Originally Appeared in Film Companion.
In BV Nandini Reddy’s Oh Baby! there is a beautiful line pertaining to the passing of the elderly that goes — “When they die, they take away a part of our childhood”. This is true in the sense of an artiste’s death too, and all of us have experienced this at one point or the other. We may have never met an artiste in person. We exist as one among the millions of their fans, not not as an individual being. Contrarily, the artiste holds a unique place in our lives, oftentimes associated with personal memories. While the loss of life is always tragic, the sorrow only deepens when we lose a person who forged an identity making people laugh.
When MS Narayana breathed his last in 2015, it was more than a piece of breaking news for a generation that grew up laughing at the late comedian’s antics. Narayana’s career took off in the late 90’s — 1997 to be precise. His birth as a comedian coincided with the beginning of generation Z, which is arguably his biggest fanbase. Unlike Brahmanandam, whose breakthrough debut Aha Naa Pellanta bestowed him instant fame in 1987, Narayana’s popularity burgeoned hand-in-hand with this generation. He has over 750 acting credits to his name.
Beginning with EVV Satyanarayana’s Maa Naannaku Pelli in 1997 (for which he won the state government’s Nandi Award), his fame kept soaring until his untimely death on January 23, 2015. Pattas, a film that he had a prominent and well-received role in, released that day too.
Known for playing nameless, trivial characters like the protagonist’s mama or the villain’s sidekick, Narayana struck gold when he was cast as a lecturer in Nuvve Kavali. Post the tremendous success of the film, the comedian became synonymous with a college professor, the butt of the jokes the hero cracks. In films such as Nuvve Kavali and Nuvvu Nenu, the funniest scenes have the late Dharamavarapu Subramanyam complementing Narayana in a college setting. One particular scene from Nuvvu Nenu, where Dharamavarapu Subramanyam translates Narayana’s speech from English to Telugu, remains comic gold. His comedy was never farce — even the loudest of them — and the humour relied on light mockery.
Similarly, the actor shared a terrific bond with actor Sunil, who often played the role of a funny student. While the main plot involving the primary characters of Sontham have been obliterated from memory, the comedy track with Bhogeswar Rao and Sesham, played by the late comedian, and Sunil, respectively, have been imprinted in the memories of most 20-somethings. When Bhogeswar Rao accompanies his college students on a trip to Kullu Manali, the lecturer finds himself in desperate need of alcohol to tackle the cold. As he and Sesham plan on procuring alcohol, they are told by one of the students to travel to a valley (presumably, the border) and yell ‘Jihad’, ensuring the liquor would be delivered to them in person. They implement this, and the repercussion leaves the audience in splits.
Sunil and MS Narayana in Kushi Kushiga, Athade Oka Sainyam, and Nuvve Nuvve. Source: YouTube
These two comedians in their prime have gifted us comedy gems, where even tiny, overlooked scenes will make you smile. For instance, in Kushi Kushiga, Narayana plays a thief named Thirumala who uses his lungi to wrap the stolen items, and he runs into Sunil, who breaks into the same house to kidnap someone. The thief, who, by now, has memorised the blueprint of the residence, aiding the kidnapper in his mission is a very well done scene. And, it evokes great laughter.
There is another underseen comic sequence involving the duo in Athade Oka Sainyam, in which Sunil, now a thief, is caught by Narayana, the landlord, who agrees to let him go if he answers his questions correctly. The exchange of dialogues between a canny Narayana and a timid Sunil, who is stumped by the questions and is unable to figure an answer, is brilliant.
The comedians have appeared together in numerous memorable films and Narayana has plays a range of roles — such as an obsessed poker player in Nuvvu Naaku Nacchavu, a police officer who listens to Sunil’s made-up childhood story in Nuvve Nuvve, the man in the restaurant who mistakenly dips his dosa in water and complains it lacks spice in Athadu, and Mr Pithapuram, a body-builder, in Kalyana Ramudu.
In films he was not complemented by other comedians, Narayana singularly found a way to make things funnier. For instance, the myriad facial expressions Bhogeswar Rao puts on for a photoshoot in Sontham, or another similar set of expressions Fire Star Salman Raj carries in Dubai Seenu are unforgettable and stand-alone. It is worthy to note that filmmakers such as Puri Jagannadh, VV Vinayak and Srinu Vytla catapulted the comedian to the big league with films such as Shivamani, Bunny and Sontham, respectively. His role of Bokka Venkateshwar Rao, an aspiring actor who is fooled by the protagonist in Srinu Vytla’s Dookudu, was a rage among the audience, and it yielded the comedian his fifth and final Nandi Award, tying him with Brahmanandam in the number of awards won.
Photoshoot during the shoot of Sontham and Dubai Seenu Source: YouTube
Looking back at Narayana’s comedy scenes, you feel they belong to a bygone era — actors such as Dharmavarapu Subramanyam, Venu Madhav and AVS have passed on, and artistes such as LB Sriram and Sunil have moved on from their comedian spots to play a wider range of characters. When we revisit these tiny scenes, it’s a throwback to childhood. To watching comedy clips on TV just before the school bus arrived. To a time when we’d recite lines such as “Soda kottadam ante PG pass ayinantha eeji kaadhu ra! (Opening a goli-soda bottle is not as easy as finishing post-graduation) at lunch-hour in school.
Comedy scenes featuring Narayana are a documentation of a time that will never return. Years after he has passed, he’s also meme gold. This piece is barely a page in the book called MS NARAYANA: The Man Who Made Us All Laugh. For, despite his absence, he’s still very much around.