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Friday, March 8, 2013

Midhunam – A Grand Story Carved into A Beautiful (Telugu) Cinema

Last Sunday, as I was strolling in a bookshop, I had a chance occasion to lay my hands on the Mithunam DVD. Hurrying back home, inserting it in the DVD-player, I tucked myself at a corner of the room … facing the TV with a glass of coffee in hand. … perhaps wondering that unless I am subjected to an unbearable irritation … at least for a quarter of an hour … I cannot better … the DVD fellow subjected me to the torture of his Ads … at last … just like Lord Siva presenting Himself to His devotee after an arduous penance … his ardent devotee  Tanikella Bharani announced his arrival with Yesudas’s sweet voice … Aaho! What a beginning!… lush green visuals ... green fields, rows of palm trees encircling free-flowing water … flowers of different hues … coconut trees at their full spread with nuts …  brinjals, bhendi ... suddenly a jarring scene … a big bunch of mangoes … know where … where else, hanging to the tree … followed by nostalgic melancholic cooing of Akash Vani — All India Radio … dawn at its splendor … morning-rays darting into the central court ... then comes our dear pandu kothi’s (old monkey’s —sorry SP garu) face and the love-filled twang between Butchi and Appadsu, the wife and husband … Appadasu’s talantu — bathed by Buchilakshmi…. His walking into inner court in a grand bhakta’s attire with Ganesh in hands ... on the way throwing a salute to Anjaneeya … in the typical style of today’s…

And Lo! Power is off! Suddenly we were transported from dawn into darkness … silence engulfed us … this sudden disruption … the darkness … stirred my mind to shoot a question…. How did the original story of Sriramana begin?

Slowly … the page is opening … as sun is going down the western horizon, Buchilakshmi … covering the already stacked dry casuarina twigs in a corner of her backyard with palm fronds, perhaps to protect them from getting wet, as she is collecting  the leftovers … Appadasu, coming with hands clasped behind his back and watching her with an amused smile, asks her in a singsong voice:
“What will you do with so much firewood?”
Looking at him sharply, she fires a counter in the same singsong voice: “If you kick the bucket tomorrow, aren’t they required to set your funeral pyre?”
He is unfazed … instead breaking into a loud crackle, comments, “How farsighted are you, my old crone?”
Then … as I am [a boy… nephew-kind…  from neighborhood who frequents their house] going that side … calling me he utters: “Hey, did you notice your aunt’s devotion to me … the numskull is getting ready to commit sati — jump onto the pyre with me — otherwise would my emaciated body require so much firewood?”

What a grand entry into the story… the story of the journey of a wife and husband into twilight … who travelled more as fellow-travelers … giving enough space to each other to express themselves with no inhibitions and in the process enjoy the life and its living to its brim. I wonder if even a feminist-writer ever made a wife mouth such words, “If you kick the bucket”, and the husband merrily wondering at her foresight…

Sriramana makes the old couple live within their own confines, and yet opens them up to every reader, for they speak a language that is universal. Their lives in twilight are narrated as a story of ‘being’, narrating its movement impression by impression, bit by bit, event by event, perhaps, all in the anxiety of capturing its fullness all at once and all in one piece — filtered into 25 pages — more as a ceaseless flow of energy into space, as an emotion of multitude.

Just as a reader of Shakespearean dramas experiences the ‘emotion of multitude’ from the subplots that are more like a shadow of the main plot, here in Mithunam, one delights in the multitude — in the beautiful narration of the landscape around the house of the old couple, something that is described as ‘dreamed for’, yet real, in which a deliberate series of relationships appear as the cycle of exchanges between the man/husband and the woman/wife, as mere happenings of the day or the recollections of the past that takes the reader on a ride from idea to idea, emotion to emotion.

For instance, when we come across the scene of the young hero going to the village temple on a palanquin after marriage along with the bride, his taking out the peanuts bundled to his wedding dhoti, and passing on a fistful to Ammi, the bride, saying, “Eat, eat. I got them thinking they’re good to while the time away,” we encounter a particular kind of emotion, while in another scene when the same Ammi shares her long-felt prayer to God, “Oh God, take him [her husband] away first”— for she knows what troubles he would have to go through if she were to die first, which, incidentally, is the commonest wish among the married Hindu women — we encounter an altogether different emotion, which leaves us wonder-struck. It is this interweaving of the rich tapestry of life that makes the story an emotion of ‘multitudes’, besides elevating the mood of the reader to sublime heights.

And when it comes to the scene of Appadasu’s being forced to bless the boy who was nudged to prostrate at his feet by the boy’s parents … we experience an altogether different emotion. To recall the scene:
“You must become as great as I am, you little donkey,” blessed me [the boy]                 placing his hand on my back.
“Won’t you please say something better … poor kid?” said aunt [Buchilakshmi] …
Laughing boisterously, uncle said, “May you be blessed with a wife as good as your      aunt!"
Overwhelmed by it, aunt said, “That’s much better”
What a scene! How touchy! Makes you feel that the writer is subtly telling us how blissful it would be if only we could live like Appadasu and Butchilakshmi!

Again as the story nears the ending, we encounter another thrilling dialogue between the widowed Butchilakshmi and the boy… taking a deep breath and composing herself aunt says, “our children have flown    away from the nest. Uncle made me see them in our trees. In our long years of being together, he shared so many things … I can find uncle in every tree … we were one like lac in gold … lac and gold … gold has gone … only this lump of lac remains … how long will this last … the moment my leaf-plates are over, I too…” I heard her sob.

“Saying so much to me about life why do you still cry!” said I in a sharp tone.  Startled, she … looking at me — saying “that’s the life, you fool!” she laughed.

This scene … its strong conception and its portrayal … for that matter, every scene he narrated in the story … testifies to Sriramana’s intense feeling for the life of Buchilakshmi and Appadasu.  It makes an appeal of its own, for Sriramana pays intense attention to language, to its sonorities, to the choice and rhythm of words — words that might sound feeble but have profound meaning, digging under which a reader gets enough space to splash colors of his own imagination. Indeed, in the recent past, no one in Telugu literature has perhaps come up with a better prose — that blends conviction with grace of style — than Sriramana. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that his narration was of Shakespearean style: his architectonic quality of narration … a perfect harmony between expression and the action with which he painted the life-journey of Appadasu and Buchilakshmi. What an intense brilliance of banter that flows all through the journey—the journey of the wife and husband —as a sweet fragrance of the lyrical beauty of the institution ...the institution of marriage that both wife and husband jointly and passionately nurtured, of course, with due diligence that made them enjoy the life till the journey got terminated with the passing away of Appadasu— with the sail gone ... the boat getting stranded!  His narration is a little sensuous and simple, and yet intellectualized. And he succeeds in illuminating and fortifying the journey of Appadasu and Butchi, that is sane and beautiful in itself, as an aid to readers to live their lives fully as humans. And all this obviously makes Sriramana’s Midhunam a classic story in Telugu.

Lo! Power has come … Guess I drifted too far from the cinema ... Coming back to the changed scene in the cinema … I must say the director, perhaps in his concern to begin his cinema too with ‘Srikaram’, might have changed the composition of the opening scene. Yet, I must say, it’s equally good, for he has attempted to portray their [Appadasu and Buchilakshmi] frolicking with the bathing scene…

The rest of the cinema, of course,  almost flows on the lines of original story but for dropping the scenes relating to the boy particularly the blessing scene … perhaps in their hurry to make the movie with only two actors … or might have felt him superfluous … don’t know , whatever the reason might be … it did disappoint me … of course, a little bit ... Let me spend a few minutes on this omission … Sometime back I had a chance to converse with Sriaamana garu … and in the course of the conversation we stumbled upon this scene. It then became so clear to me how he longed to transmit the idea of living life so pleasantly and fully as Appadasu and Buchilakshmi to the next generation through that boy…What a subtle attempt! It is perhaps this intense desire of him that has made the scene so radiant: by blessing the boy to become as great as he is, Appadasu subtly tells us that he is leading a happy life and he is aware of it. Secondly by blessing the boy to get a wife like Butchilakshmi, he makes it abundantly clear that how essential it is to have her as his fellow traveler for leading such a happy life, to be more precise—to lead a happy married life how essential for a wife and husband to be like Appadasu and Butchilakshmi.  I didn't however get these feelings while watching the film.  But then, the director might say, "Isn't that for what I made this film!"May be ...

Of course, insertion of a couple of new scenes … perhaps in the anxiety of holding the audience in the theatres for two hours … is OK! One scene definitely jells well with the 'flow' of the story… but ‘Anji’ scene appears to be a mere intrusion … so is the case with Coffee noise... and the less said the better of ... aavakaya song....

There is another crazy scene in the movie … One evening Butchilakshmi goes to someone’s house to attend a socio-religious function that is celebrated in Sravanamasam (corresponding to July- August months) in which women only participate. Obviously in a village, that too with no street lamps, walking back in rainy season will no doubt be an arduous exercise. Perhaps, being concerned of it, Aappadasu   goes towards the house where the function is held with a torch in hand but waits for his wife nearby… After a while, as she comes out of the function, he, pulling out the shawl from his shoulders attempts to wrap it around her shoulders, which she desists… but he insists her to cover herself saying, “Cover up! manchu paduthondi—it’s misty”!  Sravan comes in rainy season and I presume, and I think I am not far mistaken in presuming so, sultry is the common irritant of the month …..yet Appadasu is scared of fog and chill…! May be that’s the way how Appadasu shows his concern for Butchilakshmi’s health ...

Otherwise it’s a good film to sit before and enjoy the sheer beauty of the life lived by a couple in a different milieu radiating the innate spirit of a bygone era, which is, obviously, at variance with today’s business of living— of making money, amusing oneself by indulging in solitary pursuits which have less to do with scintillating human relationships.

The craftsmanship of Tanikella Bharani is evident in every frame of the film. The actors SP Balasubrahmanyam and Lakshmi are at their best though at some places, one must admit, Lakshmi outperformed Balasubrahmanyam…  Or, is it the feminine grace of Buchilakshmi that lulled us to such an imagination!  

Thanks and Congratulations to Tanikella Bharani and his entire team for the rare treat!


Unknown said...

Telugu Movie Review Rating

Unknown said...

hello karpuramanjari garu, could you please translate Mithunam into English? The way you wrote those few lines is awesome, and could you please take the trouble to do it, for all the lovers of Mithunam story, who are not natives?

karpuramanjari said...

Thanks a lot for visiting the blog and the comment … it has already been translate by a couple of people. Indeed, Mr. K Chndrahas & Mr. KK Mohapatra, together published all the stories of Sri Sriramana under the title: Mithunam and Other Stories.

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