Saturday, November 29, 2014

RUDRAIAH: HIS ONE FILM was wonderful enough

Nov 20 2014 : The Times of India (Chennai)


Director of just two movies, inspiration to hundreds of film makers; gave a deeper cinematic experience

C. Rudraiah, maker of the offbeat milestone film, Aval Appadithaan (She’s like that) is dead and the slogan surely is going to be, ‘Long live Rudraiah’. It would be fitting, for it would be an exact re-run of what happened to his film after it was released in 1978.

‘Aval Appadithaan’ could not find proper theatres then and was released in Chennai (then Madras) in Blue Diamond (now demolished), and Kamadhenu, known more for screening re-runs then and now defunct. The film barely managed a run of two weeks, by which time the elite crowd had apparently seen enough of the ‘Adults only’ film to be all agog about its bold theme and creative cinematic style.

As Vannanilavan, noted novelist and co-script writer of Aval Appadithaan says, ‘‘The film quickly disappeared without much fanfare when it was first released. But after three or four years, the appreciation and applause began to grow’’. By this time, Rudraiah had made his second film, ‘Gramathu Adhyaayam’ (Village Chapter, 1980), which sunk without a trace and took him along. We later heard of some valiant efforts to resurrect his career, but nothing came of them.

Aval Appadithaan focuses on an independent-minded misandric woman (Sripriya) who works in advertising under a male chauvinist boss (Rajinikanth) and is attracted to a sensitive documentary film maker (Kamalahasan). It was spoken of as a feminist film later but its makers did not have such notions when they set about writing the screenplay. Credited to Vannanilavan, Somasundareshwar and Rudraiah himself (in that order), the script simply sticks to its plan of highlighting the individual and societal forces and contradictions faced by its characters. A sense of realism in not veering away from contradictions that a plot has to unravel has given Aval Appadithaan and Rudraiah a distinctive place in making Tamil cinema a meaningful medium.

Aval Appadithaan signalled the new visually oriented cinema and its bright new sound (Ilayaraja) that emerged in the latter half of the seventies. Rudraiah, fresh from the Adyar film institute then, made the film with technicians who had also graduated from the same institution. It was a time when the products of the Institute were looked down upon by mainstream cinema-wallahs as bookworms who made boring ‘art’ cinema that would fall flat in the theatres. Such institute kids had Ananthu, K. Balachander’s script man for a father figure, and Aval Appadithaan is significantly dedicated to Ananthu.

The sound track of the titles of the film (mostly in Kamalahasan’s voice) bears eloquent testimony to the challenges faced by the film’s makers and their ambition to break the barriers in Tamil cinema towards celluloid significance. ‘‘I can bear it no further…I am fed up..I have to say something..’’… the offscreen voice says with feeling. It anticipates the resistance. ‘‘Puriyaadhu…they won’t understand. The villagers won’t understand. There is a communication gap…’’ says the disembodied voice. We are then told, ‘’This is cinema. This is ‘take one’. You know, this is not the full picture. It’s only the rush print.’’ .

A percipient critic of Tamil cinema speaks of the rebellious voices in Tamil cinema. that made bold to break away from escapist entertainment and melodramatic fare. Back in 1960, leftists came together to expose the manipulations of the stock market with ‘Paadhai Theriyudhu Paar’. Despite it lovely songs which are heard to this day, the film bombed and disappeared for ever. Singitham Srinivasa Rao made Dhikkatra Parvathi (1972) based on Rajaji’s story on the evils of alcoholism. The film was released in a little theatre (Little Anand!) before vanishing! Maverick writer Jayakanthan directed his own novel, ‘Unnai Poal Oruvan’ on a shoestring budget. The film won him a national award but the box office kept clear of it. The nationalist filmmaker B. R. Panthulu made a feature film on freedom fighter V.O. Chidambaram (Kappalottiya Tamilan 1961). Despite Sivaji Ganesan’s charisma and an array of bright Bharati songs and superb performances, audiences did not take kindly to a biographical film, so much was their aversion to ‘realism’.

Jayakanthan’s novel treatment of the aftermath of rape on a young college girl in Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal (1976) succeeded in its celluloid version because the integrity of the story was backed by the excellent treatment and sensitive performances. Durai’s Pasi, a realistic take on slum dwellers in Chennai succeeded bigtime because of a sterling award-winning performance from Shobha,

Balu Mahendra (Veedu 1987, Sandhya Ragam 1989, Thalaimuraigal 2013), Jayabharati (Kudisai 1979, Uchi Veyil 1989) and K. S. Sethu Madhavan (Marupakkam 1990), among others have achieved varying degrees of success in presenting a more sensitive cinema..

In recent times, directors are tackling offbeat storylines and emerging real-life issues to make cinema more evocative, though they are not entirely ‘realistic’ in their narrative and style. Films with novel subjects – Haridas (autism), Dhoni (leaving children to pursue their aptitude) and Thanga Meengal (father’s love for girl child) for example – need to become a trend.

But it requires more than good intent and risk-taking to make celluloid tick…and even if with a single success Rudraiah was a one-film wonder, the tag line is that he made one wonderful film.

(The author is a historian of Tamil film music and an author of many books on Tamil cinema)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

When Modi was made to spread the gospel!

A news item today (September 26, 2014) says that Modi was in the US in the early nineties out to spread the Sangh Parivar’s gospel! Was it the Parivar’s claim that it held the sole monopoly for ‘salvation’ and that its god was the only true god while others worshipped demons (which, by the way, is the doctrine of evangelical Christianity)? The easy conflation of the Sangh Parivar’s ideology – which includes respect for all religions – with the gospels and all that they have been made to stand for comes out of the superficial use of English as well as it’s Christian underpinnings.  

When Gandhi came to meet Nehru in Allahabad in 1916, peasants came along to share their tales of oppression with him. Nehru describes them thus – ‘‘They looked on us with loving and hopeful eyes, as if we were the bearers of good tidings, the guides who would lead them to the promised land’’.

Ah, the promised land which Moses supposedly promised to the hundreds of thousands of Israelites as he led them out of Egypt! The poor Indian farmers, who might have thought of Ram Rajya while approaching Gandhi are transformed into members of a desert clan seeking the Promised Land! But how else could an Anglophile who spent most of his formative years studying at Harrow, Trinity college, Cambridge and the Inner Temple, look upon them?  He described himself as a  ‘queer mixture of East and West, out of place everywhere, at home nowhere’. No wonder he imposed the charter myth of Israel on unsuspecting Indian peasants!

Well, the Mani Shanker Aiyar types may jump up from their Macaulayan holes and claim that a turn of phrase is being made much of. But, ultimately,  turns of phrase may signify turns of history; when non-resistance to evil is seen only in terms of the Biblical turning of the other cheek rather than the Hindu experience of the immanence of god or the Buddha’s humanism.

With English, almost everything gets a Christian turn. Somebody is not given a name, he is christened though he may have nothing to do with the Saviour and the agenda of being saved!  Re-christening too follows, sometimes. And when somebody is taught the ropes of a subject or an art, he is not just initiated into it, or just taught, he is baptized into it.

Rajiv Gandhi championed the Panchayati Raj system but ultimately it scarcely did much good, the Economic Time says. This is how it puts it -- ‘’Almost a quarter of a century after the late Rajiv Gandhi EVANGELISED (capitalization mine) a decentralised government and gave the institution of Panchayati Raj his personal imprimatur, a report commissioned by Congress-led UPA government has all but declared it a failure’’. So from the cauldrons of politics and governance right into the pulpit of the preacher, thanks, of course, to English!

A person who helps somebody in trouble, well, he is not just a goodhearted and helpful person, he has to be a Good Samaritan if you seek good English effect. When a person does something purposefully and with a lot of enthusiasm, he does so with missionary zeal…as if he were a person with a mission! He had better do it this way if he wants to succeed!

If one is born, say in 1989.. it is in 1989 A.D….Anno domini…and in the words of a  pompous anchor, 1989 in the year of the Lord, though it’s not very much clear when the Lord himself was born!  Forget the Common Era introduced by historians trying to be truly secular!

A book is not just the final word on a subject. It is the Bible, say, for historians. If something is true, or true to fact, it rather be the gospel truth though historians and Bible scholars are discussing how much truth there is in the gospel, and what kind of truth, historical, mythical, religious (?).

Somebody who happens to be victimised unjustly…well, he must have been crucified, calling attention to the one crucifixion that was made famous despite there having been millions of such punishments carried out by the Roman Empire.

 And every man has not just got to shoulder his own burden…he has to carry his cross! That he might, but when he is indeed vindicated and rises like a Phoenix from defeat,  it’s not just a comeback that he has had, but a resurrection!

When a person goes to the succour of another, and that in a crucial situation, he is more than a kind, compassionate or even ‘good’ friend, not even a friend in need, he is a Saviour! A player who manages to stave off defeat for his team, or even pull off a victory, may be declared the man of the match, but he is sure to be touted as its Saviour of the moment and the match!

Again, somebody who turns up to make a terribly bad situation look up is more than the man of the hour….he is the Messiah! If one finds one’s deliverance from a poignant situation, one has found one’s Redemption, which finally means Salvation from sin by Jesus’s sacrifice!

When news about someone or something spreads, it is the Word that spreads. Which word, the word that was with god, the word that was god and all that Greek philosophy take on the lowly artisan of Nazareth?

If there are ten rules for getting rich, they are not maxims that will bring prosperity, They are Ten Commandments for getting rich, though they were discovered nowhere near Sinai and by no one named Moses!

Such is the hegemony of English, and through it of Christianity, that a Hindu saint writing on Hinduism in English begins by defining religion from its Latin root, religare, not bothering to ponder that Indian traditions of dharma are totally different from the Western take on dogmatic religion!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

S. Balachander biography - book review in Tamil by Vamanan in India Today Tamil

Kannadasan - THE greatest Tamil film lyricist


Kannadasan would have completed 87 years today, and given life expectancies in our times he may well have been alive and ticking. However, he has been gone more than thirty years. But has he? Numerous TV channels which survive on Tamil film songs resound to Kannadasan’s evergreen hits – you can even see him on screen grandly proclaimin,  ‘I am Eternal, I never die’ in his famous song, ‘Oru Koappaiyile En Kudiyiruppu’ ( I live in a wine glass, I sport with a beautiful lass)!

In our times, Director Mysskin celebrates Kannadasan’s famed love for the bottle in his catchy bar number ‘Kannadasan Karaikkudi, Perai Cholli Oothikudi’, and Ilayaraja’s music brackets Kannadasan with  Kalidasa (Kalidasan Kannadasan). Leading lyricists aspire for Kannadasan’s colossal reputation as the people’s poet who sang for every situation in their lives. He is to the world of Tamil song writers what his friend and patron MGR is to the world of stars  – the coveted peak!

When Kannadasan wrote his first song at Central Studios, Coimbatore in 1949 he was 22, a  class 8 dropout who had no experience either in cinema or song writing.  He made his debut more due to the kindness and magnanimity of director K. Ramnoth than his own competence. But the music of the early fifties showed less sympathy to lyric writers who had a frightful time fitting in words to wayward tunes. Kannadasan shrugged off the yoke by producing films himself so that he could write songs unfettered (Maalai Itta Mangai, Sivagangai Seemai and Kavalai Illaadha Manidhan). This pitched him into a sea of debt but opened the doors of endless opportunity.

Kannadasan penned all the songs for Paasa Malar, Paava Mannippu and Paalum Pazhamum, and changed the course of Tamil film music. With Sivaji Ganesan, Savithri, Saroja Devi, Devika and other such artistes at their emotive best, music composers Viswanathan Ramamurthy coming into their epoch-changing course and singers like TMS, P.Sushila and PBS in their heyday, the ‘Pa’ series brought an array of songs that has wowed fans all along. ‘Ponaal Pogattum Poadaa’ was a new kind of expression of bereavement, as if a King Lear was raging at Death.  ‘Naan Pesa Ninaippadhellaam’ brought a new sensitivity and dimension to romance.  ‘Athaan Ennathaan’ gave a new honeyed tone to a woman’s love. ‘Vandha Naal Mudhal’ , rather closely following Kavi Pradeep’s ‘Kitna Badal Gaya Insaan’ (Nasthik) but managing to retain its own stamp of individuality,  was shot through with great idealism and humanism.  ‘Kaalangalil Aval Vasantham’ effortlessly mirrored the exhilaration of falling in love.  ‘Malarndhu Malaraadha’ framed the bonds between brother and sister in poignant notes of unforgettable melody.

Kannadasan’s lyrics created a new idiom for the Tamil song and paved way for the only time in Tamil film history that a lyric writer stood taller (at six feet plus!) than the number one music director. For Kannadasan was more than a lyricist. He was a popular personality with a wide appeal. He was an author with an engaging style ;  his Vanavasam – a no-holds-barred account of his early years up to his exit from the DMK – has seen manifold re-prints. He was a delightful speaker with a great sense of humour. And after his switch from ‘rationalism’ to religion, he had a remarkable avatar in the seventies as a commentator on Hinduism (Arthamulla Hindu Madham), which did not prevent him from writing a commissioned ‘Yesu Kaviyam’. But though Kannadasan had many volumes of literary poems to his credit, he realized that the film song was his medium. When he combined with directors like Sridhar and K. Balachander, the result was magical. Who can forget the evergreen musical, Kaadhalikka Neramillai? Is there a film song that reflects both the angst of the human condition and the affirmation of hope as eloquently as ‘Yezhu Swarangalil’? And most of thespian Sivaji’s triumphant celluloid moments soar on the poet’s lyrics. When Kannadasan lay in Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago in a protracted coma towards the end of his life in 1981, it was film song composition that he was said to be incoherently acting out.

In their moments of diffidence, people lean on the numerous songs of encouragement penned by Kannadasan (Mayakkama Kalakkama, for example), while others see his songs as an invitation to literature because he effortlessly echoes Kamban, Andal, Pattinathar and Bharati in simple but stirring lines (Veedu Varai Uravu, for example). For others, he is one of the few lyricists who left his individual stamp on film songs – almost an impossible affair. Some marvel at the musicality of the limpid stream of verse and song that flowed from him and his capacity to follow an idea to its logical end in a single song, as in ‘Yaen Pirandhaai Magane’. For all of them, June 24 is not an anniversary to observe, but a birthday to celebrate.

(The author is a film music historian whose books include a volume on hundred lyricists of Tamil cinema from 1931 to 2000)