Tamil actor Nagesh will come alive on the big screen in the Rajinikanth starrer, Kochadaiiyaan. But Nagesh died in 2009!
Essentially a comedian, who later in his life portrayed other kinds of characters, Nagesh did about a thousand films between 1958 and 2008 in a life where there was never a dull moment. Yet, nobody could have ever imagined that a full four years after having passed away, Nagesh would be playing along with Tamil cinema's most popular superstar, Rajnikanth.
That is the trick of technology. The high resolution images of Nagesh were scanned to create a 3D model. Since Kochadaiiyaan, directed by Rajnikanth's daughter, Soundarya, is a period movie, the photographs of a younger Nagesh were used. Finally, actors who spoke and looked exactly like him were used to capture the motion and movement of Nagesh as he was once seen on the screen.
Nagesh, often called the Jerry Lewis of India, because the Indian actor often imitated the American star, must be mighty pleased with himself. Wherever he is now. It is no small deal to be performing along with Rajnikanth, and that too after being dead.
For Nagesh success came neither too easily nor consistently. It was only in 1964 after several years in theatre and cinema often doing insignificant parts that Nagesh hit it high with his Server Sundaram. It was almost a biopic of his where he turns his rags into riches becoming a star from a restaurant waiter. The film was a tragic comedy full of Nagesh's trademark tricks crowned with sorrow and pain.
He did many, many more movies - like Kaadhalikka Neramillai (No Time to Love), Ethir Neechal (Against the Tide) and Apoorva Raagangal (Rare Melodies, which had both Kamal Hassan and Rajnikanth, and one of the latter's best) - and with many, many actors - from Sivaji Ganesan to Gemini Ganesan to M.G. Ramachandran to….
However, his stand-off with actress Manorama and his insinuations against Ramachandran, who went on to become the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, pulled Nagesh down. Also, his marriage to a Christian woman did not augur well with his family. All these pulled Nagesh down professionally and financially. His early drinking and smoking binges told on his heath, and although Ramachandran forgave Nagesh, and he did have friends like Hassan, the comedian could have scaled greater heights if only he had been a little more prudent.
I remember he used frequent the Mylapore Club in Chennai around 2007, and I could see that he was no longer an attraction. Sadness was writ clearly in his eyes.
So, Soundarya's attempt to get Nagesh breathing again - that too a younger and brighter Nagesh - could not be a small step in the comedian's rocky life.
Kochadaiiyaan -- to open in December after having hit roadblocks during the production, one being Rajnikanth's illness that took him to Singapore for treatment -- is being touted as the first photorealistic 3D film to be made in India. However, parts of the movie are being done in China and London.
Fascinating though state-of-the-art technology may be, an overdose of it can sometimes overshadow a film, its plot, its narrative and the performances, turning the work into a kind of soulless stuff.
But of course, Kochadaiiyaan will be remembered for rekindling the spirit of Nagesh. It should be. After all, he was one of India's greatest comedians.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has watched just about every Nagesh film.)