This week, The Madras Gamers, the oldest English theatre group in India, misplaced one its stalwarts — Vishalam Ekambaram. She was 88. One in every of its hottest actors for over 4 many years, Vishalam remained a committee member of the Gamers until the very finish. Past her profession in theatre, she may also be remembered fondly for her news-reading days on Doordarshan between 1976 and 1980.
Take a pair of flashing eyes that might replicate the glitter of diamonds or the chilly hearth of ice, a beneficiant mouth that might beguile you with essentially the most loving smile, or flip up in heavy scorn, a voice sopranos would kill for, a quicksilver sense of timing, a fine-tuned really feel for the ‘second’ on stage, and the flexibility to swing from the ultra-western to the ethnic Indian — stir all of it up, and what you get is the heady cocktail that was Vishalam Ekambaram.
Vishalam, via her performing profession of over 40 years with The Madras Gamers, was all the time the darling of the gang. The “oldies” noticed a daughter in her; her hanging magnificence mesmerised the youthful ones on stage, whereas for the very younger, she was ever their favorite aunt — that was the vary of individuals Vishalam appealed to.
From romantic leads in her early days with the group, to wives and moms in later years, Vishalam performed the entire gamut of roles. Comedy, farce, drama, tragedy, poetry, and revue — she did all of them. In some ways, I believe Vishalam has been among the many most prolific of girls actors. This was additionally as a result of she was a performer, first and final, and by no means discovered herself drawn to course. She was, nevertheless, a director’s dream, able to giving kind and form to essentially the most intricate of visions.
As an actor, I did extra performs with Vishalam than with every other girl artiste. To be on stage together with her was a delight. She frequently challenged you to match her verbal abilities, her lightning-fast repartees, and immediate sensitivity to the scenario.
We have been collectively in a number of performs — Mricchakatika, Plaza Suite, The Good Physician, All My Sons, Darkish Designs, and plenty of smaller productions and readings. The final Mithran Devanesen’s This English, a compilation of hilarious writings on English, with Vishalam and me as maybe essentially the most fixed elements, was milked for 30 or 40 exhibits everywhere in the South, and even went to Sri Lanka.
She did many different performs as properly, with Vimal Bhagat, Ronnie Patel and AV Dhanushkodi. Within the Nineteen Seventies and ‘80s, there weren’t too many ladies prepared to behave on the English stage. Vishalam, subsequently, grew to become most wanted. Slapstick to severe drama, she dropped at bear her distinctive present of spontaneity, that elusive high quality so few have — that which may solely be described as ‘aptitude’.
Vishalam had the flexibility to elevate a scene from the pedestrian to the sensible. Only a few actors have such instinctive really feel for tempo and cueing — all you needed to do was to comply with her lead. For all that, she by no means overdid a job. A raised eyebrow, a toss of the top, or the twitch of the lips would convey greater than 100 gestures. She had no formal coaching in theatre, no voice or motion lessons. But her strikes on stage have been clever and exact, her approach flawless, her voice clear as a bell.
To work with Vishalam for any actor was a pleasure. She by no means dominated anybody, was all the time delicate to a different’s house and second, and, above all, had no airs in any respect. Whether or not it was a seasoned actor, or an aspiring teen, they have been all the time utterly snug together with her.
The one little downside with Vishalam was that when she was completed with a play, she threw the script away. So, if we needed to repeat something, a contemporary script needed to be made for her. Irrespective of what number of occasions you redid a script for her, she all the time in some way contrived to lose it.
Vishalam was all the time enjoyable to be with, uncomplicated, beneficiant, and stuffed with laughter.
The author was Vishalam Ekambaram’s co-actor for a number of many years. That is an edited excerpt from his ebook, Deliver Down the Home Lights (2006).