every time he stepped onto the screen. It was hard imagining this man, who was the object of every maami’s source of apprehension in those movies, was the pious Aiyappa devotee that all the Maami’s approved off in real life.
A tribute to M.N.Nambiar – Tamilians would hardly have savoured the movie experience the same way without this personality!