Thursday, April 19, 2012 3 reflections

Ramayana captured in Moghul art

Dear reader,

In an earlier post I had documented the existence of Razmnama, a Persian translation of the Mahabharata that was undertaken under Akbar's regime. This post is about 'Freer Ramayana' which, from what I have been able to gather, is an illustrated manuscript of the Indian epic Ramayana which was painted for a Moghul nobleman. There is no accurate information on who this nobleman was but the style of artwork it uses is quite similar to the ones found in Akbar's aforementioned work. So it could be that Akbar was the Moghul who had sanctioned this project too. Any further information on this would of course be appreciated.

Given below are some of the pages I could gather.  What is curious about it is the consistent usage of horns (as seen in depictions of Satan/Shaitaan) to depict evil characters in them while the Kings have the symbol headdress commonly seen in Islamic and Christian art. What is also interesting is the use of predominantly red and black to depict the evil characters in the epic while the heroes are shaded in human form.

Angada kills Devantaka

Angada kills Narantaka

Bharata sets out to find Rama

Dasharatha in Ayodhya

Dasharatha and sons return to Ayodhya

Hanuman and Ravana

Hanuman beheads Trisiras

Hanuman looking for Sanjeevani herb

Indra prevents Trishanku from entering heaven

Kumbhakarna getting up

Kumbhakarna in battle

Hanuman carries a mountain back 

Rama kills Maharaksha
Rama kills Viradha

Rama Lakshama Sita Hanuman

Rama leaves for heavens

Rama slays Shambuka

Rama slays Ravana

Rama with the Vanaras

Ravana abducts Sita

Ravana loots Kuvera

Rysasrunga travels to Ayodhya

Sugreeva in battle

Sugreeva attacks Kumbhakarna

Valmiki getting the tone of Ramayana from a dying bird

Garuda and Vsnu

Dasharatha being cremated

Shatrughna killing Lavanasura and conquering Mathura

Monday, April 16, 2012 0 reflections

Poem : Eka's gift

Dear reader, 

Have been reading a lot about the Nishada prince Ekalavya lately. And it occurred to me how similar, in some ways, his life is with Krsna's. Both had extremely humble beginnings and yet, with time, went on to become important names in our ancient epics. Both went on to work with important people of the times and are marked in our legends for their several heroics. If Ekalavya, despite his thumb being taken by Drona Acharya by trickery, went on to be King Jarasandha's confidant and an important member of his team, then Krsna, the son of a cowherd went on to become the king of Dwarka. Perhaps it is poetically apt that Ekalavya finally meets his end at the hands of Krsna. This short poem is, hence, a tribute to that warrior who had the gift of giving. An attribute which earns him a higher pedestal as a warrior than the rest.

 ~ Eka's gift ~

Droplets of bliss, hued deep red,
Fell like helpless comets, earth bound,
Sketching tiny dust craters, they hastily sped,
To their invisible destiny. On visible ground.
His chapped lips bore not a hint,
Not an inkling of the waters of disdain,
Eyes, steady, bejeweled with gems distinct,
Knew no resident from the lands of pain.
A jaggedly sawed stub, fresh and oozing,
Sent snaking streams in joint celebration,
He, head bowed for the official offering,
Regaled in company of such magnification.
Like the ancient king Satyavrata, or Manu,
Who once held a tiny fish, it had been said,
Eka's palms, washed clean with bliss anew,
Cradled lines of fate, etched in blood instead.
The aged ascetic looked on, unperturbed,
Anxious faces around him watched, amazed,
Their princely feet moved not, stayed undisturbed,
As audience to Eka – the intruder, the unfazed.
The master's hands, with much unbridled pride,
Plucked and picked up the gift of the hour,
Muttering words incoherent from every side,
Placed in Eka's red palms, a golden flower.
In the lad, the master had seen divinity,

In his humility lay the true gift he would bring,
After the conch had been blown on all humanity,
His name would stand for giving. And forgiving.
Eka vanished into the woods, head bowed,
A trail of little red tears clinging to him,
Drawing the dotted line, that would never erode,
From rust of time, in winds placid or grim.
Oily clouds shifted hazily in heavens above,
Connecting disconnecting residue of emotions,
Guiding Eka forever on the path of love,
Taking him to guide clans, build nations.
Moons later, in a grand battle far far away,
A king from Dwarka spotted Eka's smiling face,
Not a tussle of a divine and a mortal, that day,
One great leader, had celebrated another, with grace.

Poem : Dvarka
Poem : Eldest Kaunteya

Thursday, April 12, 2012 12 reflections

"Nanna Tamma Shankara" : A summary

In July last year I came across a Kannada book called 'Nanna tamma Shankara' (My brother Shankara) written by Anant Nag, brother of the late film maker and actor Shankar Nag. I grew up on a strong diet of Shankar's 'Malgudi Days' and was witness to the Nag brothers in the 80s via their many Kannada and Hindi movies. It was only over the last few years that I have had the chance to properly process the impact of Shankar's untimely demise not only on Kannada cinema but also on Karnataka. Over this time period I have read a lot about Shankar's off screen life, his passionate associations with theater, his immersion in literature of Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez among others and his highly ambitious visions for both Bengaluru and the rest of the state. In all of this his elder brother Anant Nag's thoughts on Shankar's life and demise somehow never seemed to surface. Given how low profile that family remains to this day 'Nanna tamma Shankara' seemed like a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the man behind the actor/filmmaker/celebrity.

Hence, here are some of the highlights of what I gathered from the book.

Bonds of brotherhood

I always knew how close the brothers were but it wasn't until I began reading the book that I was able to understand the true nature of the bond they shared. I also got a sense of the painful pinch of irreplaceable loss Anant Nag must be (is) going through with each passing day. My perspective on him as a talented performer amplified some more after recalling that he did some amazing comedies like 'Ganeshana maduve', 'Gauri Ganesha', 'HendatigelbeDi' and 'Yaarigu Helabedi' after Shankar's death. I cannot comprehend how this man was able to overcome such a horrific loss and yet manage to pull himself together for these performances. I came across a book called 'Off the record' written by veteran cinema journalist Ganesh Kasargod recently where he mentions that Anant Nag in fact had traveled to Hyderabad in grave depression after Shankar's death to end his own life. It was after long and hard conversations with his wife Gayatri that he eventually decided not to go through with it.

The book essentially begins with Shankar's birth in Honnavara, North Canara. Anant Nag, six years his senior, talks about the immense pampering Shankar received for being the youngest in the family. He also writes how his father would never miss an opportunity to smack him behind the head but always ensured Shankar was left unharmed. I also learnt that Anant Nag has a elder sister who, not surprisingly, also did her best to pamper little Shankar. He goes on to speak of how unafraid the boy was without forgetting to mention how extremely close he was to Anant. Being six years younger it was no surprise to learn that Shankar looked up to Anant as a father figure in many ways. Right up to the point where the two began formal education shuttling between Honnavara and Mumbai, due to their parents' circumstances, Shankar is shown to have been Anant's shadow in almost everything.

Life in Mumbai and entering cinema

It isn't until Shankar moves to Mumbai that he gets a chance to finally start doing things his own way. His love for stage takes him to the Marathi theater scene and thus begin his associations with the fine arts. Anant documents in good detail the way Shankar immersed himself into the various activities there and came in close contact with likes of Amol Palekar, Smita Patil, Girish Karnad among many others. It is also during this time that Shankar started acting in movies, his first feature being a Karnad directed venture called 'Ondanondu Kaaladalli' which went on to win various awards when it was released. The book then talks of the way the two brothers got together and started to think of starting their own production house. It was here that the movie 'Janmajanumada Anubandha' was released with Shankar donning the director's cap for the first time with Anant and himself in the lead roles. The film, Anant says, was a pretty bad disappointment probably because of the often used reincarnation theme in the plot. The book at this stage includes various conversations between the two about everything from personal life to political scenarios in the country. Anant also documents the successes of the later films they made like 'Minchina Ota' and 'Accident' that continued to register Shankar as a better film maker than an actor. In one particular sequence Anant writes about how the climax for the movie 'Accident' was changed at the last moment. A climax scene that shows the protagonist kill the minister in frustration had to be changed to a non violent one since, coincidentally, it was the same time that the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi had been gunned down. The censors clearly raised objections about it because of which Shankar is said to have screamed at Anant and asked him to sit down when he got up to pay respect during the television forecast of her funeral. 'Shankar' he writes 'had taken his first political decision.' Anant also reflects, with slight melancholy, that for a long time Shankar wasn't accepted as a local Kannadiga due to his roots predominantly coming from the Marathi scene. But he also acknowledges the effort Shankar put into ensuring that his name became synonymous with Kannada.

Malgudi Days

This part of the book was perhaps the most interesting one for me. Having been a major aficionado of both the RK Narayan book and the television series, it was refreshing to learn the beginnings of it. Anant writes of his associations with the series producer TN Narsimhan who had expressed interest in bringing Malgudi to life. It was with much reluctance that Shankar is said to have accepted the project primarily due to his commitments to both cinema and the theater. In fact it was Anant Nag who recommended to Shankar that Agumbe in Karnataka was perhaps the ideal spot to recreate Malgudi. It was then that Shankar spent months reading and re-reading Malgudi Days to ensure that he did complete justice to the adaptation. Anant speaks of how, once the project got underway, their lives became all about Malgudi Days for a good three to four years. Every conversation they had at the time would invariably be about thinking of the best possible way to shoot the mini series by hiring the most suitable actors to play the role. Anant writes of how their extended circle of friends came forward to help Shankar launch himself on the national scene by volunteering to play many of the roles. This list included great names like Girish Karnad, Vishnuvardhan, various people from the Marathi and Hindi cinema and of course Shankar's constant friend-philosopher-guide Anant Nag. All of Agumbe had become a shooting set with literally every home in the area used at some point to cook food for the cast and crew members. In fact, I heard Kashinath (one of Shankar's closest friends) speak in an interview recently that as one of the assistant directors he would always keep a guy handy during the shoot of Malgudi Days to ensure the walls of homes Shankar had broken to get the camera angles just right would be constructed back. Shankar wanted no compromise to the vision of Malgudi he wanted to portray. An attribute becoming quite rare in the field of cinema today. Anant then documents the way in which the two brothers traveled to Canada to market their product and to get people overseas also invested in spreading the word. As I read these stories in the book I also looked up interviews of Arundati Nag (Shankar's wife) and others who spoke on similar lines of just how energetic Shankar was during the shoot of Malgudi Days. Despite the non stop stress of working with a limited budget Shankar went to extreme lengths in ensuring that RK Narayan's work did not get jeopardized on screen after the debacle called 'Guide' by Dev Anand many years before that. History, as we have seen, is proof that Malgudi Days did in fact find the best maker in Shankar Nag.

Visions of a better tomorrow

One of the prominent portions of the second half of the book documents Shankar's affection to new and exciting ideas. The way he observed things in foreign countries and then asked himself 'Why can't we have that in India?' In that long list of projects that Shankar wanted to implement are – the much talked about metro train service in Bengaluru (which is now a reality after more than two decades and more than two hundred crores), the Nandi hills ropeway project, house building scheme for the poor using German construction mechanism, looking at alternatives to health care for the middle and lower middle class and of course, the country club – a project that involved creating an exclusive place for people to come and relax. Today we look around and find such places on every street but for a man to see this vision for a sleepy city like Bengaluru back in the 80s is nothing less than a marvel. Apart from these projects Shankar's love for the theater is consistently documented as his 'Nagamandala' based on Karnad's play by the same name went on to run to packed houses for several weeks. It was to realize this dream of his that Arundati Nag, after his untimely demise, went to hell and back to build 'Ranga Shankara' in Bengaluru. After reading all this it occurred to me that what Karnataka really lost wasn't just a brilliant film maker with an eye for detail but also a much needed visionary who would have perhaps created magic with the technology now available. A 'what if' scenario that will haunt his admirers forever.

Untimely death and final statements

The last few pages of the book are full of anticipation. That agonizing wait for the inevitable to occur. It was during the shooting of a film Shankar had managed to get sponsorship for called 'Jokumara Swamy' that his car met with a gruesome accident in the wee hours of September 30, 1990. His wife Arundati and daughter Kavya were with him at the time. Anant writes of the unimaginable waves of shock that passed through him when a stranger called him up that fateful morning and delivered the awful news to him. When he broke the news to his mother she is reported to have said – 'He was supposed to die many years ago as a child in Mumbai when he almost got hit by the truck. The time he got until now since then was his gift. A second birth.'

Anant documents the support he and his family members got from the huge gathering of friends and innumerable fans of Shankar after that. The nonstop incoming of well wishers from the most unexpected corners of the globe. He writes that it was then that he truly realized just how beloved his brother Shankara had been. He ends the book with the lines...

'Shankara is unforgettable to me. Not just as a brother but as an individual – as a complete individual. It is impossible to document the millions of memories I have of him. I don't think it suffices to say 'I think of him a lot'. He is in my thoughts every day, every passing moment, tormenting me.'

Some photographs from the book

Anant Nag, Shankar Nag with their father

During the shooting of Malgudi Days in Agumbe

During the shooting of 'The Green Jacket' episode

During the shooting of 'The vendor of sweets' with brother Anant Nag