‘Chirimayam’ is a compilation of Suraj Venjaramoodu’s memoirs. This book that can be perceived at different levels, gives its readers an amazing reading experience. This book can be finished at a stretch within 2 to 2 ½ hours of reading. The same entertainment as watching a movie. Let’s read an excerpt from the book.
There is only one person in the cinema who can pull off any type of attires. That’s Mammookka. It is said that some of these attires don’t suit some actors. But that doesn’t count for Mammookka. It looks as though each attire was made and meant for him. There might be other people who dress similarly like Mammookka. But to enjoy its complete beauty, one can look up to Mammookka. When Mammookka removes and puts aside his shirt, I take it secretly and stand in front of the mirror putting it close to my body. I used to do this to see how the shirt worn by Mammookka would look on me. The defects of the shirt show up when people like me wear it.
Everything suitable for the character suits him. He surprises us by changing into it. We might think that that’s how it works. But, he even moulds his body structure based on the requirements of the character, thus proving our calculations wrong. I don’t think anybody in the Malayalam film industry would be able to do that. His appearances are that unique and awesome. Body fitness can be attained by anyone. Even I can do that. But I am scared to do that since some other actors might lose their opportunities if I do so.
I use both pants and dhotis. I like dhotis more than pants. The reason why I like them is because of Mammookka and Mohanlal. They look so stylish and stunning in dhotis. They know how to pull it off well. Not everybody can do that. While they run and do stunt scenes in the cinema wearing dhotis, we might think that the dhoti would fall off at any moment. But nothing of that sort would happen. Only they can remove the dhoti they wear. Don’t even ask how it falls off when I wear it. I have still not learnt how to wear it properly. The efforts made to achieve it continues.
I wore dhoti for the first time when I was in 10th grade. There was a cinema theatre next to our home- ‘Sindu Theatre’. I got free tickets for films in any language that was being played there. The lowest priced tickets would cost between 50 to 60 paisa. I did not have any money to buy the tickets. I would usually flatter the person at the ticket counter to let me inside. My grandmother and grandfather could not sleep without hearing the sounds from inside the cinema theatre. Even after going to other places, my grandmother would return to our home to listen to the sounds coming from the theatre. When I go there to sleep, I can listen to the sounds of actors delivering their dialogues, music, fights, and gunshots. The sounds could be heard outside because the theatre was made of palm leaves. I was used to listening to the sounds of actors like Naseer, Jayan, Mammookka, and Lalettan. I used to listen to their voices while going to sleep at home. I was able to imitate their voices well during my initial days in mimicry due to this experience.
When I began to go to classes during my 10th grade, I told my family that I wished to wear dhotis. To this, my father sarcastically replied, ‘dhoti is more economical than pants’. He gave me his old dhoti and asked me to fold it twice and wear. I was young back then. I had no prior experience in wearing dhoti. I wore it nicely but didn’t know how to make it stay. I tried again and again. But it would fall off every time. After failing multiple times, my father volunteered to help me. As a precaution so that it doesn’t fall off later, my father tied a sac thread around the dhoti instead of using a belt. There were a lot of stains on it. But that’s fine. I had just wished to stylishly wear a dhoti. I used to wear this to school. On my way to school, I used to see the cinema posters of stars flaunting dhotis. I would imitate them by walking stylishly holding the ends of the dhoti just like how they do it. I would try different poses too.
Krishnapilla sir used to be the Malayalam teacher at our school. He would start reading a chapter and would stop by asking a student to read from where he had stopped. I stood up holding the book when he had asked me to read. I was afraid that the dhoti might fall off. Therefore, I started reading by holding the dhoti in one hand and the book in the other. I was scared even though the thread was tied around it. Things would turn bad if at all it falls off. Disliking my reading and posture, Krishnapilla sir came close to me. He said, ‘why are you holding onto the dhoti like that? Leave it…’ I had stopped reading but wouldn’t let go off the dhoti. Annoyed by this, he pulled up my shirt and asked, ‘didn’t you hear what I said?’ The thread tied around my waist was visible when he did that. Everybody had started laughing. Just think about my situation then. I was so ashamed that I couldn’t even lift my head. That day, I realized that dhoti is not meant for me. Returning home I told my mother, ‘I won’t be wearing dhoti to school anymore. I want pants’. ‘Oh, no son! That’s not possible’, my mother said.
I have an uncle whose name is ‘Rajan’. He is tall and well built. I went to his house and took one of his pants. I went to a tailor shop. But to alter it, I would have to spend a lot of money. Due to lack of money, I did not give it there. From the experience in stitching gained from my school, I decided to do it myself. I altered the length according to my measurements and stitched it by myself. I was not able to change the fitting though.
The stiff backside of the washed pants looked like elephants back. It was that big. Even after switching from dhotis to pants, I had to use the sac thread. Krishnapilla sir caught me again after returning to school. He asked, ‘what is this? If you come like this again, I will beat you up’. I got two in advance along with a warning. ‘Wear the clothes that fit you… You better listen to me’. I nodded my head. I couldn’t tell him that I was doing so because I did not have money.
After some time, I was a fan of dhoti again. I had learned to wear it somewhat properly by then. Recently, I asked Mammookka to teach me how to wear a dhoti. He said, ‘that’s very easy. Just do this. Take it from the left and then to the right swiftly. Push it inside’. Even though he explained his technique, it was hard for me to do it.
I have tried several times to wear it properly. I have failed always. There will always be creases on it. Mammookka had flaunted a black dhoti in his movie, ‘Rajamanikyam’. Many said, ‘Wow! What a dhoti. It looks so stylish’. The black dhoti was loved by all. It was specifically made for Mammookka. After completing the shooting, I stole two dhotis from the lot.
At the location of ‘Venicile Vyapari’, Mammooka showed me a group photo from the ’80s and asked me if I could spot him in it. I looked at it multiple times, but couldn’t find him in the picture. Eventually, he himself showed it to me. A lean, long figure. He was wearing a dhoti in it. He must have learnt how to wear a dhoti from his childhood.
‘Which movie is this group photo from?’ I asked him.
‘That’s an old movie. I had a very small role in it,’ he said.
I asked him, ‘did you expect this then..?’
‘No, I never expected anything’, he said.
‘That was not my question. Did you ever expect to share the screen with Suraj Venjaramoodu?’ I sarcastically asked.
Laughing out loud, Mammookka said, ‘disasters cannot be foreseen. If that was possible, then I could have walked back’.
(An excerpt from Suraj Venjaramoodu’s memoir ‘Chirimayam’)