Can Malgudi work for Tamil cinema?

There 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 Malgudi.

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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