Nagesh, the effervescent actor who played innumerable comic roles in Tamil cinema, was a family favourite. I remember when I was a young boy and we were renting videos for our newly bought VCP (video cassette player), the popular choice was always to get hold of a Nagesh classic, and I used to lead the fight against my parents' and relatives' will to get hold of one. How many times had I seen Ethir Neechal, Server Sundaram, "Soap, Seepu, Kannadi" or "Pattanathil Bootham" or "Madras to Pondicherry" as a young boy, I don't remember. But I never tired of the slap-stick, the body flips, the mirth and the general feel-good that this actor generated whenever he was on screen.
Of his later films, I would never forget, Magalir Mattum, where he plays a character, who is a corpse (no kidding!) and that too of a dreaded Mafia criminal. That he played this role without having to do anything but look like a corpse and yet managed to steal the show in all those scenes, proved his worth in mirth.
He was as adept in character roles (the aforementioned Ethir Neechal is a revered classic), the best for me was the college lecturer role he played in the Kamal Haasan movie, Nammavar. I suppose Kamal Haasan always made it a point to include Nagesh in as many important roles as possible in his films- the patriarch from Nagore in the film, Dasavatharam also comes to my mind immediately as that of the make up man, "Joseph" in the Kamal classic, Avvai Shanmughi.
But perhaps his best role ever, was in the movie "Thiruvilayadal", where he stole a march over the leading thespian of Tamil commercial cinema, "Sivaji" Ganesan. His immortal tete-a-tete with Sivaji (playing the Hindu god Shiva) is a classic nugget that remains part of Tamil cinema history as a shining moment of wit, repartee and dialogue delivery (and later satired, copied, in many films). If Sivaji Ganesan made his name as the doyen of Tamil cinema through his ability to perform melodramatic action combined with powerful dialogue, forging it as a template for others to work upon; Nagesh continued the tradition of comedians playing an important role in Tamil cinema (from the days of NS Krishnan, Thangavelu, and many others) and charted his own course of slapstick, wit and mirth.
The closest to a Nagesh these days is the effervescent actor who seems to have made bellyache an infectious pandemic among Tamil film watchers - Vadivelu and it is no wonder that he prides himself as the "Dark skinned Nagesh".
It is with a great deal of sadness that I have to mark the death of a man who gave me so much laughter ever since childhood. Nagesh - you will remain on celluloid and in our hearts forever.
UPDATE: DBS Jeyaraj writes a moving obituary on Nagesh here.