Mithran Devanesan: A gentleman with a grand passion for the stage

Mithran Devanesan is no more. Poppy (Deviyani) called me today morning to give me the news. Later I received an SMS from Gopi of the Madras Players.

Mithran’s death came as a shock to all those who knew him, even though many of us knew he was suffering from cancer and was not doing too well. Mithran touched many lives and, like Poppy said, lived life to the full. He was a chain smoker for years and desperately tried to quit smoking, resorting to expensive medicines and chewing tablets to do so. Eventually he did manage to kick the habit but it was too late. The damage had already been done.

I met Mithran many times, mostly at plays and at the Museum Theatre where Aysha Rau’s Little Theatre staged the annual pantomime show. Mithran for years did the honours for Aysha with sets and lighting. And every time, at the end of the show when his name was announced, he would raise his hand from the rear of the hall, preferring to let others hog the limelight. There would of course be thunderous applause and Aysha's early pantomime shows owed their success to him in large measure.

I once interviewed him for the Indian Express at his lovely home on Ormes Road and he was as hospitable as ever. Mithran would have spent 36 years in the theatre and he had more than more than 400 productions under his belt. As event manager for huge events early in his career he gained experience in designing auditoria and lighting systems. MTC Productions, which he formed in 1987 after taking to theatre full-time, even offered technical support to Hollywood productions shot in India.

Mithran was born in Colombo but it was at Bishop Cotton’s, Bangalore, where his love for theatre surfaced. He had during the interview told me that it was one Mr Scott, “a wonderful English teacher” who would enact plays in the classroom and who pushed Mithran to the stage. Pre-university was at MCC, Tambaram, where his father, Chandran Devanesan, was the principal. It was tough for Mithran because he couldn’t bunk classes. But he was brought up with a tremendous respect for life.

Walking out of the Madras Medical College after three years, Mithran in 1969 joined the Charles Morris Price School in Philadelphia for a course in advertising and marketing. However, it was as a biology teacher in Jamaica that Mithran made his mark on stage, wining the gold medal at the Jamaican Carnival for his production of Julius Caesar.

In 1974, he started two new innings – one with MRF and the other with the Madras Players. Incidentally, one of his assignments early on was sweeping the stage.

Mithran wanted to be an actor but after he was cast as Androcles in Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion he realised acting was not for him. But what was significant was that he also realised that he possessed a 70 mm vision that could take the whole sweep of the stage. In 1978, he quit acting and took up directing and set designing. The following year saw him change the entire outlook to sets, adopting a minimalist approach that was to become his trademark.

Mithran trained at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Cambridge Theatre Company. From the 1990s he never had to look for work; work sought him.

Soft-spoken, Mithran was a thorough gentleman. All those who knew him will miss him dearly. How deeply he touched people was evident when my daughter called me up from abroad to say she had come to learn of his death from Facebook – a few youngsters had already put up the news. That he straddled the old world and the new so easily was also evident.

May Mithran’s work and grand passion for the stage inspire others. And may his soul rest in peace.


Susan Deborah said…
Oh no!!! This can't sink in within me. I recently saw an interview with him. I have seen only one play of his direction but still he was so popular in the theater circles. It is strange how we do not know someone but the news of their death troubles and shakes me.

My thoughts and condolences to the family. And thanks to you for sharing this with us.

Joy and peace,
Do not know the person,but a tribute to the great man. Good to meet you greet you and read your blog
Vidu said…
Sashi you have captured everything so beautifully.. I am sad I missed meeting this great person in his lifetime. At least i was lucky to see some of his plays
Prem Chandran said…
Its a funny old thing but even when one is aware that an end is inevitable the actual occurence still comes as a shock.
Mithran and I go back a long long way: to our school days in Cottons and the same Mr Scott who took our classes. There were the inevitable scrapes we got into both in School and subsequently in College. We lost touch for many years while we both wandered about all over the world and then we did meet up a couple of years ago when I called on his mother. And amazingly it was as if the intervening years had never happened and it was wonderful how we both could catch up and reminisce about the old days. Mithran was a humanist, a somewhat rare breed these days, and a man with a good heart.
I shall miss him. As will no doubt a great number of those who knew him. May his soul rest in peace.
Prem Chandran
Aysha Rau said…
Yes. Mithran will be missed. He looked like he was asleep with that smile on his face.

He directed 2 pantos and did the sets and lights for 11 pantos and 2 musicals for the little theatre. He always did a super job!

This year's shows will be dedicated to him as a celebration of his life.
kishore said…
A Literary Icon in His own right....Still remember the Good Old Days when Le'Park - The Leo Club of Park Town Inter School Talent Contests were at their nascent stage, we were fortunate enough to have Mr.Mithran Devanesan, judge our Ship Wreck Competition. Very amiable, simple, down to earth & profound in his interactions, he was a source of Inspiration to many of us.Coming as a rude shock, we at the Leo Club of Park Town are pained to hear of his irreparable loss, and most sincerely hope, wish & pray that God gives his family & loved ones the inner strength to bear up in this hour of strife.
He may not be with us today, but his memories & good work shall for long be cherished & live through his plays.....
May His Divine Soul Rest in Peace....Hari Om !
deepti menon said…
Mithran was not only a colossus in the theatre world, but also in the lives of the many people he touched through his social service. He will be missed by all of us who have known and loved him. May his soul rest in peace.
May God give his mother, his wife and his children the strength to bear the loss!
In grief,

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