Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXII No. 14, November 1-15, 2022
You must have seen or at least heard about the film River’s Son by now. It created quite a stir even before being released and much to the distress of the naysayers did well at the box office as well. The Man from Madras Musings watched with amusement as the doomsday advocates decided to anyway vent their spleen. They must have no doubt written their scathing reviews even earlier and then having watched with sorrow the film’s success added a few more paragraphs by means of a pen dipped in bile. Not that it made any difference to the film – it came, it was seen, and it has conquered. MMM hears that the money raked in was unbelievable and even the Mumbai film industry sat up and took notice. MMM is happy – not that he has any stake in the film – for when an industry battered for two years by a pandemic suddenly does well, it is a time for joy, and not jeremiads.
The problem with most of the Cassandras has been that they imagined they owned the eponymous novel. What they forgot was that River’s Son the novel was meant for a 1950s audience that read it over four years even as it was serialised in a magazine. The film on the other hand, is meant for a millennial generation with the attention span of an ant. And yes, MMM did notice many errors, in backdrops and costumes. In particular one that pervaded the novel and made it to the film as well – considering that the historical events on which the film is based spanned 16 years, not one of the characters age, in prose and on celluloid!
Be that as it may, MMM was tickled pink when media houses from up north began calling him and asking him for enlightenment. Having grown up on a steady diet of Mughal history (if that,) they were surprised to know that there existed kings down south. MMM found something innocent in their queries about Raj Raj Chol and his son Rajinder. They wanted to know as to why if the younger son had the title (surname in North Indian parlance) Varman, the elder brother was known as Karikal and the sister Kund Vai. MMM had very little to say for the very mention of Chol had taken him on a mental journey to the north where they made chickpea dishes in a fabulous manner. They also asked about Vaanthiyathevan which made MMM somewhat nauseous. They enquired about Nandini but stopped short of names such as Azhwarkadiyan, Anbil Aniruddhabrahmarayar and Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar.
And a couple of days later, MMM was mighty amused to find a report that read that the south Indian erotic film Pig’s Son had done well. The changing of an ‘o’ with an ‘a’ had done all the damage. MMM sadly did not notice any erotica in the film and is planning to watch it again just to make sure. There was yet another aspect – the action is set around 985AD and much of Indian media got it wrong. There was one group that said the film was about happenings in the 9th century (985AD they assumed was 9th century). There was a second group, slightly more knowledgeable than the first which knew that the century count was always different from the number in the hundredth place, only they did not know as to how it differed. And so they played it safe by referring to the film as being set in the 8th century!
As for the film itself, it may have been set in any century, going by the costumes, backdrops and props. And it could have been set anywhere as well – random monuments from North India and of a much later vintage kept zooming across the screen. The language was yet another matter altogether. Most characters did not know the difference between zha and La or La and la or Ra and ra (all to be understood here from the Tamil point of view). Very often MMM assumed that a tail was being referred to when all along the actor was meaning a sword. On raising this point with someone involved with the film MMM was informed that it was quite likely that people in the 10th century spoke Tamil the same way as people do now. Another person had it that the actors spoke that way on purpose, chiefly to engage with the young audiences of today. Somehow, MMM was not willing to buy either argument.
The Man from Madras Musings is not a great one for debates. As a student he was quite good at these but at one stage there came a feeling that MMM would be better off conserving his vocal cords. Of course, those were debates that preserved decorum. The so-called debates that MMM gets to occasionally watch on television fill him with a sense of revulsion. But then as the Lady of Shallot so astutely observed, the curse does come upon us and so it did to MMM, rather late in the night.
The phone rang and MMM answered it. MMM’s close friend Super Singer has often commented on this habit of MMM’s and asked if it was necessary to answer every call that comes through. SS is picky and chooses his calls with care but not so MMM. If the phone rings, he has to answer and if he missed a call, he invariably returns it. And so it was that MMM answered the phone. At the other end was a young defender of the system, with whom MMM has at best a nodding acquaintance. MMM asked DOS as to what he owed the honour of the call to. There was first a paean to MMM from the other end. He, MMM that is, was described as the go-to person for all matters concerning Chennai and DOS said that he, DOS, knew that he, MMM, would not say no to anything that he, DOS, would ask of him, MMM. To this, MMM was non-committal and enquired as to how he may be of help. The response was that the film PS-1 had raised many questions regarding religion. Someone somewhere had said that old PS, the main character that is, did not belong to majority religion. And that by implication meant that someone somewhere stated that he, that is old PS, was of minority religion. DOS was on his way to defend PS, majority religion, and other such matters under threat and he wanted MMM to also participate in a debate.
“The editor cum anchor of the debate will call you, MMM!” was DOS’ parting shot before he no doubt went to don armour and helmet.
It was much later in the night when MMM got a call. MMM does not know about you, but he has of late taken to going to bed early. This is not owing to any hope that this way he will wake up healthy, wealthy, and wise but chiefly owing to dipping energy levels as age advances. Anyway, he answered the phone and sure enough, there was the editor himself, he of foghorn voice and fearsome mien. Could MMM come on to the show at 11.00 pm asked the man (PS was obviously not the kind of debate which got prime time) and even before MMM could answer he had added that he would be glad if MMM could speak on how as a member of the majority community MMM was finding it impossible to live in Chennai.
MMM pondered for a bit. Though he had many issues himself with the way caste, religion and debates in the state were invariably hijacked in one direction, he refused to believe that it was impossible to live in Chennai. And so, he very gently replied that he was not used to being told to take a particular line aforehand in what was supposed to be a freewheeling debate. The line went dead and with that MMM lost an opportunity to be a celebrity.