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  Opinion   Columnists  11 Dec 2022  Krishna Shastri Devulapalli | How Mallikarjun Babu’s secret weapon backfired

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli | How Mallikarjun Babu’s secret weapon backfired

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is a humour writer, novelist, columnist and screenwriter
Published : Dec 11, 2022, 1:25 am IST
Updated : Dec 11, 2022, 9:37 am IST

To this day, Malli, now a grandfather, gets a befuddled look in his eyes and bites his lower lip suggestively when the incident is mentioned

Mallikarjun Babu had a secret weapon: his cousin, film financier Govardhan Babu. Who owned a souped-up, twin-carb Premier Padmini with floorshift gears, alloy rims, multibranch exhaust, air-conditioning and a cutting-edge stereo system. (Image by arrangement)
 Mallikarjun Babu had a secret weapon: his cousin, film financier Govardhan Babu. Who owned a souped-up, twin-carb Premier Padmini with floorshift gears, alloy rims, multibranch exhaust, air-conditioning and a cutting-edge stereo system. (Image by arrangement)

To impress girls in the ’80s, you absolutely needed two things: a music system and wheels. Mallikarjun Babu, that so-and-so, had both. Rolled into one.

Some context here about Mallikarjun Babu aka Malli: while the majority of our gang of losers was in their teens, Malli was some years older. With his droopy mush and a befuddling predilection for biting his lower lip suggestively while having the most innocuous of interactions like saying hello to a friend’s grandmother, Malli emanated a distinctly, if unintentionally, ’70s adult star vibe.

Malli also owned a rickety Lambretta with an off-kilter seat that he rode in a stately fashion like it was a Harley-Davidson. Not a ladykiller, one would conclude from the evidence presented thus far.

But Mallikarjun Babu had a secret weapon: his cousin, film financier Govardhan Babu. Who owned a souped-up, twin-carb Premier Padmini with floorshift gears, alloy rims, multibranch exhaust, air-conditioning and a cutting-edge stereo system. Which, from time to time, he allowed Malli to borrow.

(While all I had was a gramophone that played Telugu songs from the ’50s, and a vintage Amby that could do a maximum of 20 kmph groaning like a wet grinder.)

Suddenly every girl was dying to go for long drives with Malli. All the way to Mahabalipuram and back, listening to Barry Manilow and Air Supply with the salt-infused wind in their hair and Malli’s grubby hands god-knows-where. It didn’t hurt that he also had inexplicably deep pockets and plied these impressionable girls with little bottles of perfume and imported chocolate.

We, by which I mean I, decided this had to stop.

Firstly, Malli had no business hanging out with girls that young. Not that they weren’t capable of taking care of themselves. The girls made sure to go in impregnable pairs on these long drives, putting Malli in a bit of a quandary. Was he to bring another guy along like it was a double date? What if both the girls sat in the back seat then? What good was that? And even if one of them decided to sit in the front, did that not mean there was a guy invited by him sitting in the back next to a girl with immense possibilities ahead of him? While he, despite being vehicle’s ‘owner’, would be reduced to chauffeur in plainclothes?

Secondly, how dare he. How was I to get a single girl with my jalopy and vintage gramophone when Mallikarjun Babu – dirty old man – was cutting a swathe across the landscape like a Golti mash-up of Humbert Humbert and Hugh Hefner with his borrowed Playboy Mansion on wheels?

If you want to feed the poor or help the elderly, you’d find no takers. But if you wanted to do the reverse, collaborators appear magically. That Malli was enjoying life far beyond the scope of his talents, and being a corrupting influence on impressionable young girls wasn’t my concern alone, apparently. An acquaintance, let’s call him Rayudu, nodded sagely in agreement when I mentioned my concerns to him in passing. Rayudu owned a car, too. He, too, was connected with Telugu films like all Telugus in Madras. And like all Telugus, was related to Malli in the sense that one’s great-uncle had bumped off the other’s grandfather in Chittoor or Chirala.

‘Why don’t we put sugar in his petrol tank?’ Rayudu suggested as an opening gambit.

Too crude. I shook my head.

‘How about shoving an onion into his exhaust pipe?’

Too obvious. I shook my head.

We needed something sophisticated, something subtle. Something that hit him right in his show-offs.

‘Let’s steal his car stereo,’ Rayudu said.

Now we were getting somewhere.

In the meantime, like a seasoned drug peddler building a clientele, Malli had gained an oily entry into a gang of hip youngsters, using his little gifts, booze and music mobile like blunt instruments, and was literally sponsoring all their outings. His new favourites were four, that’s right, four, Punjabi-Irish sisters, one prettier than the other, named Manmeet, Colleen, Harpreet and Maureen, aged between 16 and 20. Malli’s chief occupation now was taking whichever of these sisters was available – always in twos – for long drives on the beach road with Christopher Cross, Air Supply, Andy Gibb and Leo Sayer providing the background score.

Without going into the details, not too long after, Malli’s reign as Sultan of Schoolgirls came to an end. (By the time he found his footing again, car stereos had become a little more common).

Story went that one afternoon, as Malli was driving down East Coast Road biting his lower lip suggestively for no apparent reason, two fetching Irish-Punjabi sibling lasses in tow, and put on Barry Manilow, something paranormal happened. Instead of ‘Mandy’, it was Sirkazhi Govindarajan’s high-pitched tremolo singing praises of Lord Murugan that came on. Puzzled by this musical malfunction, apparently, Malli hurriedly put on Crystal Gayle. But the voice that came on was L.R. Eswari’s semi-hysterical paean to the folk goddess Mariamman. Similarly, Air Supply, Christopher Cross and Andy Gibb in quick succession, as Colleen and Manmeet peed their bi-cultural pants, yielded the high piety of Nagore Hanifa, T.M. Soundararajan and the religious discourses of Kripananda Variyar, respectively.

To this day, Malli, now a grandfather, gets a befuddled look in his eyes and bites his lower lip suggestively when this other-worldly incident is mentioned.

Tags: premier padmini, music system