Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Grandma and the movie Gentleman

When television first spread across Tirunelveli, there were people who frowned at the development. Television viewing was a community endeavor - you could expect half the street to be at your home for the Sunday movie.
My father got a television in 1986 - it is still at his home.
At that time people would visit other people's homes and find that they were not welcome. They were not as interesting as "Vayalum Vaazhvum". If you went to someone's house between 7:30 and 8:30PM on a Friday (Oliyum Oliyum or Chitrahaar time), you would probably have a lifelong enemy.
Now, from the safe distance of 25 years, I can see that we were going through a transition to more nuclear communities. Nothing wrong with that, but it created some tension.

The Idealistic Balu

During that time, my father was associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). It was a tumultous period, about to get more tumulty between 1989 and 1992, a period that ended in the criminal demolition of the Babri Masjid.
High ranking Tamil Nadu VHP cadre would visit our home pretty often.

There was a young VHP member named Balu stationed in Tirunelveli at that time. He was a extremely polite, nice person. His family wanted him to marry and settle down. But Balu was a nationalist. He (along with many others in the "Sangh Parivaar") had no plans to marry. He was waiting for Akhand Bharat (a future plan of the RSS in which India, Pakistan and Bangladesh will reunify and form a mighty nation of software programmers).
Balu visited our home often. He had a lot of respect for my father and mother. They tried to tell him to marry, but he was not convinced.
Then my father bought a television.
Initially we had Doordarshan, Hindi, telecast from Kodaikkaanal. Our family still maintained a rule - if a visitor came in, we were to switch off the television. The switching off was easy in 1986 - while watching the news with Rajiv Gandhi's face plastered all the time.
The next year Tamil programs started coming in from Chennai. Balu still was visiting our home, but my father had a noticeable disinterest in Akhand Bharat, or in reclaiming the Dalit-Muslims of Meenakshipuram. He was talking about avoiding "social commitments".

The Ringing of Temple Bells

Soon we left Tirunelveli. My father was slowly disengaging from VHP and RSS contacts. But the fires of communalism were burning bright across India. Apparently not everyone had bought televisions. Advani started going around in Raths, pretending to rescue Lord Ram from a 500 year old affront.

On Dec 6 1992, a couple of my classmates came to meet me at home. They wanted me to accompany them to the nearby temple; apparently there was to be a peaceful protest by ringing temple bells for the Ayodhya temple at 12 Noon.
What really happened in Ayodhya at 12 Noon was far from peaceful. That is now history. But why didn't I accompany my classmates to the temple-bell-ringing?
Because there was a new movie on the cable channel at 12 Noon.

My Grandma and the movie Gentleman

Cable television had just arrived for the Chennai middle class. Music director A.R.Rahman had also arrived on the scene. Mani Ratnam was at his peak. The Chennai film institute cameramen had just begun to kick butt.
That was the early 90s.
From that time on, my family was completely hooked on cable. There were several new channels within a couple of years. Further, we all were proud that "our" cable channels telecast even the newest movies immediately. We had no idea about piracy or copyrights. We just thought the new cable technology guys were hooked with the movie makers and all of them were telecasting arabic sub-titled Tamil movies in our television purely out of benevolence.
Time to introduce my grandmother.

My grandma was the bestest grandma in the whole wide world.
She was smart, the sanest one in the family. She was around 90 and managed most of her tasks herself - even though she was blind by then.
I had a habit of narrating world events (she was completely briefed on the First Gulf War). I kept her abreast of the progress of the Agni missile. Our only point of difference in politics was that she believed the Nehru family were royal. I tried to educate her about democracy (she had voted many times in her life). But she was very emphatic on that.
Apart from these, I also told her stories of the movies I watched. She usually did not like the stories much. She would listen to the whole thing and then say "Bad story" and walk away.
When the movie Gentleman was released, we all went bravely to Vetri theater, Chromepet; fought in the crowd; got tickets; and watched the debut of director Shankar. As you all probably know, that movie cannot be "seen with family". It had too much eroticism, and was not subtle. But the movie is very, very fast. It is just spectacular.
I came home and narrated the story (editing out the nasty parts) to my grandma. Surprisingly, she liked the story. She had a lot of sympathy for "Kicha" as the lead character was called. She also understood that the very rhythmic song "Ottakatha Kattikko" was from this movie.
Within a few days the cable company announced they will be telecasting Gentleman that Sunday afternoon.
Sunday afternoon, I asked my father and mother and brother to sit together and watch the movie. This rarely happens; we all usually end up fighting. But that day we were all ready and it seemed that we could watch the movie without beating each other up.

The doorbell chimed at 12 Noon.
It was Balu.
Balu who? Yes, the same Balu who was the tireless worker for VHP, whom we last met running around Tirunelveli.
After five years, Balu had finally gotten married. But he was still passionate, I think. He had brought along his new wife to meet his ideal family.
Unfortunately the television was on. And Arjun was beating up people in it.
We all sat down. The conversation was mostly one-sided. Nobody switched off the TV.
Balu kept talking and we all kept watching television.
I think he was slightly disillusioned. His wife fidgeted in her seat. Surely, Balu must have thought, there must be some remnant of that old dignified family.
Then "Ottakatha Kattikko" started. There was commotion in one of the inner rooms. The door slammed open and my grandma came feeling her way to the living room.
She said, "Is it Gentleman?"
I said, "Yes, Grandma"
"Oh, that poor Kicha. He tries so hard, but the police is after him", said Grandma.
And then she started keeping time for "Ottakatha Kattikko".

Balu left and we never heard from him again.

It makes you wonder - If everyone in the country had cable television in 1992, that old Masjid may still be standing.


Geek said...

Came across this blog for the first time. Great post! You have an impeccable sense of humor. "India, Pakistan and Bangladesh will reunify and form a mighty nation of software programmers." lol :)

Incidentally, I was reading Ramchandra Guha's "India after Gandhi", he points out that "Ramayan", arguably the most popular TV serial of all time, was broadcast in the late eighties, and it is a funny coincidence that the Ramjanmabhumi movement gained momentum during exactly the same period. So you can also ask the opposite question: Did the advent of TV bolstered the support base of the movement?

Best Wishes :)

Ramiah Ariya said...

Geek, thanks.
During the time of "Ramayan" telecast, there was only one choice on television. But when cable came, it meant Ramayan had to share space with "Gentleman". Who do you think won that game?