A multifaceted actor and comedian (1934-2016)

Cho Ramaswamy who passed away in Chennai at the age of 82, was a man of many parts. Hailing from a family of lawyers he too graduated in Law, and served as a legal counsel for a conglomerate for a few years. But law was not his only calling. Right from his college days he had a passion for the stage, and this turned him into a playwright and as he inevitably played the lead in the plays, he honed his acting talents as well.

From the stage to the screen was a small jump in those days, and Cho became an actor with his forte being comedy in which he excelled. He also scripted and directed films, and the five films for which he wielded the megaphone were mostly adaptations of his successful plays. He also ventured into television and directed and acted in as many as 27 TV serials which were all extremely popular with the viewers. In addition, he also penned10 books, most of them thought provoking and serious, in sharp contrast to his screen image as a comedian. But as if all these activities that filled his plate were not enough, he hit upon the idea of editing a periodical, and thus was born the Tamil weekly Tughlak, which never flinched when it came to unraveling the darker side of Indian politics. Satire and substance were the two mainstays of the magazine which perhaps was the only one of its kind in the country to have a cartoon on the cover of every issue, and which not only drew readers to it like a magnet, but also conducted an annual meet where the editor would take questions from the audience, and the attendance was always in thousands at these meets.

While Cho the actor was loved by all, Cho the journalist was dreaded by the political fraternity for he always believed in calling a spade a spade, and never let personal friendships come in the way of his unbiased assessment of those in power. Cho was also a social commentator whose opinion on events and people were often sought by news channels across the country.

The playwright was a strong critic of the Emergency, and he used his play Mohammed Bin Tughlak to flay the violation of human rights, but managed to stay on the right side of the law by reminding his audience that every line in the play was written years back and that it was up to them to judge the relevance of the script.

Cho acted with all the leading heroes of the time like MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, Jayalalithaa, Jaishankar and others. He was considered the friend, philosopher and guide of the late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa with whom he shared a friendship that lasted nearly five decades. But far from endorsing all her actions, Cho often turned into a bitter critic of her policies, though that never came in the way of their cordial relations at a personal level. With the legendary MGR too, he often had differences of opinion, but continued to share the screen with him. Cho was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the then President K.R. Narayanan, and served the Upper House for six years from 1999 to 2005.He was also reportedly an advisor to powerful politicians and ideologues like socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan, former Prime Ministers (PM) Morarji Desai and Chandrasekhar, former Congress President G.K. Moopanar and RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras, former Deputy PM L.K. Advani and also PM Narendra Modi, though Cho was hardly the type to flaunt his proximity to the mandarins who adorned high office.

Cho who was a recipient of the prestigious B.D. Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism always believed that it was sheer luck that was behind his success in various fields. His memoir was aptly titled Adhirshtam Thantha Anubhavangal (Experiences born out of luck). A repository of knowledge and wisdom, the late Cho was also well versed with religious texts, and had a keen intellect that enabled him to gauge political trends and developments to a nicety.

– C. V. Aravind is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.