Tamil actor-producer Manobala
Tamil actor-producer Manobala Image Credit: IMDB

Tamil actor and film producer Manobala, who blazed a trail for himself as a comedian with his trademark slapstick humour and collaborations with humourists across generations, died at the age of 69 in Chennai on May 3.

The actor, who had starred in more than 450 films over four decades, was suffering from a liver illness for a while and breathed his last at his residence.

Manobala began his career in the 1970s as an assistant to the director Bharathiraja — who is credited with pulling Tamil cinema out of the studios to live locations.

Many actors tweeted their condolences.

Actor Rajinikanth offered his condolences to the late actor. On twitter, the superstar prayed for the well-being of Manobala's family.

Bharatiraja was unconsoloable in a tweet.

Others, from Radhika Saratkumar to Karthi, Dulqer Salmaan, Lokesh Kanagaraj, Santhanam, Arun Vijay, Suhasini Maniratnam, Jayaram and Vikram, too, expressed their condolences.

Manobala's lanky figure and slightly high-pitched voice proved to be his assets when he reinvented himself as a comedian. He could deliver normal lines, often in the form of queries, to wild comic effect.

Considered a genial man to his peers from the industry, Manobala's friendship was known to cut across the film industry. Be it the superstars Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan, or the new-age stars Ajith or Vijay, Manobala shared a rare camarederie with all. His twitter feed is an example of the same. Wishes to actors or other personalities were sincere and not coated with saccharine as one would associate with PR messaging.

Case in point: In January, the actor accidentally put out a tweet of his role in Vijay's upcoming movie, 'Leo', which was being filmed in utmost secrecy. This came at a time when producers have, in recent times, battled leaks of "uncut" videos or footage at the sets. He deleted the tweet, and followed that with a frank message: "I deleted my tweet, forgive me."

He debuted as a director in the 1982 film 'Aagaya Gangai' (Ganges of the Sky). The movie starring Karthik Muthuraman and Suhasini, reportedly didn't perform well at the box office. But he grew from success to success, with 'En Purushan Thaan Enakku Mattum Thaan' (My husband is mine alone), which turned out to be a success and spawned remakes in multiple Indian languages. Manobala would direct a few more movies, some of which were hits, until the turn of the millenium. They included 'Pillai Nila', 'Oorkavalan', and 'Mallu Vetti Minor', with leading stars like Vijayakanth and Sathyaraj. Manobala also directed tele serials.

He then reinvented himself as a comedian — and found his Midas touch. 

Manobala flowered alongside other comedians, be it his contemporaries Mayilsamy (who died recently), Kovai Sarala, Vadivelu, Vivek and Karunas; or those from the next generation, including Santhanam, Sivakarthikeyan or Soori.

His body language coupled with dialogue delivery made him a crowd favourite. Be it as the scared priest trying to exorcise a ghost out of a mansion in 'Chandramukhi' or 'Kanchana 2'; the railway ticket examiner in 'Anniyan'; or the teacher who struggles to retain his students' attention in 'M Kumaran, son of Mahalakshmi' will forever remain etched in the minds of cinephiles.

In Sivakarthikeyan's 'Ethir Neechal' (Swimming Against The Tide), Manobala appears for not more than 10 minutes, but he brings the floor down as the astrologist who suggests incongrous name changes to his clients. Ditto with 'Kaaki Sattai' (The Khaki Shirt), also starring Sivakarthikeyan. Manobala's brief role as a fake godman brings the much-needed comic relief to a meandering movie.

His last on-screen appearance was in Kajal Aggarwal-starrer 'Ghosty'. 

Talent spotting

Manobala also had a knack for talent spotting. In 2014, he produced 'Sathuranga Vettai' (Chess Hunt), a heist film starring an unheralded Natarajan Subramaniam and directed by H Vinoth, who made his debut. The movie won critical acclaim for its taut screenplay and expertly written story and zero star power.

Vinoth would become one of Tamil cinema's biggest directors, making the critically acclaimed 'Theeran Athigaram Onru' (The Warrior: Chapter One), 'Nerkonda Paarvai' (A Straight Gaze), 'Valimai' (Strength) and 'Thunivu' (Daring).