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.