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Remembering Cho Ramaswamy: Tsar of satire, Multifaceted Tamil legend

It has been almost five years since playwright, actor, satirist, lawyer and political commentator Cho Ramaswamy died of a cardiac arrest in Chennai – the city he called home for all his 82 years.

By Newsd
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Remembering Cho Ramaswamy: Tsar of satire, Multifaceted Tamil legend

Cho Ramaswamy, an actor, satirist and politician, was born on 5 October 1934. He is probably best remembered for his political satire Muhammad bin Tughlaq.

It has been almost five years since playwright, actor, satirist, lawyer and political commentator Cho Ramaswamy died of a cardiac arrest in Chennai – the city he called home for all his 82 years.

Yet, the void he left in the Tamil intelligentsia remains gaping and stark. Tuesday, 5 October, marks the 87th birth anniversary of Cho, a legendary artiste who didn’t shy away from challenging tyranny.

Having acted in over 200 films, scripted 14 and directed another four, Cho’s contribution to Tamil cinema remains unparalleled. In 1963, he acted in his first film, Paar Magale Paar. But his art was not bound by any medium. He wrote more than 20 plays, 10 books, and wrote and acted in nearly 27 TV serials.

The 1968 satirical play Muhammad bin Tughlaq, in which he played the title character, remains his best-known work.

The play was a parody of India’s political situation at the time and so significant was its success that, in 1970, Cho launched a Tamil weekly news magazine by the same name. Cho remained Thuglak’s editor till he died.

The magazine’s popularity and significance can be gauged by the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended two of its annual-day celebrations when he was still the chief minister of Gujarat.

This does not, however, suggest that Thuglak was biased towards the BJP. In fact, the magazine was published with a black cover in 1992 after the Babri Masjid was demolished.

The only other time the magazine had a black front was during the Emergency. Cho was believed to have been the only man in Tamil Nadu to speak out openly against the Emergency.

Talking about the Emergency in an interview in 2005, he said, “I was agitated initially and stopped the publication of Thuglak for two issues. Later, when I restarted, I published a black wrapper.”

Fearless and fatalistic

His response to whether speaking up during those tumultuous times scared him gave us a peek into his indomitable personality.

In the same interview, he said, “Somehow, my safety didn’t bother me much. I am a fatalist. I strongly believe that when my time comes, nobody can do anything to make me live longer. Otherwise, even if you want to kill me, you will not be able to do so.”

This, even though, said Cho, people close to Sanjay Gandhi wanted the late Congress leader to “do something” about him.

A powerhouse of talent, Cho ventured into politics as well — a world he had known all too well, given his association with the bigwigs of the political world like K. Kamaraj, Jayaprakash Narayan and Morarji Desai, among others.

In 1999, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, where he served as an MP for six years.

In the wake of Cho’s death, superstar and close friend Rajinikanth recalled how he had wanted former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa to be there till he lived. To Jayalalithaa, a patient in the same hospital during his last days, he had been a dear friend and counsel for years. As fate would have it, he died just two days after her.

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