Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dum Maro Dum

(A series on childhood memories)

Caring for his grandfather and dancing like Zeenat Amam were some of the unforgettable experiences of actor Suresh Gopi

By Shevlin Sebastian

Suresh Gopi’s grandfather was suffering from a hernia problem. “Once in six months, he would suffer from a blockage,” says Gopi. “This meant that the stool would pass out only after a gap of seven days.”

But before this happened, Gopi, who was in Class seven at that time, was given the task of rubbing coconut oil around the rectum, to enable the faeces to come out easily. “Since my fingers were small, it was easier for me to do it, than my parents,” he says.

On Vrichigam 1, in 1973, Gopi’s father woke him up. “I thought I had been awakened to go to the temple,” he says. But instead, he was told to apply the coconut oil. “I did it and started soothing the rectum,” he says.

However, at that moment, the fecal waste of the past seven days came out in a furious rush. “It hit my hands and the right side of my body was drenched in it,” he says. “It smelled so bad.”

As expected, Gopi started crying and was taken to the backyard by his father who used a garden hose to clean him up. “I remember I kept saying, ‘Today is the first day of Vrichigam,’” says Gopi. “My father told me, ‘That’s okay. You have to do these things for your parents and grandparents, because God appreciates it a lot.’”

Gopi stops talking, and in his make-up van parked on a street at Mattanchery, where the shooting for the film, ‘Boss’ is going on, the only sound is the slight rumble of the air-conditioner.

Dressed in a black shirt and trousers, the 6’ 1” actor leans back in his chair and says, “Do you know why I am telling this story? Because I want to tell the present generation that they should look after their parents and grandparents, instead of abandoning them.”

Eventually, his grandfather died, and Gopi remembers the cremation vividly. “I was standing some distance away because I was afraid of the process,” he says.

For the two days before the cremation, his father had behaved normally. “However, suddenly, he broke down and cried like a baby,” he says. “That image remained in my mind for several years.”

Astonishingly, when his own father died on April 13, 2000, Gopi also collapsed at the crematorium. “I was repeating the same episode I had seen as a child,” he says. “I became very violent and was just not in a position to leave my father to the fire.”

Ultimately, director, Shaji Kailas, and producer, Suresh Kumar, had to forcibly pull him away and Gopi was admitted to hospital suffering from high BP.

At the Infant Jesus Anglo Indian school at Tangasseri, Kollam, he also experienced suffering. There was a teacher called Ivy Miss who would hit the children with a ruler on the knuckles.

“It was a painful experience,” says Gopi. “But I believe this sort of disciplining is good. A student should know what pain is, and why he is being punished. Then you will learn to draw a line between right and wrong.”

On every Friday, between 3.30 and 4 p.m., there would be literary and debating activities. “You had to face the classroom and perform,” he says. No marks were awarded, while the teacher sat in the audience.

“With my classmates, I acted in small skits from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Macbeth and the Merchant of Venice,” he says. “I got my basic training from Zita Miss and Shiela Miss.”

But the highlight of his school performances was during the dance competition in the annual Arts Festival. “I decided to dance to the song ‘Dum Maro Dum’ from the film, ‘Hare Rama, Hare Krishna,’” he says. So, he was dressed as actress Zeenat Aman and put two sponges to resemble the breasts.

But, when Gopi started dancing, the audience went berserk: clapping and dancing themselves. “I became over-excited and began dancing wildly,” he says. As he did so, the two sponges began to roll down slowly from his chest to the stomach.

At that moment, he noticed that the Chemistry teacher, Indrani Miss, who was the most feared teacher in the school, had thrown her head back and was laughing uproariously. “This was the first time the students had seen her laugh,” says Gopi.

By this time, the breasts had reached the waist, and Gopi had no option but to run off from the stage. “It was a hilarious situation,” he says.

In 1989, when Gopi was invited as the chief guest for the arts festival at Vimala College in Thrissur, the superstar recounted the incident.

“The girls started shouting and laughing, and got very excited,” he says. “But when I looked at the front row, there was this group of unsmiling nuns, with question marks on their faces.”

Gopi pauses, smiles, and says, “Thereafter, it was decided the college would not invite cinema artistes for inaugurations.”

But Gopi seems to have irresistible charm. In 2001, he was once again invited to the college as a chief guest.

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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