1981, September 21, Ernakulam Fine Arts Hall. On the stage stood 6 young men clad in kurtas, clutching their mikes in front of them. As they belted one act after another, the crowd went in ruptures, as the hall shook with cheers and laughter. That was where it all started. The act moved to festival grounds, outside Kerala and abroad. And the laughs never stopped coming. Some of those young artists branched out to films and continued their successful run, spreading laughter and joy on celluloid. Today, Cochin Kalabhavan, the original architects of mimicry in Kerala, celebrates 40 years of their successful show Mimics Parade.
The brainchild behind this endeavour was Father Abel, who transformed mimicry, which was once considered as mere gags, into a large establishment for artists. Mimicry suddenly shaped into a creative art that later paved the way for the rise of many artists in Malayalam under Father Abel’s tutelage.
Siddique and Lal were Kalabhavan's scriptwriters during the initial days. The academy had a solid team back then comprising Siddique, Lal, K S Prasad, Ansar, Rahman and Varkichan Petta. It can be said with certainty that these young men inspired a generation of artists to take up mimicry as a career option. Quite a few of them became successful actors, writers, and filmmakers. On this special occasion, some of the Kalabhavan veterans recall the magical years.
The coconut affair | Lal
That night the programme was at the Mammen Mappila Hall in Kottayam. After the show, our organisers were at their hospitable best. While leaving, they picked a bunch of red coconut, complete with stalks. It was used to adorn the auditorium. The organisers laid them on our vehicle with the suggestion that perhaps we could eat them on our way. By the time we reached Kalabhavan, only Siddique, me, and the driver were left in the van. The driver handed over the gift to us and excused himself on the pretext that he had another assignment. At 1 am, we started walking home, carrying these stalks.
That's when two cops stopped us and demanded to know rather rudely what we were doing at that time of the hour with coconut tree stalks. Though we explained that it was a gift, they remained unconvinced. They had come to the conclusion that we were thieves, which was further consolidated when they unwrapped our packets to reveal our stage clothes. Surely, we had changed into another set of clothes after the robbery! After a lot of pleading, they suggested that we call someone to prove our innocence.
Who was going to come to our rescue at this ungodly hour? Finally, we suggested going to the tea shop, near the Pullepadi Junction, owned by Moosakka, which we used to frequent. Anyway, we had to carry the coconut stalks on our heads and walk to the location. It was only after they verified with Moosakka that the cops allowed us to go.
The lessons we learnt at Kalabhavan have really helped us in life. And our entry to cinema also happened through the mimics parade. Mammukka (actor Mammootty) loved our stage shows. One day he brought director Fasil to our show at Alappuzha. He introduced us to Fasil sir, and we told him that we were writing some scripts. That's where it all started.
Living with limitations | K S Prasad
I still recall that day. Father Abel had frantically come to my home near the boat jetty. An artist had not reached on time, and he wanted me to come with him. I was asked to bring Ansar also. Since there was no phone, we had no other option than to go to Ansar's place. But by the time we reached the venue, the artist had already arrived, and the programme was in full swing. Most of the initial stage shows at Kalabhavan had such teething issues. We could understand the pulse of the audience when we stood on the stage. It was that electrifying. If a good act will be met with thunderous claps and laughter and a bad one will definitely get booed at. The claps were our adrenalin rush.
Our first programme at the Fine Arts Hall in Ernakulam took us by surprise. That was the moment when we realised that mimicry had the power to bring so much joy and laughter to people. It was an epiphany and acted like a drug. I think Mimics Parade's growth after that was phenomenal, much more than Father Abel initially anticipated. When filmmaker Venu Nagavally asked us to do a 26-episode Mimics Parade on TV, we were apprehensive. But soon the 26-episode programme ran into 50 and to 500 episodes.
Origin of Mimics Parade | Siddique
During those days, Lal and I were busy with mimicry plays. One day Lal told me that Kalabhavan was planning something huge in the backdrop of mimicry. Lal's father was the Tabla teacher at Kalabhavan. "Let's go and meet Father Abel after consulting my father," Lal told Siddique.
"Oh! Isn't Kalabhavan too big for us," I was hesitant. But Lal was persistent. He managed to get an appointment with Father Abel through his father. But I was still unsure and urged Lal to go ahead with the meeting alone.
When I met Lal after a few days and enquired about the meeting Lal told me that he didn't have the heart to go without me. That made me very guilty. Just to make sure Lal's opportunity didn't get squandered, I decided to accompany him to meet Father Abel. That was how our bond with Kalabhavan started. In fact, I was the one who suggested Mimics Parade for our troupe. It was director Rajeev Kumar who gave us our first booking after watching our debut show at the Fine Arts Hall. This time it was at the University College, Thiruvanthapuram. Thereafter, there was no looking back.
The directors who made films based on Mimics Parade:
Innocent as Fr Abel | Thulasidas
When Kaloor Dennis and Simple Basheer suggested that I make a film in the backdrop of Mimics Parade, I wasn't sure whether it will work. This was before I saw their programme at the Edapally temple ground. It was exhilarating to watch the crowd's energy and how they responded to their jokes. Kaloor Dennis wrote the script for Kalabhavan Ansar’s story. We had a lot of brainstorming sessions. It was decided that Innocent would be a perfect fit to play Father Abel. The film was a huge hit. Having said that we were apprehensive as to how Father Abel would react to Innocent’s mimicking, especially his neck twitch). But thankfully Father Abel loved it!
Without remuneration | Balu Kiriyathu
'Mimics Action 500', another film inspired by Mimics Parade, was a noble venture to bail out producer Hari Kumaran Thambi from his debts. It was conceived at the insistence of Kaloor Dennis. Ansar Kalabhavan wrote the script. We all completed the film without taking any remuneration. 'Mimics Action 500' was declared a hit. The producer got his money back. But, unfortunately, I ended up being labelled as 'the maker of mimicry movies!'