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Tamil should be proud – one of India’s finest (if not the finest) English writers was born in Tamil Nadu. Yet, it is somewhat ironic that Tamil art and cinema seems to have fallen behind in appreciating and celebrating the timeless work of R.K. Narayan. Yes, Narayan’s works are already immortalized in print, they do not need a great level of advertisement. But, it is disappointing to think that such a treasure of delectable tales is being left untranslated into the visual medium.

There have been a few, precisely three efforts to bring alive Malgudi and its idyllic life on to screen (big and small). The big screen efforts include the Hindi Guide (from Guide of course) and the Kannada Banker Margayya (based on The Financial Expert, not much known but once pointed out by an avid Malgudi fan through mail). The efforts in themselves were not bad, but there was something lacking; it was perhaps the simplicity and innocence of Malgudi which were the elements that attracted readers most towards it. The best and most impeccable (it almost looks like it never can be bettered) screen adaptation is of course the evergreen Malgudi Days, directed by Shankar Nag which is perhaps one of the best ever features on Indian television which can still draw an audience.

With so many stories that instantly connected with a vast spectrum of readers throughout India, why did Narayan’s works not find more favor with film makers, especially Tamil film makers, given the fact that the nativity and lifestyle painted by Narayan in all his works was essentially Tamil. It is hard to fathom and there is only one possible explanation!

Tamil cinema (Indian cinema in general) has always sought to make movies that look at pressing personal problems of its potagonists. Mostly about whether love succeeds or not, whether the hero is able to overcome the villain, whether the villain is killed or jailed, whether the society becomes and altogether better one etc…. In short, Tamil cinema wants to deal more with periods of turbulence and jeopardy, alternating with ecstasy and jubilation, of its protagonists. It seldom chooses to look at the simple everyday life of people. Yes, simple everyday life is boring, stories cannot be built unless you throw opposing elements (hero and villain), create a conflict and declare a winner. But, that is where Narayan proved his mastery over narration and language.

He could take the most simplest happenings in the everyday life of a character in Malgudi and present them in a way that would leave you in an extremely pleasant frame of mind. Narayan (mostly) never gave an adrenaline high, an emotional low or a power packed moment; instead he filled you with contentment, a comfort that would almost put you at complacence with the life you lived. His works were so much entwined with everyday life as it happened in Malgudi, no fast forwards, no zooms, no flashbacks etc….. he never had villains or villainy (perhaps The Maneater of Malgudi might be taken as an exception by some)

Cinema, in it commercial format, would find it hard to adapt to this kind of narration. Tamil cinema has thrived on providing different extremes of emotions in a balanced manner to its viewers. Keeping things simple and sweet is one of the most difficult things to ask of a director!

So, who is it who can tell stories that do not rely on the highs and lows, but just the plain sailing of daily life. It is difficult to find out! One always wondered why Hrishikesh Mukherjee never turned his eyes on Malgudi. He had that ability to put the small things in life together and make heart warming tales on screen. One felt that especially after watching Baawarchi and the dialogue which so effectively puts things in perspective, "It is simple to be happy, but it is difficult to be simple". It is indeed a great loss that the creative energies of Narayan and Hrishikesh Mukherjee never met.

Then, who now, especially in Tamil cinema who can bring alive Malgudi in its idyllic charm, innocence, laziness and simplicity. The candidates are few. That is not to say that Tamil cinema lacks quality film makers, but it is only the rare few who have the gift of looking at things from the most obvious and simple perspectives. When Pandirajan made Pasanga, there was a fleeting thought across the mind whether he would be the man. But, the way he introduced his characters and the final scenes in the hospital were the factors that made one think otherwise. When Suseendran made Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu, there was the same thought again, one only wondered why he strayed from a perfectly charming and simple story into a tragic ending. Sargunam too appeared on the horizon with Kalavani, definitely a strong candidate.

But, the clincher was Azhagarsaamiyin Kuthirai, which dispelled doubts about Suseendran that had arisen from the VKK climax and Naan Mahaan Alla. Azhagarsaamiyin Kuthirai is the perfect template for a director who could turn into the man who can handle Malgudi. The movie has no malice or hatred, just a few incidents and the responses of the characters to it. The innate goodness of a person who wants to feed a hungry convict is the kind of thing that made Malgudi immortal and Suseendran portrayed it without making it look saccharine coated or improbable. And, what more, Azhagarsaamiyin Kuthirai is based on a short story.

If Suseendran is willing, one of Tamil’s proudest literary figures’ works can be brought on to screen in a manner that is fitting of them. Short stories, novels, there are scores of Narayan’s works that await their moment of realization on screen and a huge number of people who would love to see it happen. Let’s hope Suseendran sets foot in Malgudi! Or is there someone better?

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