Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mother's Imprint


When almost everyone is celebrating ‘Mothers Day’ with the customary praise for motherhood, I decided to look at what motherhood means to me. According to me ‘Mothers Day’ is for mothers to realize what it is to be an epitome of love and sacrifice. This post is for my twin angels who gave me the indisputable status of a mother perennially supplemented with joy and pride.
If you are someone who loves revisiting your childhood this film cannot be missed. ‘Moggina Jade’ is a Kannada film that will touch you irrespective of the language barrier. When I encountered the film a couple of years ago, I was shedding gallons of tears, an act that I quite enjoy doing while watching films.  It is not a sad, dark, depressing story at all…but an emotional tale that will trigger one’s tear glands. The winner of the piece is the little girl around whom the story is knit. She will just completely bowl you over with her innocent face and living of the role not to be mistaken for acting.
Seven year old Priya (played by baby Shreesha) lives with her parents and grandparents. To her company is her cousin who moved in with his grandparents after his mother’s demise. Priya’s parents belong to the breed of hardworking and aspiring couples who work on a relay race kind of shift system with the aim of an improved standard of living. Priya’s grandparents are the na├»ve, diffident soul’s dependant on son and daughter in law for their existence.  And finally the last immovable character is Priya’s house, a typical middle class humble home. Innocent that she looks all that Priya wants is simple things in life. 
Priya’s mother, played by the Nayi Neralu star Pavitra Lokesh, hails from an affluent family, and thanks to her love marriage gets engulfed in a middle class life much to her dissatisfaction. Leading an almost robotic life to make extra bucks to buy a dream home is her sole agenda. In this process gets eschewed the little desires of her daughter as she imposes her tastes and wishes on the little one. First bombshell being a short hairdo much to the tears and disapproval of Priya whose long pending unrealized desire is to dress up traditionally with a her hair decorated with a plait of jasmine buds as is the custom in some parts of Karnataka. The argument being the universal rhetoric ‘I know what is good for you.” (My mom had a good taste but that never let her decide things for me or my sister. I remember, when as kids we had gone to pick up clothes for Diwali, a little girl had come to pick up her birthday dress. The girl was fond of a particular dress but her mother strictly declined her choice along with a few strong words that made the poor girl turn silent. May be the price of the dress was beyond their budget but the girl will never be able to come to terms with her disappointment. Are mothers listening?)
Priya’s grandmother wants to fulfill her desire but when household expenses are calculated and budget allocated strictly spending on bit expensive jasmine buds was out of her reach. It is also not an important expense to ask her daughter in law who is already hell bent on chopping of her grand daughters tresses. Nevertheless she tells the flower vendor to get her jasmine buds when it is seasonal in order to fulfill her promise to her granddaughter who is upset when her grandson gets a bicycle from his father and step mother. 
Priya’s dad is the typical henpecked husband. Someone who is caught between the nagging needs of his wife and his parents who are dependant on him. A small argument between his wife and father was reason enough for him to be persuaded to move out of the house. Since their dream home is in the final stages they take refuge in his mother in laws friend’s unoccupied bungalow. There starts the loneliness saga of his daughter dear. To divert her melancholy they take her for a holiday. The grandparents who are equally distressed being away from their grand daughter come to visit at that time, guess what, with a plait of jasmine buds. They leave the plait and homemade sweets and savouries to the maid in the house who is about sixteen years old. The maid tells Priya’s dad about their visit. She understands a rift in the family and thus takes advantage by not disclosing what the visitors brought. She takes the plait to her home and for a fee dresses up all the young girls in her neighbourhood and takes pictures in a studio. And the sweet and the savouries were safely tucked away in a cupboard. When little Priya sees her once munching murukku she hesitantly gives her one. Later one night Priya asks her dad for murukku and to his predicament as to where he get it at that hour she tells it is in that cupboard. One look at it he recognizes his mothers labour and his maids cunningness. He also sees the much rented and worn out plait with dried up buds. He immediately takes and it discards it in a garbage bin at the end of his street.
The next day Priya sees the little gypsy girl camped closer to her house, wearing a dried up moggina jade. She immediately runs upto her and requests her to share the plait with her for a while. Unaware that the dried up moggina jade was weaved with love by her own grandmother Priya wears it with so much of happiness. A scene that will swell up your eyes and give onions a run for money!  
However the joy is only short lived when her mother finds her in that trance and admonishes her for her behavior. This is later followed by the little girl leaving the house, the parents in shock and in the mood to realize their mistake, the girl lost in the city, then picked up by a stranger in a bike, leading viewers to invoke all gods for help, and finally found safely perched in her earlier school watchman’s shoulder brought back to her grandparents home welcome with a sigh by her parents. And wait no prizes for guessing the end. The little princess does let her hair down to bridge the huge gap between tradition and modernity. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Karnan Revisited!

It was well and truly a case of ‘yesterday once more’! ‘Karnan’ brought out the kid in me. Barely past kindergarten I do vividly recall swaying to the song ‘singaara kanne’ from ‘Veerapandia Kattabbomman’ at the Kamadhenu theatre which sadly is today a marriage hall. Two and a half decades on, an encore at the plush Escape multiplex. But the Sivaji magic hasn’t waned. Not one bit. Not if the young, old and doddering cross section were to be observed hooting away to glory. Not if you didn’t miss many a grey – yet evergreen (!) couple reliving a heady cocktail of romance and nostalgia. A digitised ‘Karnan’ on the big screen despite the jumping frames was a trip down memory lane. While watching the restored version of ‘Karnan’, a lot of questions popped up in my mind. From doubts surfacing out of superficial knowledge of our epic and mythology and the beauty of the Tamil language to technical comparisons to Hollywood films and concerns of film preservation.

Mahabaratha and Ramayana have and will always be the source of themes and story lines for films. But despite the serialised version of the epics, I still feel I don’t know my/our epics quite well. How is Krishnan the ‘maithunan’ of Duryodanan? How is Kunthi the ‘atthai’ of Krishnan? These may probably be trivial doubts but I had to google it to figure out the family tree. Which god(s) did people in Mahabaratha worship? Because they belonged to a period where god in human form was living with them and they knew that he was god. In ‘Karnan’, I think I saw an idol of Radha Krishna behind Kunthi during her conversation with Krishna. In the ‘Iravum Nilavum’ song, (shot at the Konark Sun temple built during the 13th century AD!) there is a Ganapathy stone structure in the foreground. Karnan was seen (idol) worshipping Sooryan...Did he really worship Sooryan or was it the filmmakers interpretation of son worshipping sun? And if the former was true what were the worshippers of Sooryan called on the lines of Vaishnavites and Saivites? And how did the Hindu triumvirate trickle down to Siva and Vishnu and why no temple (to my knowledge) for Brahma? As I type my brain is churning out more questions but I wish to stop here.

I’ve always had a great love for my language. Still maintain a grudge against my mom (despite being a Tamil writer!) for not choosing Tamil as my second language at school. However, my endearing love for my mother tongue made me learn to read and write the classical language. One wouldn’t need that skill to watch a Tamil film though. Understanding and interpreting pun and play of words in film dialogues and lyrics are quite a thrilling task for me. (It’s sad this tradition today is referred to as double meaning dialogues with a bad connotation owing to the dirty jokes prevailing.) I am not going to get into the discussion of how Dravidian ideology was replete in film dialogues and their interpretation, but just the simple play of words. I was reminded of my skill at deciphering different meanings (only) on watching ‘Karnan today’. The scene when Karnan realises he is an orphan through his foster parents in conversation...he enters and says “ennai valarthathaai koorumpothu vanthen” the word valarthathaai has two meanings. When split as two words valartha + thaai, it means foster mother. “I came when my foster mother was talking”. Another meaning surfaces when you look at valarthathaai with respect to tense. “I came when you were talking about raising me”. Let me give you an easier illustration from a song in the film ‘Unnal Mudiyum Thambi’. The famous culinary song ‘samaithu kaatuvom’ has a lot of play of words. While many obvious ones are there this is a clever one. The song has these swaras – a prodigious composition by the maestro – .....sa...tha...ma...ga...tha...ma..tha...ma.... They are actually words split as swaras meaning ‘saatham aaga thaamathama?’ ‘...is there a delay in cooking rice?’ This is just a sample and a teaser. There are loads of such gems in our films (I am not including literature here).

‘Karnan’ may not be a landmark film from a technical standpoint. Not passing judgement as a consumer of advanced digital effects today, but making a plain comparison to a Hollywood film made about 5 years prior to ‘Karnan’. ‘Ben Hur’ with its 11 Academy awards and its famous 9 minute chariot scene was released in 1959 and ‘Karnan’ in 1964. One would agree there is no scope for comparison. (However I did get impressed with a few good techniques...the seamless spilt screen after the ‘iravum nilavum’ song.) Though there are reports that the battle scenes were actually shot in Kurukshetra with real Indian army men acting as warriors, the film lacks technical finesse that existed during that period. Not just technical deprivation but pro-filmic mistakes which Hollywood films would not do. It is ridiculous to see Karnan romancing (unless his dream was futuristic) at a temple built in 13th century AD. I remember reading Akira Kurosawa mention about the choice of a specific shot in his period film ‘Ran’ if framed any other way would have revealed the skyscrapers. Are money and budget the fulcrum of our pitfalls? I doubt. Just one wish with a sigh....‘Marudhanayagam’ on celluloid.

I went to watch ‘Karnan’ with a lot of expectation. The digitised version did not live up to its hype. I am definitely not criticising the effort here. I am rather shocked at the way the film was preserved in the first place. If it’s restored digital version is of this standard, just imagine what would have been the state before the digitisation. Like how we have poets and writers whose works are nationalised, I think our government should take film preservation under its wings more seriously and make that film archive the nation’s property. If this is not taken seriously, like our Kohinoor we would lose our precious films and knock at the doors of foreign film museums for a copy of our masterpieces. Recently Austrian film Museum took a directors copy of ‘Raavan’ into its rich collection, while we are still in the process of adjudging the film.

What the ‘Karnan’ effect did was to whet my appetite for more old classics. And topping that wishlist are Maya Bazaar, Veerapandiya Kattabomman and Thiruvilaiyadal. As an ecstatic senior citizen in the row behind me exclaimed at the end of ‘Karnan’ “ennamo endhiran chandirannu solreenga...engalukku karnanthan.” A sure shot barometer of box office success?