are certain things that never lose their charm,
they tend to envelope you with a feeling of goodness.
Such things are few and rare. It was with great
joy that I came across a re-telecast of R.K. Narayan’s
Malgudi Days on a TV channel recently. Many of
us might first remember seeing this series of
around 39 episodes on Doordarshan at least a good
15 years back, that’s as far back as my
memory goes. But simple queries reveal that even
15 years back Malgudi Days was a re-run on television,
its beginnings lie somewhere in the early 1980s,
roughly 30 years back. Only superhit movies manage
to stay in our minds and hearts for so long. TV
shows, however well made and popular are forgotten
in a pretty short span of time, the rare exceptions
being the epic Mahabharatha and Malgudi Days.
What is so special about the town that Narayan
created that has endeared itself to so many readers
and viewers over the years? There has been no
other writer (in English) who has been able to
so beautifully depict life in Tamil
Nadu in all its simplicity. His description of the narrow
lanes, the crowded roads, those small but distinct landmarks
like hotels, the tiled-roof houses are so realistic
that it is sometimes hard to believe that Malgudi existed
only in his imagination. His characters too were simple
and real, as if drawn straight out of life and their
dreams were simple and uncomplicated, just like a common
man. His stories were always about small but engaging
events in the life of a person, never leaving the realm
of the believable. The regular characters (like Nallappa)
and landmarks (Lawley extension and the statue) of Malgudi
were as important to his books as his central characters.
He described with élan every person who appeared
even once in his narrative, like the postman, the shopkeeper,
the roadside hawker etc. and that is why Malgudi has
been able to assert such a strong presence in our minds
for three decades. That the TV series should be able
to find a spot even in this overcrowded era of reality
shows is a testimony to the magic of Narayan’s
Now, coming to the point. This is not to reiterate on
Narayan’s descriptive brilliance, that is well
known to anyone who has read his books. This is to state
a disappointment over the fact that Malgudi has always
been alien to Tamil Nadu. Narayan envisaged Malgudi
as a town in Tamil Nadu, conceived his characters and
stories that were true to the traditions and traits
of Tamil Nadu, yet Malgudi has never come alive in Tamil.
Malgudi Days was made in Hindi and telecast all over
India which is a matter of pride, but one can’t
help think how well it would have come out in Tamil,
the language where all those wonderful stories were
originally meant to take place.
So much for television. It is surprising and also disappointing
to note that the wealth of uniquely interesting characters
and plots have not been used by the best of film makers.
The only instance being Devanand’s Guide based
on Narayan’s book of the same name that was made
some time in the 1960s. Fifty years on, we are still
waiting for another Narayan work to materialize on screen.
There has been a lot of cry about lack of originality
in plots in Tamil cinema. Just turn round to Narayan
and Malgudi to discover a wealth of wonderful plots
and characters that any common man can connect to. Set
in the pre-independence era, his books can be made into
period flicks or adapted to current times because Narayan
always dealt in human emotions and relations. To recreate
Malgudi will be a challenge, something akin to recreating
Hogwarts, but if done well, there will be few other
things that can offer more aesthetic pleasure. Hope
that Tamil cinema wakes up to wonderful possibilities
that Malgudi offers. The timeless classic may prove
to be a goldmine of loveable movies.
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