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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

'Malgudi Days' - Revisiting My Favorite Serial

Malgudi Days remains an all-time favorite television series, of not only me, but I am sure it is so for millions of viewers worldwide. Produced under the banner of Padamrag TV International, by T. S. Narasimhan, and directed by Shankar Nag & Kavitha Lankesh, the series was based on the acclaimed works of the eminent Indian author and novelist R. K. Narayan.
It was originally aired on Doordarshan, way back in 1986.
However, the thirty-nine episodes then telecast became so immensely popular, as evident in the several re-runs (even in the dsatellite channels after they came into being), that the project was revived in 2004, and telecast in 2006. Though the original series had been helmed by Shankar Nag, the revived series was made by Kavita Lankesh as the former had passed away. The series was spun from various stories of R. K. Narayan and many of them were just one episode long. That made the series all the more laudable. The stories - though now part of the Malgudi anthology - were actually taken from the books A Horse and Two Goats, Malgudi Days, Swamy and Friends and Vendor Of Sweets.

Malgudi happens to be a fictitious small town in South India. It has the typical characteristics of any small town or village, and is habituated by timeless characters who could be living anywhere in the world, there is something universally appealing in that; an innocence; a simplicity; a humane depiction of life as such.
The lives of the simple folks of Malgudi has been dealt in an uniquely engaging manner, with delightful humor. The highlight of the series was its specific as well as generic appeal. The characters come alive with their idiosyncrasies, their typicalities, their inconsistencies, and their warmth.
R. K. Narayan drew on his observance of human life to create the magic in his Malgudi tales. And in the transcreation for television it was as much an accomplishment.

I am thankful to Big Home Video who have compiled the entire series in an attractive DVD/VCD box-set for the connoisseurs, and I am thankful to my sister for gifting me the grand opportunity to revisit my favorite tele-series. I am sure that it would be lapped up by all the fans of the series, and would also open up a new vista of entertainment who haven't warmed up to the magic of Malgudi on television. I recall that some years back at Nandan, here, in Kolkata, there was a screening of the segment called 'Swamy & Friends' from the series and the show had an overwhelming response.
The entire series has now been given a new lease of life thanks to the video packaging. We can once again hum the amazing title track that had been composed by L. Vaidyanathan; till date it remains one of the best title scores ever! Sharang Dev was the other composer, he had scored the music for the segment 'Swamy and Friends'. Shot entirely near Agumbe in Shimoga district of Karnataka, the visuals were exceptionally rich in terms of their texturing, as far as as television productions are concerned. The sketches that graced the title cards were done by R. K. Laxman (acclaimed cartoonist, and the brother of the novelist R. K. Narayan). The cast includes Girish Karnad, Vaishali Kasaravalli, Ananth Nag and many other established actors, and has young Manju Nath essaying the role of Swamy.
The DVD pack consists of two DVDS whereas the VCD pack has eighteen discs. The tales that are featured are namely: Swamy and Friends, Vendor of Sweets, Sweets for Angels, Salt & Sawdust, The Antidote, Minister without Portfolio, The Snake Song, Dodu, Sidda, Mandir ka Budda, Chowkidar, Naga, Doctor's Word, Lawley Road, Muni, Dhakiya, Maha Kanjus, Hero, Annamalai, Engine ki Kahani, Iswaran, Govind Singh ki Bhent, 45 Rupaiya, Aaya, Rome ka Moorthy, The Performing Child, Career, Trail of the Green Blazer, Four Rupees, Neighbour's Help, Astrologer's Day, The Gold Belt, Nitya, and The Seventh House.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

'Shutter Island': a case of mind-shut

After a long and eager wait, I was finally able to catch the film "Shutter Island" last night.
Needless to say why I had been eager to see the film. Yet for the uninitiated, let me confess for the umpteenth time that Martin Scorsese happens to be one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, and Leonardo DiCaprio is a favorite actor for whom I have had a huge admiration since I first saw him in "What's Eating Gilber Grape".
But this time, I was having a whole lot of apprehension too...
Recently, on a Bangla television channel, Anjan Dutt, the much acclaimed filmmaker from Kolkata who needs no introduction, has publicly rubbished "Shutter Island" saying that he was so appalled that he could not even sit through it!
After having watched the film, I can easily debunk Anjan Dutt's claims, which now expose him all the more more as a disgruntled creative individual with wrongly channelized gumption.
Incidentally, a few years back I was seated next to Anjan Dutt at a Kolkata multiplex (Inox-Forum) where he came with his son to watch the Clint Eastwood film "Mystic River". I remember, shirking from interacting with him after I found him visually frustrated by the film that unfolded on screen. On the other hand, I loved the film "Mystic River", which is based on the novel penned by Dennis Lehane, who also happens to be the writer of the novel "Shutter Island" which Martin Scorsese has filmed, and I must admit that I loved the same nervous energy and the character-based conflicts that pepper "Shutter Island".

The film "Shutter Island" finds Scorsese collaborating with many of his favorites yet again, from lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio (who has previously worked with him in "Gangs of New York", "The Aviator" and "The Departed"), cinematographer Robert Richardson, film editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and music supervisor Robbie Robertson.

The cast of "Shutter Island" includes, apart from Leonardo DiCaprio, such stupendous talents as Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Elias Koteas, Patricia Clarkson, and Ted Levine.

The story emerging through layers of dread, deception, enigma and intrigue, is actually quite simple.... or so I thought.... however, the story-telling is quite remarkable, to say the least. It would be a shame to divulge the details about the tale, as the emotional jigsaw puzzle that the tale offers to a viewer, ready to uncover and solve, is better not spoiled.
The manner in which the characters are assembled for us viewers makes it a treat to watch, just like all of Scorsese's films. From the very beginning the visuals just grip us completely and make us ready for all the madness and bewilderment that ensues.

Scorsese is the master of invoking suspense and paranoic atmosphere, and here he succeeds brilliantly. The body of the film is richly textured, and, in parts, it even brings back the magic of Alfred Hitchcock. Our fears, our beliefs, our weaknesses, our secrets are often locked up, and in "Shutter Island", a serious viewer can surely
probe such natural tendencies to keep things all wrapped up. But even for a lay viewer, the film holds much charm and thrills that never fail to mesmerize.

The film's title (the book's too) refers to the remote island where apparently a murderess is believed to be hiding after having escaped from a rather strange institutional facility for the criminally insane.

The film can be best classified as a psychological mystery-thriller; much of what is seen and experienced pose questions; the thin line between reality and delusions often gets blurred. Everything is not as it seems.

Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo and Max von Sydow have added a lot of nuance to their characters. Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson and Emily Mortimer have fantastic screen presence and they've brought out their best even in the short scenes.
Re-creating the atmospheric tone of the Fifties, and even the flashback scenes that depict the horrors of the Second World War wouldn't have been as difficult and exacting as the portrayal of the paranoia, ranging from the fears about communism to that about brain-washing, which is perceived by the characters. The perfect casting makes that job easier.

The asylum having only one point of entry (since the island’s terra firma sits atop a base of sheer cliff walls) provides much scope for the exquisitely created dark interiors and visual effects. The experiencing of trauma, anxiety and grappling with doubts, distrust and 'disappearance' becomes the leitmotif, and the symbols of loss of sanity effectively embellish the scenario.

I would personally recommend the film to all my readers,
and to all cine-lovers.
Just indulge yourself in the magic of cinema.
Savor the brilliance of a maestro, immerse yourself in the topnotch scenes and the noirish twists, and let's rubbish the trashy criticisms of frustrated cynics, let's just tell them to shut up their big mouths!