Veteran journalist and senior political satirist Srinivasa Iyer Ramaswamy passed away in Chennai on Wednesday morning following a chronic lung condition. He was 82.
Through his life, Cho, as he was popularly called, donned many hats. A comedian, journalist, filmmaker, politician, playwright and pundit, he was widely known in Tamil Nadu for his impartial assessment of political issues, and audacity to question the system. Yet, he maintained a close proximity with India’s most powerful political leaders, with whom he shared an amicable equation.
Here are some lesser known facts from the maverick editor’s life:
Cho directed the 1971 Tamil language cringe comedy Muhammad Bin Tuglaq, adapted from a play he himself wrote in in 1968. Many believe it portrayed former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s ‘autocratic’ rule. The success of the also play led Cho to launch the famous Tamil magazine, Thuglak in 1970.
During the Emergency era, Cho’s magazine ‘Thuglak’ was the only magazine whose advertisements were censored. When the publication resumed after emergency, its first issue was boldly published with just a black front cover as a mark of protest against the central government.
The story goes that when the famous Tamil playwright Koothabiran wrote his play “Thenmozhiaal”, Cho badly wanted a role. But Koothabiran didn’t have a role for him. Cho then went up to Koothabiran and ordered him to write a role for him.“It is not possible to fit you in,” Koothabiran said. “Well, in that case, I will walk into every scene,” Cho reportedly said. The threat, combined with the mad gleam in his eye, made Koothabiran write 5 scenes for a new character he introduced – Mr Cho.
Bollywood movies, like the much loved “Andaz Apna Apna” would also borrow scenes from Cho’s movies. For example, the sequence in his movie “Adimai Penn” where Cho exchanges glasses of juices kept and the villains poisonous glass gets mixed up in the episode, was later on borrowed in “Andaz Apna Apna” in 1994 where Aamir Khan foils the plan of the villains. Similarly, the scene in “Thenmozhiaal” where Cho acted as a doctor to look after his patient and uses carpenter’s tools to operate upon the patient, was again replicated in “Andaz Apna Apna” as well.
Cho and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s association went back to their years in the Tamil film industry. In fact, both were part of the same drama troupe. Over the course of their film careers, the two even worked together in 19 films together.
The senior political analyst, in fact, was really critical of Jayalalithaa’s first tenure as Chief Minister. Soon after AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran’s death, he wanted his widow Janaki to be sworn in as the Chief Minister. But when Jayalalithaa took over, he played a key role in bringing together the DMK and a newly formed alliance party against the AIADMK and the Congress.
Despite his close proximity with the who’s who of India’s politicians, he remained a vocal critical of the country’s dynastic politics. In fact, in his latest address to Thuglak readers in January this year, he advised voters against supporting ‘family rule’ – in this case – the DMK.
PM Modi and Cho shared a warm friendship, yet the political commentator didn’t think twice before introducing Modi as the ‘merchant of death’ during one of his addresses. “I now invite to address you, the ‘merchant of death’…the merchant of death to terrorism, the merchant of death to corruption, the merchant of death to nepotism, the merchant of death to official inefficiency, the merchant of death to bureaucratic negligence, the merchant of death to poverty and ignorance, the merchant of death to darkness and despair…will now address you,” says Ramaswamy, in a video, that was shared by Prime Minister Modi on twitter.
When the Central government said that its Post and Telegraph Department was going to bring out a Sanjay Gandhi commemorative stamp, an incensed Ramaswamy felt that Captain Subhash Saxena, who died in the same plane crash as the leader, deserved the honour more. However, knowing his sentiments would not be shared by Delhi, Ramaswamy issued his own Saxena stamp. The postal departments didn’t realise the stamps were not official and mistakenly approved them. When people starting using the stamps, things got out of hand before the department manage to cancel the stamps in use.
The atheist turned believer wrote extensively on religion, writing books like Mahabaratham Pesugirathu, Valmiki Ramayanam and Verukathagada Bramaniyam. Yet he also questioned its hypocrisy. A recent television series directed by him on his book “Enge Brahmanan” (Where Is The Brahmin?) was about the life of an elite Tamil brahmin, but it also questioned the relevance of the culture & religious practices in the current times.
Never afraid to question authority, his death is not just a loss to the state of Tamil Nadu, but the entire country. India just lost a great democrat with his passing away.