Nagesh, was a Tamil film actor, mostly remembered for his roles as a comedian during the 1960s. He is regarded as one of the most prolific comedians in Tamil cinema.Nagesh was born in a Kannada family from Dharapuram, Erode. He was educated in Madras and worked as a clerk in the Indian Railways before entering Tamil film industry. He acted in over 1,000 Indian films from 1958 to 2008, performing in variety of roles as comedian, lead roles, supporting actor and antagonist. He died on 31 January 2009.
In a stark contrast to the comic roles he performed, Nageshs personal life was wrought with suffering. After losing his father at an early age, Nagesh had to endure a weak financial situation and family ostracism which plagued him throughout his life. The film Server Sundaram, a rags-to-riches story in which Nagesh plays the lead role, is believed to be roughly based on the real life story of the actor.
Despite being primarily a comedian, Nagesh was rated highly as a character actor by his peers. Nageshs style of comedy was largely inspired by Hollywood actor Jerry Lewis. Similarities between Nagesh and Lewis earned Nagesh the sobriquet "Jerry Lewis of India".
Nagesh was born as Gundu Rao to Krishna Rao and Rukmaniamma on 27 September 1933. His parents belonged to the Kannada-speaking Madhwa Brahmin community. It is believed that he was born in Dharapuram in Former Integrated Erode district, now changed to new Tirupur district. His father died at an early age and the burden of educating Nagesh fell upon his mother. In his childhood, Nagesh was afflicted by small pox which slightly disfigured him.
He left Dharapuram at an early age and moved to Madras city in search of a career. At Madras, he shared a one-bedroom room with two others. His room mates, writer Vaali and director Sridhar, later became established themselves as prominent personalities in the Tamil cine field. He found employment as a clerk in the Indian Railways and was thus able to pay his rent and cope up with expenses.
Early in his life, he saw a Tamil play Kamba Ramayanam enacted by his colleagues, and felt that he could do a good job. He persuaded the secretary of the Railways cultural association to give him the role of a man suffering from stomach pain. MGR, then chief guest, seeing this play, in his speech praised Nagesh for his performance. From then onwards, Nagesh played small roles in various drama troupes.
In 1958, producer Balaji spotted Nagesh and gave him his first break in a film called Manamulla Marudhaaram. The film did not do well at the box office. Moreover, Nagesh had only a small role to play in the movie. In 1960, Nagesh made his debut in Kannada with Makkala Rajya.
Nagesh won critical acclaim for his performance in the 1961 movie Thayilla Pillai. But it was his 1962 hit Nenjil Oru Aalayam which launched his career in the Tamil film industry. Nagesh was seen playing the lead role in Server Sundaram(1964) directed by Krishnan Panju. The movie was a remarkable hit and proved to be a great turning point in his career.
Server Sundaram marked Nageshs rise to prominence. The film was about a restaurant waiter "server" Sundaram who struggles to make his ends meet. He is in love with Radha (K. R. Vijaya), the daughter of the owner of the hotel in which he is working. The film is about how with the aid of his rich friend Raghavan (R. Muthuraman), "server" Sundaram gets a chance to act in movies and eventually, emerges as a rich and prominent actor. However, he is heartbroken when he learns that Radha is actually in love with Raghavan. While Nagesh drives viewers into laughter with his comical antics in the early scenes, his sensitive portrayal of a failed lover in the second half of the movie too earned widespread appreciation. The rags-to-riches story in the movie was actually based on Nageshs own life. With Server Sundaram, Nagesh earned critical acclaim for versatility.
The success of Server Sundaram ensured that Nagesh was one of the most sought-after actors in the 1960s. At the height of his career, he acted in as much as 35 movies in a single calendar year, at one time, shooting for six movies simultaneously. He appeared in a cameo in the 1965 mythological Thiruvilayadal in which he portrayed the poor, simpleton temple priest Dharumi. The soliloquy which Dharmi indulges in, within the temple precints, is regarded as one of the unforgettable scenes of Tamil cinema. He followed the success with supporting roles in films as Kadhalikka Neramillai, Anbe Vaa, Shanthi Nilayam, Pattanathil Bhootham and Vietnam Veedu. He played the role of Mohan in Major Chandrakant which was a popular hit and won for its lead actor Sundararajan, the nickname "Major" Sundararajan. His portrayal of the detestable pimp Vaidhy in Thillana Mohanambal was noted for the way in which Nagesh blended humour with villany. In most of his films as comedian, Nagesh paired with the actress Manorama. In 1967, Nagesh acted in his first Hindi movie Farz.
Apart from performing in supporting roles, Nagesh also acted as the main protagonist in a number of movies. Server Sundaram is one of them. Another performance which is well-remembered is his role as the poor struggling orphan Maadhu in Ethir Neechal. His sensitive and sympathetic portrayal of Maadhu evoked comparisons with top character actors of the day. Jayakanthan chose Nagesh to play the lead in the 1966 film Yaarukkaha Azhudhan overlooking Sivaji Ganesan.
In the 1970 movie Navakiragam K Balachandar wanted to have Nagesh Manorama as his sidekick but Nagesh refused in the sense that he would be and the movie would be better off as he as the main character without Manorama. After hearing Nageshs this decision Manorama refused to act with Nagesh ever since. And they didnt even in Theepam which came in the late 70s even though there was a scene where they both were in but no contacts as the director agreed on Manoramas demand.
Nageshs career witnessed a decline from the mid-1970s onwards. He was plagued by personal problems. His marriage to a Christian woman named Regina had fractured his relationship with his mother and other relatives. From the relationship, he had two sons, Ramesh Babu and Anand Babu, the latter going on to be actor plagued by personal problems in his career. In 1973, his mother died causing him irreparable grief. At about the same time, he had a fallout with Tamil actor and politician M. G. R. who omitted Nagesh from most of his films. Nagesh theatre owned by him in Chennai was on the verge of getting seized for non-payment of dues forcing Nagesh to patch up differences with M. G. R. who subsequently bailed him out. In order to cope up with the changing trends, Nagesh had to switch over to playing character roles full time.
Nagesh acted in a few movies during this period some of which were hits. One of his notable roles was that of a drunkard in the 1974 Kamal Hassan-starrer Apoorva Raagangal where he talks to his own shadow and hurls the empty glass upon it while saying "Cheers". In the theaters where the film was shown the audience imitated him and threw cups on the wall of the lobby during interval. He played the role of writer Jayakanthan in the 1977 movie Sila Nerangalil Sila Manitharkal . Nagesh appeared as himself in Thillu Mullu, the Tamil remake of Golmaal.
Nageshs career enjoyed a partial resurgence from the 1980s onwards when he acted in a number of movies, mostly in elderly roles, some of them as the villain. His most remembered role as a villain was in the 1989-hit Apoorva Sagodharargal. The movie was later dubbed into Hindi as Appu Raja. He also played the villain in Rajinikanth films Athisaya Piravi and Mounam Sammadham. His negative roles included sadistic schemers then muscular giants.
In the comedy flick, Michael Madana Kama Rajan, Nagesh played the role of a dishonest secretary Avinashi who commissions a look-alike Kameswaran to impersonate his boss, Madan, and lend him money from Madans account. He even acted as a dead body in the 1994 film Magalir Mattum. He won a National Award as Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1994 film Nammavar.
Nagesh did a series of supporting roles in the 1990s and 2000s. Notable among them were those of make-up artist Joseph in Avvai Shanmugi in which he featured alongside another veteran Gemini Ganesan, Arjuns father in Rhythm, Madhavans grandfather Subbuni in Minnale, Ajits Grandfather in Poovellam Un Vasam, Father Rozario in Kadhal Kondain and Kamal Hassans father in Vasool Raja MBBS. His handling of these roles gained him considerable appreciation from the public.
Nagesh had a good relationship with Kamal Hassan, with whom he had co-starred in a variety of movies from the 1970s to the 2000s. Kamal Hassan cast Nagesh in most of his self-productions.Nagesh acted in Tamil films till a few months before his death in 2009. Notable among some of his later movies were Panchathanthiram, Vasool Raja MBBS, Imsai Arasan 23m Pulikesi, and his last appearance, Dasavathaaram.
Nagesh was a chain smoker and a heavy drinker. His health began to decline in late 2008 due to heart ailments.He died on 31 January 2009 at the age of 75 due to diabetes and a heart ailment while he was admitted in Balaji Hospital.His final rituals was attended by all film actors including, Tamil Nadu ex-Chief Minister Ms. J. Jayalalitha, actor Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Manorama, Venkataramani, V. S. Raghavan and Y. G. Mahendran.