“Tamil literature before Bharathi, and then there is Tamil literature after Bharathi,” proclaims Appaduari, Subramania Bharathi’s doting brother in law in one moving scene in the play. Never was a truer word spoken.
Mahakavi Bharathiyar, as he came to be known in his later life (alas, a rather short one, for he died when he was just 39), Bharathiyar is undoubtedly the Tamil equivalent of Shakespeare, a true watershed in Tamil literature.
His prolific writings spanned the entire gamut of literary forms. He introduced the Prose-Poetry form of expression, which to this day has not been bettered by any other writer. His passion for various social causes – women’s emancipation, equality of all religions, classes and castes, oneness of India’s peoples, and especially his love for freedom for the motherland, has inspired generations of Indians, across all sections of society, and all corners of the country.
Early in his career, he decided to wear the turban as a mark of respect for Sikhs whose indomitable spirit he greatly admired. His remarkably astute similes, his spontaneous lyrics, and his tenderness of approach to sensitive issues are legendary.
Few writers in any language can come close to his compositions extolling the love of a father for his daughter (Chinnachiru kiliye kannamma). Likewise, his poem about a naughty Lord Krishna epitomizes the love of a family for its mischievous, yet lovable son.
His song “ paayum oli nee enakku” is incomparable as a tribute to the “made for each other” philosophy. And all this in impeccable metre, each time and every time, without any contrived lyrics! This was not just genius – this was Muse in human avatar, although a cruelly short one. The mind shudders at the thought of what he would have achieved had he lived to be 70 or 80; and the heart goes heavy at this irreparable loss. But he himself would have spurned such thoughts – a man who lived life by his own rules till the end, defying the cruel English who battered him to death politically and economically, but whom he defeated with every word he wrote, every song he sang, every motivating speech he gave. In a most inspiring song (“Aaduvome, palli, paduvome”) he declared many years before his death that India had gained independence, such was his conviction and belief.
As one among the millions of fans of Bharathiyar, I could go on and on about him and his contribution to literature and society, but I started this note as a review of the bio-play “Bharathi Yaar” (“Who Was Bharathiyaar”) by SB Creations in association with Thirukkural Pasarai of Muscat, staged yesterday (20/09/2018) to a packed hall at Al Falaj Hotel in Muscat, Oman. The organisers announced at the start that the play was 2 hours long, and that there would be no interval. They promised the audience wouldn’t notice the 2 hours passing.
When the show ended, the promise was more than delivered – no one left even afterwards for a long time, such was the wholesome experience everyone was treated to. The skillful combination of theater, film backdrops, music and dances was a clever move by the producers – it certainly held the audience’s attention better than a gripping storyline alone could have. But then, the producers SBS Raman and Bharadwaj Raman, are son and grandson of the great Veena S Balachandar, a perfectionist in everything he did in his life, and those traits shine brightly through in the way the father-son duo have handled their production.
Scenes from Bharathiyar’s life have been strung together craftily, with background score made easy by the abundance of the protagonist’s own creations. The dialogues, written by Isaikkavi Ramanan, are outstanding, even when considering that Bharathiyar had made the task easy with his writings! What was even more impressive was Ramanan’s portrayal of Bharathiyar. His stature and bearing have an uncanny resemblance to the memory of Bharathiyar that generations of Tamilians carry (credit equally belongs to the make up artiste). He was ably supported by Dharma Raman playing Bharathiyar’s wife, and the famous classical musician Vijay Siva with his role as the self-appointed help of the family.
While the regular cast were totally at ease with their lines and histrionics, the many local artistes who chipped in with small but significant roles did remarkably well for themselves. Notable among these were Venkatramani, Savithri, Sundaresan, and Govindarajan, Muscat’s own regulars in plays and musicals. Of the original cast, special mention needs to be made of the young girl who played Yadugiri, Bharathiyar’s adopted daughter. Her portrayal of Darupadi in the “Panchali Sabadam” scene, enhanced by some intuitive lighting, gave me goosebumps.
The abundant talent of the visitors from Chennai was clear in the concise introductions, the genuine thanksgiving by SBS Raman, and the unique tribute to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos by Ramanan. Oman’s proud expats make it a point to express their gratitude to the country’s ruler at each and every function, something they do out of true love and admiration for perhaps the world’s greatest and most benevolent ruler today; but Ramanan raised the bar very high with his honey sweet Tamil, and with his allusion to Bharathiyar’s love for Arabic language and Islam – an aspect of the Mahakavi’s life I learnt yesterday.
I only wish the producers had enough finances to make better sets, better and less intrusive microphones for the artistes, and a stricter sense of discipline backstage. But for these very passable flaws, this was one unforgettable experience. I emerged from the hall somewhat of an emotional wreck, and I bet I was not the only one to have felt so happily drained. This is a bio-play not to be missed by any patriotic Indian. And if you love Tamil, this is a feast nonparallel. Full marks to dear Sundar Kaleewaran for his single-minded devotion in bringing this epic play to Muscat.
Author: Dr Koduvayur M Harikrishnan
Surgeon by profession, carnatic music fan by choice.