Cho Ramaswamy, a comedian who made me love political satire

Cho Ramasamy. Source: The New Indian Express.
Cho Ramaswamy. Source: The New Indian Express.

December in Tamil Nadu will probably never be the same. If it was flood in 2015, the State witnessed twin tragedies and cyclone in 2016.

First it was the death of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa on December 5, who was laid to rest near her mentor and former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran’s memorial on December 6 last year. She was hospitalised for close to three months in Chennai and finally lost her battle to cardiac arrest. Most of the media houses covered Jayalalithaa’s death by surviving mostly on coffee and adrenaline. Mourning was supposed to be over with her death.

But that was not to be. Actor, journalist and political commentator, Cho Ramaswamy, 82, passed away on December 7, 2016 at 4.30 a.m due to cardiac arrest. Cho, as he is fondly called, was the editor of political satire weekly magazine Thuglak, which he founded in 1970.

But that was not how most of us in Tamil Nadu came to relate to him. As someone in her twenties, I first knew him as Poochi in the MGR movie Engal Annan. In the movie he essayed the role of an innocent man-child and made people laugh in his ridiculous shorts. But he was most likely known for his hit movie where he played the role of Muhammed bin Thuglak (The movie was based on the play of the same name). It made people think and laugh at the same time. Later on he would play gamut of roles and go on to become one of the most versatile comedian the Tamil movie industry ever saw.

Cho was a close friend, confidante and political advisor to Jayalalithaa. They knew each other even before Jayalalithaa’s entry in entertainment through stage troupes and continued to be friends, beyond their stint in Tamil cinema. I would not be exaggerating if I said, he was one of the few persons late Jayalalithaa held in high respect.

The political satire magazine he started is known for its non-partisan views and Cho, the man behind it, was known for his impartial criticisms towards the State and Centre and friends and foe. It earned him the trust and respect of political bigwigs, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Being an amateur, I have no right to comment on his writing style like other veteran journalists. But what I can comment on is what I loved about his satirical magazine. I began to read the magazine at my father’s insistence some five years ago. A voracious reader he is, he has been following Cho since the launch of the magazine. I’m always at an awe when my dad makes his point. I sometimes wonder how can he know so much. Most of the information comes from reading The Hindu cover to cover (I’m not joking. He really spend close to two hours reading the paper thoroughly, much to my mother’s annoyance), Tamil paper for local news and finally Thuglak, which he is addicted to.

So I began to read and I understood why my father loves it. I need to agree that most arguments the magazine makes have sense.

As a reader, sporadic though I may be, I loved the way he breaks down complicated issues. Be it issue regarding Sethusamudram project, protracted Cauvery issue, development in Gujarat and the much conflicted and never-ending ‘Babri-Masjid’ incident. Of all election coverages, I have always found the one Thuglak presents was much more comprehensive. I gather so much information and stats from the 40-page weekly issue than reading daily newspaper. There have been times when I felt he might be partial when it comes to Modi or Jayalalithaa. But then again, I cannot think of a single magazine that does not take a stand. So I will let that pass. Most of all, I look forward to reading ‘Thalaiangam’, the editorial counterpart you could say, penned by him. Topics covered in this section are usually hot issues and I loved to see his witty take on them.

Now that he is no more, I wonder if the magazine will be the same anymore. I somehow cannot imagine anyone taking his role on, even if it is his prodigy S Gurumurthy, who was a regular contributor.

Though I mourn his loss, I believe that as long as Cho was alive, he did what he did best – making people laugh and think. 

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