What happens when you put two historians together in a room during Madras Week? Well, if the historians turn out to be Sriram V and Mohan V Raman, you can be assured of a good laugh along with a trip down memory lane. And, that is exactly what happened when both of them came together on Friday for a discussion on film studios of Kodambakkam.
When asked about some of his early memories from working in the studios, actor and film historian Mohan recollected getting his first salary from Vijaya Vauhini for the movie 'Karuppu Vellai'. "In those days, studios were used to shoot police stations, hospitals, and courts because it was impossible to get permissions to shoot at the live locations. For example, shots of hospital rooms were always recorded at the studio which is why at any given time you would find a mangy-looking oxygen cylinder in the 'ICU' and an almost dysfunctional ECG machine," he says.
"So among the three, I spent most of the time shooting at courts because I was predominantly cast as an advocate. That may have been due to my family background, but of the 170 odd films I have done, I have been connected to the legal profession in more than 100 of them. I have played either a judge or a prosecutor or a defence attorney. Even now, one of the three calls I get are for similar roles."
But there were "odorous" occupational hazards of playing such characters. "During that time, I used to have my own black coat and gown because those in charge of costumes would use old clothes and not wash them properly so they would stink. I also had my own police costume," Mohan says.
"I would give the team my khaki shirt and trouser and ask them to fix the badges according to the character I was supposed to play — such as an IG or the Commissioner — and then give it to me. After the shoot, I would ask them to take away all the paraphernalia and give the uniform back to me so that I could wash it," he adds.
Excerpts from a lecture series organised by Madras Musings.