Nostalgia: A conversation with Chandra Mohan

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 - 00:15

Chandramohan is one artiste whom we have been seeing since most of our childhood. We have seen him in nearly all types of roles. An actor par excellence, he's one who came to films without any filmy background and is still working occasionally. Some of his contemporaries are nowhere seen in films, but he stills makes a mark on the screen. I always wanted to talk to him about his films and career, but was not sure how he interacts with people he didn't know. Finally, when I heard that he was in the U.S.A, I called him up. And, to my surprise, he was very jovial and happy to talk about his filmdom experiences.

Here are the excerpts from the interview.

Sri: Tell me about your childhood...

Chandramohan: My father is a farmer and my mother is a housewife. I was born in a village near Vuyyuru sugar factory. Others who came to filmdom from the same village are Paruchuri brothers. Though they came long after my entry, we all know they're also very successful in the films. I did my schooling there and completed my Intermediate too, and went to Eluru to join B.Sc. While doing my B.Sc., I got a seat in B.Sc. (Agriculture), and so I joined there. Even before I got my degree, I got a job in the Agriculture Department.

Sri: What about your cultural activities? 

Chandramohan: I am coming to that point too. I used to act in a lot of plays in schools. I was the Cultural Secretary in the college, and did a lot of plays there. After I got the job too, I was with the stage all the while.

Sri: So, how did you land in films with no recommendations?

Chandramohan: To tell you the truth, I was never interested in films. I never even had a thought of entering into the film industry! It was my brother-in-law who literally pushed me into films. He was inspired because of ‘Thene Manasulu’(1965). Once ‘Thene Manasulu’ was released, several aspiring artistes landed in Madras. In fact, at that time, Subbarao gaaru toured with all the artistes of ‘Thene Manasulu’ in order to make them more popular. When the troupe came to Vijayawada, my brother-in-law took me to them and told them that I did a lot of plays and won prizes in Parishat competitions. They took my résumé and said that they'll get back to me soon but it never happened. At the same time, hearing that B.N. Reddy gaaru was looking for new artistes, my brother-in-law forcibly took me there along with the résumé...

Sri: A résumé?

Chandramohan:: Yeah, it was common in those days to make a résumé with details of the plays one acted in, awards and prizes, etc. In those days of no dubbing artistes, moviemakers looked for people with good voice along with the acting capabilities.) When I went there along with my portfolio, there were many people waiting in their office. (Most film companies of those times had their distribution offices in Vijayawada. In fact, Vijayawada is a main center even now for film companies.) I had a decent coiffure at that time, and thus they took pictures of me in different styles and getups. My brother-in-law got all excited, but I didn't have much hope and thus became busy with my regular job. As I didn't expect anything really, I had not even given them my office address; my brother-in-law gave his address. They sent me a call letter for a screen test. When I went to my village during the festive season, he showed me the letter and forced me to attend the screen test.

Since the screen test was in Madras, I took a day off and went there along with my brother-in-law during a weekend to attend the screen test. We were directed to a lodge which housed more such aspirants, and a car was sent the next day early morning to pick us up and take to the studio – I was surprised to see ten others there, and I was crestfallen, but still did go due to my brother-in-law's goading. An assistant director walked up to us, and told us to concoct our own dialogues for a scene. We were also to choose our own costume from the wardrobe there, and the logic behind this was that they wanted to see how much the chosen costume matches with the dialogues we chose.

Sri: So, who judged you all?

Chandramohan: One important difference between stage and cinema is that there's nearly always someone to interact with on the stage, but in the screen test for films, you enact as if there is someone, depending on the situation – this was new to me! I was asked to do my role under a spotlight on the floor, with no soul around! I do not even know who all were watching me... it was only later that I got to know the panel had B.N. Reddy gaaru, Kamalakara Kameshwara Rao gaaru, C. Narayana Reddy gaaru, etc.

Finally, I did my part in five minutes and came out. I was eagerly waiting for the results, but to my utmost disappointment, we were informed that they'd let us know by post as they need to process the film and check on the screen to see who did well. I felt it is not going to happen. But, well, we did what we should, and thus toured around Madras and went back to Vijayawada.

After more than a month later, I was asked to come for the discussions. We both went to Madras again. They informed that I was selected for a role, and that I'd be paid one hundred rupees per month plus free lodging and boarding, in Vauhini Guesthouse and Vauhini Mess. They added that it may take one year to make the film with so many newcomers. I was hesitant to sign the contract as I was in a government job and taking a leave that long is not possible. Finally, when they said that it may take lesser time than a year, I signed the agreement, took leave from the job with great difficulty and came to Madras. That was ‘Rangula Ratnam’, my debut.

Sri: What were your experiences on the sets like?

Chandramohan: After one day's shoot, we were asked to observe what the experienced stars were doing, for the amateurs we were. B.N. Reddy gaaru requested NTR gaaru and also Adurti gaaru to allow us to see their shooting. NTR was doing ‘Sreekrishna Thulabharam’and Adurti was doing ‘Thene Manasulu’ at that time, and we used to visit both the sets while they were shooting. I sometimes saw that they were repeatedly shooting the same scene, and asked NTR gaaru innocently as to why they were doing so – I didn't even know that a newbie like me was not supposed to accost a star that way, and thus I was not hesitant at all! He used to explain me the things from scratch, and I did this until others on the sets asked me not to do that! We also used to visit Thene Manasulu sets as some actors, such as Ramamohan, were also acting in Rangula Raatnam. After fifteen days of watching the shootings, we finally started our shooting and we were done in seven months. I then went back to my job, but this time I had to go to Jangareddygudem, even through recommendation, as all my previous seniority was gone with a long leave! The film took another three months for re-recording and editing and was finally released all over Andhra Pradesh. I was not even aware that it was released!

Sri: How did you feel? Did you watch the movie in a theater then?

Chandramohan: I went to my village for Pongal holidays and my brother-in-law took me to Vijayawada. ...We stayed with our relatives... people already started recognizing me, but my relatives said I was a look-alike of Chandramohan and that my name is Sekhar (laughs). Vauhini office in Vijayawada got to know that I was there and they arranged tickets for the film. I went after the film started and came before it completed so the crowd will not recognize me. ...The film was a huge hit, but still I was not ready to work full time in films...

Sri: Who pulled you to Madras again? How?

Chandramohan: B.N. Reddy gaaru sent a man asking me to come to Madras. I was not sure because some heroes of those times worked for great banners and vanished later... Koteshwara Rao of Illaalu, directed by L.V. Prasad, is only one example! I was thus in a dilemma, but finally landed in Madras, again thanks due to my brother-in-law! B.N. gaaru informed me that people were enquiring about me to offer roles. Rajasree Pictures' Doondey gaaru was remaking a film from Tamil (Marapu Raani Katha). There were two important characters in the film opposite Vanisree. I wanted to do the role played by Sivaji Ganeshan, but I was offered the other role. I was in dilemma, and I asked Vanisree, who was my heroine in Rangula Raatnam too, as to what she'd suggest, and she seconded my idea too! Finally, I signed for the film, for the role I didn't first prefer! But, B.N. gaaru was upset as it was not the main hero role and that I didn't consult him before signing the contract!

Other films followed - a good role in Sukhadukhaalu again with Vanisree, in my sister role this time. ...My first solo break came with Bapu gaaru – Bangaru Picchuka (1971) with Vijayanirmala, who also acted in Rangula Raatnam. That film didn't work out to me. (Bapu gaaru remade the same film as Pellikoduku with Naresh and Divyavani but that also failed at the BO). Then I did lot of films...Thallidandurlu, Bommaa? Borusaa?, Alluri Seetharamaraju, Jeevana Tharangalu... Viswanath's O Seetha Katha (1974) with Roja Ramani was a hit, and I became very busy with films...

Sri: But most of the films you did were women-oriented subjects! 

Chandramohan: Though they were women-oriented, I was hero in films like Sirisirimuvva, Padaharella Vayasu, Seethamaalakshmi, Gopal Rao Gaari Ammaayi, Pakkinti Ammaayi, etc. I was the main character in these films. At that time, we used to give more significance to the subject and then the role we were doing. If I am satisfied in both these aspects, I did not have a problem doing any sort of role. I got good recognition for my role in all such films, and I am thus happy! I did hero roles until 1989. After that too, I did some films as a parallel hero, before I switched to character roles.

Sri: You were labelled as a lucky mascot for heroines!

Chandramohan: (Laughs) That's all made up by the heroines – I never said that. That was because they felt that they got good roles after working with me, and thus they became top heroines. ...Before I started Rangula Raatnam, I was informed that my heroine was shooting in another floor in the studio. When I went there, she was doing a comedy role in Sreekrishna Thulabharam alongside Padmanabham. I went back to B.N. Reddy gaaru and asked to change the heroine. He said that she was a most talented artiste and that the industry is not giving proper roles to her. She'll reach the top slot with this film, said B.N. gaaru. His words became very true.

After this film, she (Vanisree) did’Marapu Raani Katha’ and ‘Sukhadukhaalu’ and became a top heroine. But it was Jayasudha and Jayaprada who made it more popular in their interviews about me being a lucky mascot. There's, in fact, nothing great about me!

Sri: You belong to a time when finding a bride was difficult for cine personalities. Tell me about your marriage. 

Chandramohan: As you know, I am married to Jalandhara, daughter of the famous doctor and writer Gali Balasundara Rao gaaru. Balasundara Rao gaaru is closely associated with films at that time, and even used to run an amateur theater, in fact. Jamuna, B.N. Reddygaaru, etc. used to come and watch plays in his house. It was B.N. gaaru who recommended my name to him, and since he knew the field very well, he agreed to get us married. He wanted one of our daughters to be a doctor ...I named my second daughter, who is now a doctor and is also married to one, in his memory.

Sri: Tell me about the casting problems. Have you faced any problems in films? I mean, did you get replaced in the last minute or something?

Chandramohan: Yes, I was! It happened for a movie that was made with a big hero later. I was supposed to do the role, and the news appeared in newspapers too. I went on the sets the first day and was shocked to see someone else doing my role! I was totally upset, but I could not do anything about it. I later did the same role in Tamil with another top hero and I am happy about it... It does not happen all the time, but sometimes ...there are various reasons... Well, it no longer matters to me now!

Sri: I think you were doing lead roles until 1994, and then you switched to the character roles. What made you to switch?

Chandramohan: I was doing films like Kalikalam and Sagatu Manishi even before, in parallel to hero roles. It was E.V.V gaaru who offered me the role in Aame as a father of four daughters. I was doing Oorantha Gola at that time, a remake of Hindi film Angoor (which is based on Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors"), and those producers asked me not to do this film. But, this was a good character too and I was in a dilemma.

In ‘Aame’, I needed to do the character of a father of four daughters who has to deal with their marriages. It was a time when Satyanarayana gaaru, Gummadi gaaru were all switching to grandfather roles, and thus they were looking for someone to do justice to the father's role. E.V.V convinced me to do the role, and finally after much debate, I did that. Both the film and my role clicked, and the name that followed fetched me several such roles. I did Venkatesh's father role in Ganesh, and Nagarjuna's dad in ‘Ninne Pelladatha’, Balakrishna's dad in ‘Krishnababu’... and I became an ideal choice for father roles for all young heroes! I even did father's role with Chiranjeevi in the film ‘Iddaru Mithrulu’. I was initially hesitant to do that role, but Raghavendra Rao gaaru convinced me to do the role and got the dialogues so that it will not be awkward.

Sri: I think you did father's role to all the younger generation heroes too? 

Chandramohan: Yes.

Sri: When we look back at your films, you did more roles in combination with ANR than with NTR. Any special reason?

Chandramohan: Nothing at all! Most of ANR gaari films were Hyderabad-based, while NTR gaaru used to do in Madras. So, when I was doing a film with ANR, I could not adjust dates for NTR gaari films, and I missed many films for that reason, but I did do some films with him too!

Sri: You did films with Roja Ramani, Tulasi, Sreedevi, etc. when they were child artistes and then later you played opposite them!...

Chandramohan: (Laughs) Yes. When they were child artistes, I acted together with Roja Ramani in ‘Asadhyudu’, with Tulasi in ‘Seethamaalakshmi’ and ‘Sankaraabharanam’, and with Sridevi in ‘Yashoda Krishna’. Later, as a hero, I did ‘O Seetha Katha’ with Roja Ramani, ‘Mucchataga Mugguru’ and some others with Tulasi, and ‘Padaharella Vayasu’ with Sreedevi. In fact, Sarada and I acted as her brother and even son, and now I act as her husband sometimes! Similarly with Annapurna too, I acted as her son and also as her husband! That is why, this field is really chitraseema (laughs).

Sri: What differences do you see from the previous generation and the current? 

Chandramohan: Actually, a lot! These are two entirely different times! We used to have the complete script before we went to sets in the past, and now they sometimes write the dialogues right on the sets! The director was then the captain of the film and the producers involved fully in story discussions too! They now mostly go with combinations, and hero is the central character and rest of them are all accessories to the film.  Heroes used to give lot of respect to senior artistes back then, but all that slowly changed now.

All our top heroes and some younger heroes do give respect, but some do not really know that senior artistes need to be respected. Most of them just became artists because of various reasons, like they are sons of producers or financiers - they do not even know anything about acting sometimes!

Sri: Why do you have to do such films? 

Chandramohan: The director approaches us for the film saying that it will help the film. Before agreeing the film, I'll try to find at least one good scene for me in the film, and go ahead if I find one. ...It does not really apply to this, but I did the film ‘7/G Brindavan Colony’ because they approached me feeling I'd do justice to the role. The shot in the movie where Ravikrishna fails the exam and I beat him and scold him and he leaves the was all done in a single shot!

Sri: What about the status of heroines? What changes did you see?

Chandramohan: I wish you didn't even ask me! There's a lot of change in this aspect. Those good old days, heroines had a lot of respect! Now with the new generations, they dress scantily even in real life and they move "very socially" with all. They do not know any senior artiste, nor do they care! We do not even remember some of the heroines to whom we act as parents. Some of them are one-film wonders! Another problem with heroines is the language. They don't know what they speak, what they do, and sometimes not even good-looking! Well, we all need to go with the tide, don't we?

Interviewed by Sri Atluri