Manorama famously acted in over 1500 movies chiefly in Tamil in a career that spanned over 55 years. She began her career as a heroine and graduated eventually to playing the roles of a comedienne and character artiste.
She was fondly known as Aachi – a popular matriarchal figure as she indeed essayed in many of her later movies. Her ability to emote the character and the flawless diction of the language were key contributors to her enduring success.
I of course am best able to relate to the movies she played in the 80s and 90s as I watched Tamil cinema during my growing up years. And so when I select my favorite performances, they obviously reflect but a sliver of her long artistic career. Yet I really enjoyed these performances and can watch endless reruns of the same.
Samsaram Adhu Mimsaram
Visu’s epic family drama with a dramatic face-off between father (Visu) and son (Raghuvaran) primarily over finances and mismanagement of family affairs. Lakshmi essays the role of Visu’s able daughter-in-law who sorts of numerous problems faced by the youngsters in the family. She is ably assisted by Manorama who plays the role of Kannamma, a long serving servant of the family.
Though the story is quite a tear-jerker, it has quite a few comic moments and Manorama gets the opportunity to tickle our funny bone. In particular she stars in a scene wherein she is supposed to play act and disrespect a senior gentleman (Kismu) who is the father-in-law of the family’s daughter. She gets carried over by emotion and ends up literally tearing into the gentleman. It was a laugh riot and an engaging piece of acting.
Unnal Mudiyum Thambi
Yet another father-son duel featuring Gemini Ganesan and Kamal Haasan. Gemini is a renowned classical music singer while Kamal is drawn to social causes. The fundamental schism causes many run-ins between the duo and eventually Kamal leaves his home.
Manorama is Gemini’s daughter-in-law, who has brought up Kamal and his younger sister as if she was their mother. She excels in scenes where she tries to mediate between the warring duo. She sympathizes with Kamal but also respects her father-in-law’s authority. Things come to a boil and Kamal leaves his home. Eventually she realizes that Kamal is on the right path and defies her father-in-law to back him.
Manorama had transitioned to essaying character roles typically being the hero’s mother. In this movie she plays the role of Vijayakanth’s mother in the movie. Based in a rural setting, the movie is primarily a socio-revenge drama with Vijayakanth playing the role of the righteous Village Elder who is constantly subject to conspiracies of evil doers in the village.
Manorama essayed the role with panache – she also has a few light comic scenes with Sukanya and Goundamani but the movie is seeped in melodrama. She manages to convey the gravitas that befits her role.
She is again the matriarchal figure who is responsible for the well-being of two young ladies and two children in a well-to-do Ooty Estate. Sathyaraj is supposed to be a middle-aged professor who has been hired to teach the children. In fact he is a young man who falls in love Khushboo who is from the family.
In a comic twist, Manorama, the spinster develops affection for the elderly Professor. While the movie is mostly a laugh riot featuring the antics of Sathyaraj and Goundamani, Manorama manages to carry off the sensibilities well so that the plot featuring her does not appear gross.
She effortlessly went on to showcase many versions of her matriarchal character role, usually featuring as a towering personality. Often she would also do some comic tracks as well. Her performances were flawless and the audience would expect nothing less from the lady who straddled the cinematic scene for over five decades.