C. P. Belliappa's Column


By: C.P. Belliappa

I first wrote this piece – ‘Nee Waada  Smith’ – in January, 1985, and it was published as a ‘middle’ in Deccan Herald.  It is also one of the 55 anecdotes in my book – Tongue of the Slip.  Here’s a slightly updated version of the story written in lighter vein.

I spent six years and six months in Chennai.  First six years as a college student, and six months in my first job with Indian Oil Corporation. Besides earning a degree in engineering, I also acquired reasonable proficiency in speaking and understanding that sweet language, Tamil. After all, the very word ‘Tamil’ is a derivation of the classical Tamil phrase ‘Amuldu,’ which means ‘Honey’.

I had several Tamil friends from Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, in whose company I was able to pick up the language quite rapidly. The fact that my own language—a dialect—had many words in common with Tamil helped a great deal.

After my limited ‘mastery’ in understanding and appreciating this melodious language, one of the events I used to look forward to and enjoy immensely, was listening to speeches by politicians belonging to the DMK, especially their supremo and later chief minister C.N. Annadurai. His political discourses in Tamil were sheer poetry. I used to walk miles with my Tamil friends just to listen to ‘Anna’ as he was popularly known.

Most of the DMK leaders were powerful public speakers and the large crowds they attracted eagerly lapped up their rhyming rhetoric peppered with innuendos which could be interpreted with more than one meaning. They could be highly sarcastic with their double entendres while denigrating an opponent or emphasizing their point of view. No wonder most of the DMK politicians continue to be leading actors, and excellent scriptwriters for Tamil movies. Late Kalaignar (scholar of arts) M.K. Karunanidhi was an effective orator and a successful playwright.

Another interest of mine during my college days in Chennai used to be Tamil movies—especially those starring the then Tamil superhero M.G. Ramachandran, popularly known as MGR, who years later formed his own party—AIADMK—and became the chief minister of the state.

MGR’s movies were always action packed, and were laced with terrific dialogue, heroics of herculean proportions, elaborate background settings, and excessive make-ups. It was MGR’s trademark to wear a combination of red and black attire when he made his dramatic first appearance in all his movies. The colours were that of the DMK flag. His audience and admirers used to go berserk on seeing their hero’s spectacular entrance in the first scene. As in all Indian movies then and now, more was always better. And those starring MGR took it to the next level in over-the-top portrayal of heroics, romance, song-and-dance, tragedy and slapstick comedy. 

I still clearly remember a scene from one of MGR’s hit movies in which he had this voluptuous young damsel – Jayalalitha – draped on one arm; and, in the other, he held a magnificent sword. Suddenly, a gang of about fifty or so unshaven villains attack him brandishing an assortment of lethal weapons. MGR just smiles at his alarmed, wide-eyed heroine, and tells her, ‘Naan kongcho velleyaadit varen’ (I will play a little and be back!). He then goes on to effortlessly demolish his foes, single-handedly. The audience used to go crazy with appreciation after these superhuman acts by their idol.

Whenever a new movie of MGR’s was released, word used to quickly spread in the hostel as to how good the film was. There was one hostel-mate of ours who never missed a single movie of MGR. He took great pride in seeing every film of MGR on the very first day of its release. One weekend, my friends and I overheard this chap waxing eloquent about a fantastic padam (movie) he had seen that day. He loudly announced in his strong Tamil accent the title of the movie, ‘Nee Waada  Smith’. Translated, this meant—‘Come hither Smith.’ We automatically presumed that it was one of the latest releases starring our hero MGR. Since we had nothing better to do that weekend, my friends and I decided to make an evening of this padam with an interesting sounding title.

We arrived rather late at the theatre, and just about managed to get the last few tickets available with the touts. As we rushed into the theatre the commercials were being screened; and by the time we occupied our seats, the movie started.

We were tickled pink when we read the title of the movie beamed on the screen. It was a Hollywood production titled, Nevada Smith starring Steve McQueen! The story was based on Harold Robbins bestseller, The Carpetbaggers. The movie was indeed an excellent one, though not of our leading actor MGR!