Kamal’s collaboration with K Balachander is well-known. But he shared a good relationship with K Vishwanath as well and ‘Salangai Oli’ (a.k.a Sagara Sangamam in Telugu) was their first attempt that met with critical and commercial success. Swathi Muthyam was an equally appealing and popular follow-up act.
Kamal as a Bharatanatyam dancer and Jaya Prada as his ardent admirer with popular dance numbers is surely exciting. But the overall tale was one of an alcoholic dancer who missed fame and family in life. He finally gets a chance to redeem himself by passing on his craft to a talented protegé.
Balakrishna (Kamal) is a talented dancer who knows multiple forms of classical dance but he hails from an economically weak family who is doted upon by his mother and uncle (Sakshi Ranga Rao). There is an entertaining song number set in the wedding hall backstage where Kamal regales his family who are in the process of preparing the wedding meals (sappad). Madhavi (Jaya Prada) surreptitiously takes snaps to capture the special moments. He forgets his frustration with the film directors who have scant regard for the classical nature of the art form and are more interested in exploiting it for commercial purposes.
It is a classic Kamal style movie and he has written it to amply promote his views on competing ideologies of capitalism v/s communism, religious frenzy v/s atheism, and overarching theme of a humanist attitude towards people and life.
It was possibly ahead of its time and though peppered with the routine cinema tropes of comedy, song n dance, romance and even action the message hung rather heavy in the air. A mindless commercial caper that released simultaneously stole its thunder and the movie never quite made it. Kamal may have known its possible fate for he takes potshots in the film itself by suggesting to the heroine that they should watch an arty movie in the Theatre – there will be sparse audience and it will permit them a few hours of private space.
Well a communist (Kamal) and ad man (Madhavan) getting stranded at Orissa airport is quite a unique start. Their struggles to reach Chennai during torrential rains makes it a story on the road. Only the story doesn’t quite stop there, it moves from the road to the Train as well. The start is filled with humorous episodes – Madhavan is a city slicker who just cannot cope in the unfamiliar environment. Kamal excels and revels in the situation. He is no charmer though – with heavy glasses, a limping leg and a scarred & paralysed face with a twitching nerve he initially shocks but wins us over with his warmth and gift of gab.
No book lover would ever wish to part from his dear collection – possibly the prospect of getting a root-canal done on an ol ‘molar may be more acceptable than letting go of the most tattered book from one’s collection.
Yet things came to such a pass that I had no choice but host a ‘book sale’. I made the best of the bad job by assigning it to my dear wife – I just didn’t want to participate in the ‘inheritance of a loss’ as I would term it.
My Book Sale
My wife set about the task with gusto – she quickly arranged the books in a pile. The arrangement was driven more by the size of the book than the name of the author or the book’s genre. Her’s was a practical approach as can be seen in the snap. The photo does convey a good idea of the assorted books available and possibly will accommodate the most catholic interest of potential readers.
Maugham worked as a British spy during the World War I and so was uniquely placed to narrate us a set of tales set in the world of spying and espionage. The tales themselves don’t quite regale us in a manner we are used to expect from Maugham’s spiel. He gives us couple of good starters though – the Head who wanted to recruit him started by telling him a story of a prominent Minister losing sensitive files to a femme fatale who beguiled him with her charm. Post recruitment Maugham was given the following as parting advice – ‘There’s just one thing I think you ought to know before you take on this job. And don’t forget it. If you do well you’ll get no thanks and if you get into trouble you’ll get no help. Does that suit you?’ ‘Perfectly.’ was the answer and with that Maugham set about discovering adventures that he documented in the present series.
Maugham tells the spy tale as it is – there is little of glamour, much of the work is useless, most of the time and energy is a sheer waste. Yet the writer in him found it interesting enough to derive enough raw material to shape and present us 6 short stories in typical Maugham style. There is a loose element of continuity and it makes sense to read the tales sequentially – I daresay you can still read them on a standalone basis as well. What they lack is the sheer entertainment value of his more popular tale and often Maugham’s trademark formula of a story having a beginning, middle and end is not quite there.
The opening scene is London as an upper middle class family gets ready to attend a ‘Garden Party’. The action is set in the mystical East – it is a sordid tale wherein the Family has just discovered that apparently their son-in-law was an incorrigible drunkard and had committed suicide. Millicent, the widow, is pressed to explain and she does have a tale to narrate.
The story is from the collection called ”The Casuarina Tree’ set in the 1920s and it is a tragic assortment of British character’s trial and tribulations in the alluring tropical islands in Malaya. The contrast in the beautiful settings and the shabby lives enlivens the ‘shock’ value of the story.
Maugham did not want any illusions in the mind of the reader about the nature of the narrative and so he provided a quaint explanation to the title and its significance. He explained the nature of the Casuarina tree : ‘Of the Casuarina tree they say that if you take in a boat with you a piece of it, be it ever so small, contrary winds will arise to impede your journey or storms to imperil your life. They say also that if you stand in its shadow by the light of the full moon you will hear, whispered mysteriously in its dark ravage, the secrets of your future …’.
The title is quite incongruous for a change – it is supposed to indicated a lonely forsaken place. Federated Malay States (FMS) in the days before World War II was not quite that remote – it was part and parcel of the British Empire and enough adventures to be noted for the expatriates who forayed into the unknown land to earn their livelihood.
Rubber estates were a popular locale for stories and Maugham continues to explore the world intelligently in this short story that appeared in the collection ‘Ah King’. ‘One should not cut off your nose to spite your face’, is the sage advise the Resident offers to Tom Saffary, a planter, when he consults him about his marital woes.
George Moon, Resident in charge of Timbang Belud in the Federated Malay States is but Somerset Maugham himself donning a mask. The Resident is on the verge of retirement and he is moving away from a place where he spent his lifetime. He was known to strict but fair – he brought no sunshine to the place and was keenly aware of his Official position. But he was hard-working and toiled to improve the lives of the people in his area. He has a deep insight into human behaviour and is quite forgiving of many vices so long as the overall picture is not marred.
Rapid downpour that lasts hours, flooded streets, Mumbai local trains stuck, commuters stranded, TV channels covering the Mumbaikars woes ceaselessly – images that don’t quite change as every year we welcome the rains.
Sitting in the Middle East where it is sweltering hot as we speak, as I watch the news unfold on my Google feed, it brings back a mixed memories of fun and strife that pockmarked our lives during every monsoon.
Mumbaikars are used to many routines and monsoons is one of the seasonal ones. We hope it would be different but it usually remains quite standard. It better be I guess for monsoon are our lifeline and far more significant things depend on it than the inconvenience and hazards faced by the ordinary commuter.