World Themes for Indian Cinema (Part 4 of 8)

Co-Blogging Series – Anand C and Lazy Geek
‘ART FOR ART”S SAKE’
classical dance montage

“If I worship thee for fear of hell, burn me in hell; if I worship thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise. But if I worship thee for thy own sake, grudge me not thy everlasting beauty!”

This hymm from Sufi saint Rabi’a sums up an artist’s approach to the arts (‘ars gratia artis’ or ‘art for arts’ sake’), the essence of Theme 4 of this series [story so far]. True artists are said to draw inspiration from their own experiences. A.R Rahman‘s “Thee Thee” from Thiruda Thiruda comes to mind as an example where the interweaving of the loud & pacy male voice and the soft & melodious female voice seems to subtly reflect the criss-crossing influences of Hinduism and Islam in his own life.

Classical Music and Dance are un-ending sources of inspiration. The mystical and symbolic nature and its ability to express subtle, multi-layered human emotions succintly is an excellent theme to explore. Traditionally, some memorable characters have been portrayed on celluloid. Sankarabaranam, Salangai Oli, Sindhu Bhairavi, Taal. And yet, some eminently forgettable characters (who can’t shake a leg to save their lives!) have come and gone, bringing down the genre with them (Ramarajan’s world record for the most make-up per sq. cm of skin notwithstanding). It’s time for a revival!


Just like it’s hard to say which form of dance or music is superior, it’s also hard to rank the various emotions that the artist and the arts invoke. The ability to uplift (whether it’s the montages of the dancer, the “thani avarthanam” in classical music, or the beauty of temples in the background), the ability to express (a la the popular line “I have so much to say; give me a violin and I’ll say it!”) or the ability to unite (my personal favorite is the “Desh Raag” theme, used for national integration on DD).

The arts are also legendary for their ability to ask questions that have no easy answers. Once you’ve reached perfection (which you strive for), where do you go? Is the teacher justified in having a favorite student and making other equally talented students feel left out? Does the artist perform to elevate themselves or to entertain an audience? Or the classic question – how important is it to sing in the language of the commoner?

Mention of the arts cannot end without mention of commitment. Dancers go back to practice the morning after their biggest performances as a way of renewing their commitment.
lamp image
         [Pic: Temple of Fine Arts]

One also can’t help wondering why so much comes in threes: Iyal-Isai-Nadagam, Bhava-Rasa-Thala, Pallavi-Anupallavi-Charanam (a la the image above).

Sincere portrayal of these themes has to come from the conviction that India has a soul deeper than the one portrayed externally. It is an excitement and a challenge…

My Take on this – Lazy Geek

The excitement and the challenge may not last longer if the movie with such an artistic theme fails in the Box-Office. To potray the conviction through sets of moving images, the movie should strongly convey deeper meanings of the art.

Not many times I would like to start off with a negative remark. But this one is an exception. And that’s perfectly because film makers have failed many a time to reach the audience with such artistic themes. We are not trying to get into a recursive loop of pinpointing fim makers and the society but people have responded well to Sankaraabaranam and Salangai Oli. As Super Stars get stuck with no good stories, we have so much to say about the fine arts.

Why wouldn’t we think on the lines of a bio-graphical account on the legendary God’s Own Voice M.S Subbulakshmi. Why wouldn’t we picturize the dramatic life of Kunnakudi Vaidhyanathan. Shouldn’t we be wandering in the streets of Semmangudi to capture the life and times of Semmangudi R Srinivasa Iyar. Why not the making of the genuis who came from a wrestler’s family, Hariprasad Chaurasiya. Why not Zakhir Hussain or even why not Padma Subramaniyam ? To quote and quote we have numerous talents and geniuses dead/living in India. If we can etch a series of films on these talents, we would be leaving a wealth of insight for the generations to come that would enormously inspire them, wherever they be. Documentaries aren’t my preference. Documentaries go back to NFDC Head quaters and remain dead until someone dusts them, but movies, I mean perfect commercial movies on these personalities are the only source to reach the masses.

From time to time, there comes a hollywood movie which paints the life of such geniuses in celluloid. I am sure, when they fall short of such personalities in their country, they will expand their market towards the asian commonwealth nations and we will have some Hollywood Joe directing the movie of M.S Subbulakshmi. A hollywood movie ? On M.S Subbulakshmi ?. The media and public would go gaga over the movie. The people would rush in tons to multiplexes in Chennai/India to watch the genius of M.S Subbalakshmi in celluloid and write pages of reviews(even in this same blog). What a pity state of affairs would that be ? Just like other countries trade marking our turmeric powder, we would be crying over the spilled milk, clamant over a lost project. No use, my friend.

Fine, if dance or music is the theme it needn’t be necessarily over the life of personalities. A perfect fiction, a deep look into the art/artists life would atleast be expected.

This isn’t an exercise to point whom should do what or assigning jobs to the Cinema market. But just an inventory check. Whom do we think, can do this ? I don’t think Karan Johars and Shankars can do such stuff. I am not writing them off, though. We can’t even opt for Deepa Mehta, Shekar Kapoor whose markets are international. Shekar Kapoor’s Paani may talk about the future indian toil for water but his interests are still international. A Girish Karnad and a Balachander are my beliefs. No, not Kamalhassan. Just to To reach out and point Kamalhassan for every single effort/experiment is foolish. Kamalhassan is not the last brick in the tamil cinedom fort. Though my favorites are ‘Hyderabad Blues’ Nagesh Kukunoor, Gautam Menon and Isaignani Illayaraja himself, my biggest hope lies with Rajeev Menon. For I think he will/can make movies that open up on fine arts stuff. Also I only hope these directors can rope in the support from the best music and dance technicians from around India.

Changing Anand’s quote, I have so much to say; give me a violin and I’ll say it!, We have so much to say; so say it.

19 thoughts on “World Themes for Indian Cinema (Part 4 of 8)

  1. I guess the malayalam movie “Vanaprastham” where the life of a impoverished Kathakalli artist was magnificiently brought to screen by the genius Mohan Lal directed by Shaji Karun, does contribute a bit to this cinematic theme you have mentioned.

  2. Honestly I did not think too much of Vanaprastham despite all the big names involved.

    Suhasini’s dialogues sounded really idiotic. I wish they had focussed on the kathakali.

  3. What about Swathi Kiranam by K.Viswanath? It talks about an aging singer’s envy for his own disciple, a child prodigy! The movie is one of K.Viswanath’s bests though it did not get the national recognition like Sankara Bharanam & Sagara Sangamam (aka Salangai Oli).

    This is what, I think, Guru is talking about. These kinds of gems can be lost. The movie needs a director who can concentrate on the prime theme of the movie (in this case, art or the questions posed by art itself) without getting deflected into the character or the artist or other events.

  4. Yeah Anand. I understand what you are hinting ?. If he can genuinely afford to take a movie thats unlike the ad world, he can.

    Or am I forcing it on someone who cannot shoulder the commitment we are asking for, here?

  5. I beg to differ. If it has to be K Balachandar, then the story line would be about all improbable relationship between a guy and a girl. A guy will fall in love with next house girl, whose dad would have had affair with this guys’s mom’s cousin sister, whose husband would have had affair with his wife. Splash some brahmni dialogues, make the heroine talk a lot and act too smart. End Result. You get a K Balachandar movie/tele serial.

  6. have to agree with prabhu. KB is overrated.
    Even sindhu Bhairavi could have been better given the theme…….

  7. Viji / Prabhu – Accept with both of you that KB is overrated. I would say extremely overrated. I have a small analysis done on him and would put down in the blog.

    But the point is, we have to accept that we don’t have not many who are willing to take film atleast like Sindu Bhairavi. Sindu Bhairavi’s undercurrent was not music, but it was extra marital affairs. So is Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal.

    we don’t even have film makers who would like use these arts as a backdop for movies. so this goes with the proverb ‘yaarum illatha veetlla…kezhavan’. Same story.

  8. Two things:
    1. I received several e-mails/suggestions for other biopics. Many names were intriguing. 29 in all I think. Do people want to see the list? If so, I can blog them…Guru, thoughts?

    2. In retrospect, some of the themes may not have enough meat to be an entire story. They can be thought of as episodes, a side track or a spark. But of course, that was obvious!

  9. I would love to see that list.

    Just curious – was veerappan in it?

    The Ab thak Chappan director is making a movie on him next.

    AAb thak 56 was really good – so i am looking fwd to this veerappan movie.

  10. Yes Viji,

    Abn tak chhappan was a very different movie. It was a welcome change from the monotonous movies.

    Coming back to banlachandar again, the movies aboorva raagangal, sindhu bairavi, pudhu pudhu arthangal, kalki, duet, paarthale paravasam, avargal etc all deal on same subject. Unimaginable relationships, extra marital affairs blah blah.

    If he is a good and classy director, then he should be able to prove in variety of subjects.

    I would anyday rate Bharathiraja higher than Balachandar. Bharathiraja before TajMahal era.

  11. Prabhu – I dont think you have seen Balachander’s Thaneer.., Achamillai.., Unnal Mudiyum.., Marocharitra, Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu, Vaaname Ellai,Thillu Mullu, Naan Avan Illai, Nootrukku Nooru, Major Chandrakanth..the list goes on

  12. I have indeed scene all the movies you mentioned.
    But majority of his films do tend to deal on marital affairs…
    I dont understand how come balachandar has been highly rated than people like mahendran.

  13. I dont want to take up any more space about KB’s movies in this section. I will wait for Lazy’s blog on KB where we can have a healthy debate about his works.

  14. Some names that were suggested for biopics… Gnanamani and Viji suggested many of these: (PS: Veerappan did not come up!). Thanks everyone for the feedback.

    AK Ramanujan
    Vivekananda
    Netaji
    Vidhyasagar (udavum karangal)
    MS udayamurthy
    Raja Ram Mohan Roy
    Satyajit Ray
    Tagore
    APJ Abdul Kalam
    AR Rahman
    Rukmani Arundhale (kalakshetra)
    Gautama Buddha (might feature in a future theme!)
    Vikram Sarabhai
    Homi Bhabha
    Prannoy Roy
    Dhirubhai Ambani
    Sir CV Raman (good story!)
    GD Naidu
    Lance Armstrong
    Helen Keller
    Kiran Bedi (multiple suggestions)

    OK this is weird. Jothika, Drew Barrymore! 🙂

    A few others came up that I forget…any interesting ones I missed?

  15. Guru,

    I forgot to add this :

    “my biggest hope lies with Rajeev Menon. For I think he will/can make movies that open up on fine arts stuff. Also I only hope these directors can rope in the support from the best music and dance technicians from around India ” your quote !

    I feel an artist who lives for and with the art can do justice. Example, Shobana, Revathy etc can do justice to a film based on Bharatanatyam than a person new to this classical dance style.

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