Monthly Archives: November 2014

Personalities: S.P. Balasubramanyam

The most famous playback singer in Andhra history, S.P. Balasubramanyam is a state and national treasure.

Famous throughout India and among Indians around the world, the Nellore native is a peerlessly prolific song-artist and a prodigious talent. Indeed, the sweetness of his deep voice is matched only by the sweetness of his mother tongue Telugu, which he loves.

Background

Sripathi Panditaradyula Balasubramanyam was born in Konetammapeta village, Nellore district in 1946. The son of a Harikatha artist, S.P. Sambamurthy, he hails from a musical family. His elder sister Sailaja is also an accomplished playback singer, and both were known to serenade their hometown with their innate musical abilities.

While he had been singing since childhood, he was not classically trained, and therefore attained recognition through his raw talent and practice. Ironically, the man who would virtually monopolize playback singing for decades initially studied to be an engineer. His first big break came after he entered a Chennai talent contest as a fluke and was later selected to sing for a Telugu film.

Achievements

Gaana Gandharva S.P. Balasubramanyam

A recognized exemplar in not only Tollywood, but in all the various Indian industries on both sides of the Vindhyas, he made a huge splash in Hindi films throughout the 90s. In the heyday of Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aap Ke Hai Kaun, he was Salman Khan’s “romantic voice”. Balu was most recently recorded again in Hindi, for Chennai Express, after a gap of 15 years.

Perhaps his most recognizable—and most scintillating—performance was in the 1979 classic film Sankarabharanam.

Instantly recognizable, SP gaaru’s voice has graced cinema throughout the country. While his first and widest impact was made in Telugu, his praises are sung in Tamil and Hindi to this day. Indeed, he has been referred to as the “Gaana Gandharva” for his ubiquity and unique voice in Indian playback singing.  Having dominated Telugu cinematic singing for 30 years, he is closely associated with Chiranjeevi songs as well as Kamal Haasan hits (in Telugu and Tamil). Moreover, mention memorable Hindi films since the late 80s, and instantly veritable anthologies of SPB songs will come to mind.

He sang maximum songs for Salman Khan in the early 90s, famously being the “Voice of Sallu” in such touchstone hit films as Saajan.

Aside from his glorious reign as playback king of the 90s, Balasubramanyam gaaru is also a noted, self-taught composer. He scored music for over 50 films throughout the South. Appropriately, for the son of a Harikatha artist, SPB is also an accomplished cinema artiste, having acted in 65 films (Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada).

He was recognized by the Guinness World Book of Records for recording the highest number of songs (over 40,000) as well as most songs recorded in a day (21 for Kannada). SP has sung in a plethora of languages including Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Hindi, Tulu, Oriya, Assamese, Badaga, Sanskrit, English, Konkani, Bengali, Marathi and Punjabi. His facility with singing in so many bhashas comes from his willingness to take an interest to learn and respect each one in which he sings. He won the national award for Playback singing 6 times, and is the only one to have won the award in four languages.

For his contributions to Music, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Potti Sriramulu University, as well as the Padma Sri in 2001 and the Padma Bhushan in 2011 by the Government of India.

Legacy

 I had the opportunity to sing songs in different languages…you should love and respect the language to be able to sing with the right emotions

While the age of ballads may have passed, S.P. Balasubramanyam is a balladeer par excellence. His unmatched voice and genuine love for music (and each language he sings in) comes across in every performance. To produce so prolifically, perform so skillfully, and emote so sincerely is a rare thing in music, as is such natural talent.

His signal effort in preserving the cherished tradition of Sangeeta among middle class Andhras cannot be overplayed. From Super Singer to Padutha Theeyaga (Sing Sweetly), Telugus from around the world (and in both Telugu states) have been inspired to take up the mantle he has worn for so long.

What ultimately stands out about SP gaaru, is his love of our music and virtuouso abilities without prior technical training in classical Indian music. While it is this very love that ultimately drove him to formally learn Carnatic, his experience demonstrates the importance of society properly cultivating such abilities early on through widespread instruction in classical music.

That he was able to rise in both the Telugu and Hindi film Industries on sheer talent and grit is testament to his singing ability. The mark he has made trenchantly shows not only in Hyderabad, and Chennai, but Mumbai as well when he recently returned to singing in Hindi films with 2013’s Blockbuster Chennai Express.

If Balamurali Krishna is the “voice of the heavens”, then Balasubramanyam is the “voice of the people”. While the former is classically trained in the Carnatic school and a paragon of High Culture, S.P. Balasubramanyam is a virtual virtuoso of Pop Culture talent. He is without a doubt the most prolific vocalist in all of Indian cinema, and has a peerlessly masculine metha thanam (sweetness) in his voice that is recognizable all over the country.

He is inarguably Andhra’s greatest and one of India’s greatest playback singers.

References:

  1. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004416/
  2. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/telugu-will-thrive-forever-says-balu/article1695807.ece
  3. http://www.indicine.com/name/s-p-balasubramaniam/c
  4. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/regional/tamil/news-interviews/Wish-singer-SPB-on-his-birthday-today/articleshow/20423902.cms?referral=PM
  5. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/article595994.ece
  6. http://www.etvpt.com/Host.aspx
  7. http://www.indiansingers.net/spbalasubrahmanyam.htm
  8. http://www.deccanherald.com/content/201139/of-soulful-strains.html

[Reprint Post] Family Relations – Where Children Stand

 The following post is published courtesy of Chandra garu, who kindly gave permission to reprint a version of his article originally posted on July 24, 2013


And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgement.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are most select and generous in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!

 

Polonius’ advice to his son forms part of the tragedy of “Hamlet“, one of the greatest plays from the immortal Shakespeare. Shakespeare is an avid reader of human psychology, more so the human weaknesses. And his writings applied then, apply now and will apply for the thousands of years to come.

 

In my previous blog I dealt with the kinks that develop in Indian traditional families with the uncompromising attitude of elders. Here we are to see how children too play a cankerous role to propel the internecine squabbles in families and act as catalysts to the existing ones.

 

That Indians, by culture and nature give prominence to family to individual growth is an accepted fact. Hence, the attachment of children to parents and vice versa is a fait accompli. The advice of Shakespeare through the character of Polonius is apt to discuss the role of children in the society and family.
Elders in India have a vice like grip on the lives their grown up children. They wish the children to act or behave as per their wish. It might be advice or a diktat. Children have a responsibility to separate  milk from water and act like Swans.

By the time a son understands what his father or mother said, he will have a son to question his thoughts (sic.). Sons and daughter have a responsibility to respect views of the elders, at the same time not falling into the trap of sentimentalism to the extent of not having their own views. We can analyze this with what Shakespeare said centuries back.

Do not give vent your thoughts overtly, nor put into action your covert thoughts. Circumspection is needed about voicing your thoughts and acting on them. This applies universally. Make friends after trying their adaptability to your tastes and purse. Make such, your bosom friends, but never entertain lavishly on any new found friend. Never pick up quarrel but once you are in it, never back out. Famous Telugu poet Vemana wrote this part Centuries prior to Shakespeare thus:

పట్టుపట్టరాదు పట్టివిడువరాదు
పట్టెనేని బిగియ పట్టవలయు
పట్టువిడుటకన్నా పడిచచ్చుటేమేలు
విశ్వదాభిరామ వినుర వేమ!

Take never a stance that’s too rigid,
Stand once taken never turn livid,
Once held tight never lose your hold,
Better be wasted than loosen your attitude.

“Take each man’s criticism in the right spirit but decide for yourself whether his censure is right or wrong. Hear each; never preach. Never spend beyond your means nor look too luxurious in your habits. Never borrow nor lend, as when you lend you might lose money as well as friendship. If you borrow beyond means it ruins you. Finally, if you are true to yourself, you will be true to all. This dictum follows Nature’s course as night is followed by day.”

 

Many traditional families are in tatters due to the uncompromising attitude of either the elders or the children. To advise a son to be thrifty is not wrong, but to meddle in their affairs is beyond the domain of elders. Likewise, children too should understand the raison de’etre behind the advice and manage their affairs within means.

Parents in India look to children for support during old age, as in a country as over populated as India, it is not possible for Seniors to get social security. Children should understand this and that a day will be evening for them too before they go into the night. As age grows, elders behave like children sans everything and this is the time children should respond to their needs as they do with toddlers.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBU7n_wAdKc

 

తల్లితండ్రులందు దయలేని పుత్రుండు
పుట్టనేమి? వాడు గిట్టనేమి?
పుట్టలోని చెదలు పుట్టదా గిట్టదా
విశ్వదాభిరామ వినుర వేమ! 15

An unsympathetic son,
A nest-full of vermin,
What if they are born,
For parents aren’t they barren?

This is how Vemana described an unkind son towards parents. Instances are not lacking where parents who spent all their life’s earnings on children begging for alms while children enjoy not only their blood, but also the richness acquired through sacrifice of their blood.

The number of years a human lives on earth is predestined and no one should curse the other for living so many years. I have seen a son grieving their father is living even after he attained superannuation. “When shall I enjoy my life?”, he asks. This question is likely to be repeated few years hence.

It is time we adapt our cultural values in relation to family relations, and both elders and children adapt to the changing societal equation, the globalization of thoughts and economy, the trials and tribulations of the day to day life and other aspects, leaving aside sentiments that despoil our family peace.

When the Ocean of Milk was churned by the angels and demons, both Nectar and poison oozed out. How we enjoy the Nectar and how swallow the poison is left to our conscience without hurting ourselves when we churn the Ocean called Family, with both the angels and demons in our inner thoughts fighting with each other always.


You can follow  Chandra garu on his blog here and on Twitter here.

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Andhra Cultural Portal.

Classical Indic Literature I: Literary Theory

At long last, we touch on Literature proper here at the Andhra Cultural Portal.

The importance and impact of this aspect of Indian Civilization and Andhra Culture cannot be minimized. After all, the stories, heroes & heroines, great romances, beautiful places, and wondrous accomplishments of yore are all preserved in and passed on via the literature of a people.  It is this, the documentation of the sum total of a civilization’s life, society, and above all, values that connects the young with the old, and for those yearning for star-crossed sringara, connects lover with lover as well. However, to properly appreciate the nuances of a sophisticated culture’s Literary Accomplishments, one must first understand the structural theory it is founded upon.

Those of you following us on Twitter may have seen our recent tweets about videos and articles educating layreaders on the logic and principles of Classical Indian Music and Artistic systems. In that light we continue today with the first in a series on Classical Indic Literature: Literary Theory.

Intro to Classical Indic Literature

Scene from the Kurukshetra in the World’s Longest Epic Poem: Mahabharata

India’s Classical Literature Traditions indubitably begins with its unmatched Sanskrit Literary Heritage. By some counts of Indologists, there are some 30 million Sanskrit Texts on various subjects: some political, some religious, some scientific, some literary, some romantic, some historical, and many not even properly catalogued.

In the recent past, the study of Sanskrit has been highly and unfairly politicized. It was not just the language of Brahmins nor was it limited only to Vedic rite. In fact, Sanskrit was the language of high culture, and the speech of the elite and refined. Although most of the credentialed-but-ignorant think its poetry was merely limited to the epic Ramayana and Mahabharata; the reality, however, is that there is a galaxy of romantic poetry and comedic prose in this most elegant of tongues. Poets and Dramatists ran the spectrum and included such literary jewels as Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Bhasa, and Dandin. Poems such as Meghadootam and Uttaramacarita captivated our forbears with their sentiments of passionate love. Plays such as AbhignanaSakuntala (Recognition of Sakuntala) and Malavikagnimitra (The Romance of Malavika & Agnimitra)made their heroic and comedic marks as far as Germany and beyond, with the former even developed into an Opera during the Enlightenment era.

Tragically, due to the vicissitudes of history and the travesty of politics, Classical Indic Literature was neglected, much like the Classical Indian Education. Therefore, to properly appreciate the literary accomplishments of Ancient India, one must first be properly acquainted with its literary theory and creative logic. Much like aesthetics is taught to artists, and music theory to musicians, so to is it with the civilized written word.

While our tradition maintains that Dharmic Civilization’s musical and theatrical canons originate with the Saama Veda (the fourth of the Vedas–the other three being the Rig, Yajur, and Atharva), India’s first great treatise specifically on these canons is the Natya Sastra of Sage Bharata.

Classical Indic Literary Theory

Natyasastra of Bharata Muni in Four Volumes

Classical Indic Literary Theory was highly developed, with a host of treatises expounding its structure and a constellation of commentaries applying its critical theory. Works such as Ghantapatha (commentary on Kiratarjuneeya) and Saahithyadarpana  along with names such as Jaggaadhara, Bhaamaha (a rhetorician), and Andhra’s own Mallinatha respectively provide expository on detailed structural theory and incisive analysis. Unlike today, many of these critics and commentators were successful litterateurs in their own right.

The origin of Classical Indian literary theory is traced to the Sanskrit treatise of Rishi Bharata, Natya Sastra. Natya translates to the performance arts (histrionics). Conservatively dated to 200 B.C.E, but very likely much earlier,”[i]ts comprehensive treatment of artistic experience, expression and communication, content and form emerges from an integral vision which flowers as a many-branched tree of all the Indian arts”.

This mighty work runs the gamut from literature, music, and dance to painting, sculpture, and architecture. While a discussion of this seminal opus of genius could take a series of blog posts or a book itself, the relevant aspect for our post today is the originality of Bharata Muni’s rasa theory, and its pervasiveness in not only dance and music, but literature as well.

The Rasa

Nava Rasa: The Nine Emotions of Natya

Rasa theory is the outstanding contribution of Classical India to World music, dance, and above all literature. This sentiment is the lasting impression or feeling of the author that he/she aims to impress upon the audience. These are nine in number (hence the term Nava Rasa): Sringara (Romantic), Veerya (Heroic), Haasya (Comedic), Karuna (Pathos), Raudra (Furious), Bhayaanika (Frightful), Bibhatsa (Loathsome), Adhbuta (Marvelous), and finally Shaantha (Calming).

The Sthayibhaava is the leitmotif or permanent sentiment of a composition. There are generally eight in number, based on eight of the nine rasas. They are as follows: rati (erotic), haasa (comic), shoka (sorrowful), krodha(angering), utsaha (enlivening), bhaya (frightening), jugupsa (disgusting), and vismaya (amazing). A ninth, sama (tranquility), is associated with Shaantha

Bhaava is the complete affecting of the heart by any emotion. Vibhaava is the Excitant which builds up the main sentiment and is divided into Aalambana, the subject (i.e. hero, heroine) of the Rasa  and Uddeepana or the object that excites (i.e. the moon, beauty, seasons, etc). Anubhaava means the Ensuant. This is the “outward manifestation of internal feelings, through the eyes, face, etc.”

There are other literary elements such as metre (chandah); however, such an expository on the Natya Sastra is best dealt with another day, the present focus being literary theory in general.

Dramatics

A Drama on Political Intrigue

The Literary structure of Classical India chiefly aggregates into Dramatics and Poetics.

Literature (saahithya) in Sanskrit has typically been divided into drusya (what can be seen or exhibited on stage) and sravya (what can only be heard or read).

Dramatics falls into the first category. Nataka is the word for a play, while rupaka is the term applied to dramatic compositions. Minor or short dramas, such as the Ratnavali of Sri Harsa Deva (Emperor Harsha Vardhana of Kanyakubjya (Kannauj)), are called Natikas. While there are 17 other classes, they needn’t be examined for our purposes.

The 3 main aspects of a Rupaka are (1) The Plot (Vasthu) (2) The Hero (Neta) (3) The Sentiment (Rasa). There are two main kinds of Vasthu: Principal (Adhikaarika ) and Accessory (Prasangika ). The Principal Plot is that which concerns the main characters of the piece and the central storyline. The Accessory Plot is that which deals with the supporting characters, and may in fact further the Principal Plot. There are two kinds of Prasangikas: Pataka and Prakari. The Pataka (meaning : “Banner”) “is an episode by which the progress of the plot is illustrated, furthered or hindered”. This further piques the audience’s interest in the story. It frequently spans the entire play to the very end. In contrast, the Prakari is only a short and minor episode of limited importance. The principal characters do not play any role here.

The other main plot devices in the classical Indic drama are the bija (seed), bindu (drop), and karya (the final issue or object of the plot). Together with the above two, these five dramatic constructs are called ArthaprakritisVasthus may borrow from history (Natakas) or may be wholly or partly fictitious (Prakarana).

The five stages of a play are called Avastha (conditions): (1) Aarambha(Beginning) (2) Yatna (Efforts ) (3) Praaptyaasa (Prospects of Success) (4)  Nityataapti (Obstacle Removal) and  (5) Phalaagama ( Attainment of Object). Links to connect them and other parts of the main action are called Samdhis, of which there are five kinds (mukha, pratimukha, garbha, avamarsa, and nirvahana). Mukha is where the seed is sown (including the various rasas), pratimukha is where the chief end is revealed, the garbha establishes the attainment or non-attainment of the object, avarmarsa is where the seeds attain growth and the attainment sprouts, and finally, the nirvahana is the consummation of the all of the preceding, in the story’s denouement.

The Hero of the Play (Neta) is expected to be “modest, decorous, comely, munificent, civil, of sweet address, eloquent, [and]…from a noble family” or a ministerial family. There are four kinds of hero: Dhirodaatta, Dhiralalita, Dhirashaantha, and most importantly, the Dhirodatta.

The Dhirodatta  is the hero of sublime qualities. He is known for his magnanimity, patience, modesty, self-possession, resolve, concealed high spirit, valor, and keeping of promises.

Heroic Rama defeating Ravana

Rama is the best example of this as well as Veerya rasa (heroism/manliness). This quality of his is best seen in the drama Mahaviracarita by Bhavabhuti. Rama’s romantic (sringara) qualities are highlighted in the same dramatist’s follow up work, Uttararamacarita.

The Hero’s principal assistants are the Peetamarda (key figure in the accessory plot/episodes), who is clever in speech, loyal to the Neta, and only slightly lesser to him in his manly qualities. Next is the famous Vidusaka, or comic relief. He is known for his wit and for assisting the hero in his romances. Finally, there is the Vita, who is skilled in one art (of the traditional 64).

Sita-Rama

The Nayika is the heroine, and must generally be the equal of the hero in his various virtues, as Sita is to Rama. She may be the wife of the hero, a woman who already is obligated to another, or a common woman. The helpers of the heroine are the sakhi (friend), daasi (servant), dhaatreyi (nurse or mother), and patikesika (neighbor).

The hero’s rival, or villain, is called the Pratinaayaka, and is generally “avaricious, bold, impetuous, criminal and of evil conduct”.

The Nataka is typically conducted by commencing with a benediction (svastivachana), followed by a prastaavana (prologue) introduced by the Nandi (the introductory portion which suggests the plot). All this is conducted by the Sutradhara (stage-manager). Typically divided into Scenes and Acts (which may be as many as five to ten in number), the Classical Nataka of Ancient India had long-standing rules on structure and even subject-matter. There was a historical rule against tragedies, since the rasas themselves are thought to imbue a spiritual quality in the audience. However, at least 1 play, Nagananda by Sri Harsa, is known to have broken this custom.

The most intriguing aspect of the classical drama is the diversity of languages. The aristocracy and other elites are seen conversing in Sanskrit, with the more common folk relying on various types of Prakrit for dialogue.

Poetics

 

meghdutamPoetry is divided into Prose (gadhya), Verse (padhya), and Mixed (misra). The vast majority of our classical literature has been in padhya.

Gadhya is further divided into katha and aakhyaayika. The distinction between the two is generally considered to be minimal.The modern understanding is that the aakhyaayika gives a detailed prose narration of the litterateur’s family history and background (i.e. auto-biographical), while the katha is less restricted, in short verse, and therefore, is seemingly less formal. This is because the latter is rarely divided into chapters, and there are no embedded stanzas suggestive of future events.

Aakhyaayika is also strictly narrated by the hero, which is not the case in katha. There are other distinctions as well, such as names of chapters in Aakhyaayika being called ucchvaasa, but they are not important for our discussion today. The key take away is that, according to the treatise Alamkaarasamgraha, the Aakyaayika is based on historical facts and events, whereas a katha is considered purely fictional.

We end this post with a brief sample of a famous Aakhyaayika by a famous poet and scholar of Poetics: The Dasakumaracarita of Dandin.

Dasakumaracarita

One of four known historical prose romances, the Dasakumaracarita of Dandin is a remarkable work. Literally meaning History of the Ten Princes, it is a composition of prose par excellence. The author Dandin is celebrated for his word play (pada-lalityam) in a famous sanskrit sloka (couplet).

Since the author himself will be discussed in detail another time, the work will be the object of brief focus. A truly delightful story, Dasakumaracarita has it all, from political conflict and war to action/adventure to feverish romances. It is centered around the escapades of ten princes and young ministers as they all seek to gain the necessary allies and strength to defeat their King’s enemy. It nevertheless is set in a background that gives a vivid picture of common life and is a detailed rendition of Indian Society during that period.It is divided into three parts: the Purvapithaka (Prologue), Dasakumaracarita proper, and the Uttarapithaka (Epilogue).

This piece of prose is dated to the 6th-7th centuries C.E., although tradition holds that the author was a contemporaneous rival of Kalidasa himself, which would date him to the 1st-4th centuries C.E. While Dandin is also famous for his incisive and erudite work on Poetics, it is his lyrical command of language (apparent even in translation) that truly defines him and this magnum opus of literature.

Frustratingly, due to the baggage of history, only an incomplete portion of the original text was discovered. Thus, it effectively begins in medias res and two of the ten narratives are missing/incomplete. One of the foremost scholars of Sanskrit literature, the late Moreshwar Ramchandra Kale, wrote that the Dasakumaracarita is officially classified as an Aakhyaayika, though it doesn’t appear to carry the main markers of one. Therefore, he designates it a gadhya kaavya (prose poem or prose romance). Whether or not it is based on historical events, the Dasakumaracarita gives us a panoramic view of classical Bharat.

The Ten young noblemen in the story have various run ins with kings from throughout India, including Andhra, further demonstrating Bharat’s historical civilizational unity. While it is particularly famous for making delightful and frequently scintillating reading, we will end this post with a short passage that emphasizes its wisdom more than its word-play.

Foolish, indeed, are the worldly people that place Artha (wealth) and Kama (pleasure) on an equal footing with Dharma (virtue)…To be sure, Artha and Kama cannot come into being without Dharma; but even without regard to them, Dharma alone is the creative cause of final beatitude, and is attainable only by the concentration of the mind. It does not (like Artha and Kama) much depend on external means. Supported (i.e. held up) by the knowledge of the reality, it is not affected by Artha and Kama, howsoever pursued; and, even if affected, it is set right by a little exertion, and redaicating that defect also, it conduces the highest bliss.

 

References:

  1. Kale, M.R. Dasakumaracarita of Dandin. New Delhi: MLBD. 2009
  2. Malhotra, Rajiv. Sulekha. 2002. http://creative.sulekha.com/the-axis-of-neocolonialism_103313_blog
  3. http://www.exoticindiaart.com/book/details/bharata-natyasastra-IDD947/

 

[Reprint Post] Family Relations – Changing Equations for Elders

The following post is published courtesy of Chandra garu, who kindly gave permission to reprint a version of his article originally posted on July 23, 2013


 

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

……………
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

These immortal lines from Shakespeare’s play  “As you like it” succinctly state the stages of life each mortal has to pass through life. In a subtle but candid humor, Shakespeare places the first and seventh one on the same pedestal, when the mortal is dependent on a kind nurse. The first stage is considered as a ‘favor’ from ‘Almighty’ and the seventh an ‘adversity’ imposed on the human by the Gods for all sins they committed. This very understanding or the opposite of it decides the nuances of human relations in life.
In the same play Shakespeare shares an advice to those who see adversity as a curse.

Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.

Any one who understands the philosophy behind these lines knows that the beginning and end are both the blessing of God. Then, the old too will be nursed as an infant. Old treat children as grown ups.

But world does not run on what philosophers or poets say or write. Philosophers, poets, prophets, statesmen, and ourselves are brothers under the skin, and we should avoid the mistaken notion great men are great always.(Sic.)

So, the world forms its own rules. These rules are formed sometimes to be violated by their framers and followers. Result: Lots of heart burn and tensions in the families.

The subject of these blogs is to analyse the reasons for conflicts and what best can be done to regulate family life.
There is a notion (often mistaken) that only India, rather the East, has a harmonized “family culture” whereas the Western World has its own rules when it comes to family culture. As this does not form part of our discussion, I am not touching it.

In India, family relations dominate individual interests. Commitment to family is taught more in Indian school of thought than commitment to individual growth. Hence, it is not surprising many in the younger generation feel the pressure of their own growth in a fast changing world vis a vis their commitment to family. More confounding is that we in India, love Status Quo as far as family is concerned. We want to retain our cultural values and ethos at the same time globalizing our intelligence and our earning capacity. This “as is where is” attitude of elders is bound to clash with the ambitious youth who look beyond family and grow.

Secondly, in India parents have a vice like grip on the lives of children beyond their adolescence too. They want to be part of the decision making of their children like educational pursuits, marriage, number of children they should have and in many families naming of the next generation too and if God gives long life in all decisions affecting grand children too.

In effect, they seek ownership of the lives of the children and grandchildren too, if possible. One reason for this is Indian children are not taught to be self reliant since childhood. Leave it, we do not allow them to do household chores too. We try to spoon feed them with everything including finances. And we expect a ‘quid pro quo’ from them in the form a gratitude, which is nothing but a right to influence their life style. It is not surprising if you find a mother combing the hair of a son 30 years old or a father peeking into the food habits of his son at age 40 years.

Elders decide what subject child should choose as optional, what course to pursue, what employment he should seek, which place is preferable for his job. Then comes marriage. Elders decide the type of girl a boy should choose. the type of family, the caste, the religion, the color and the money at which he can be bartered. Any revolt will be met with threats, sentimental outbursts and the “see- after- all -that- I -have -done- to- you” wailing loud enough to bring the poor boy to his knees.

It ends one phase. From then, the story takes a turn. “Why are you not migrating? See, this and that guy purchased properties here and there.” So, he migrates. His finances are remote controlled by parents from India. They decide how much he should spend or save, which property to be bought, which investment is the best. I have heard one parent wailing, “They earn 6 lakh per month but I do not know where they invest” Another proudly telling me he carries a cheque for a billion rupees in his pocket to buy property for his son.One old man who is 84, has on his finger tips what each of his sons has in their bank accounts.

It is not the end. Children are not allowed to plan holidays as per their, their spouses’ their children’s taste. They decide. Mostly to Holy places. Nothing wrong. But once in a while children should be allowed freedom. We went to Coorg in Mahindra Resorts. One family of about ten people were outside the Restaurant. The food costs Re.1200/- per head. One old man was resisting with all the force.” Why spend so much on one meal?”and he was giving examples how cheap food was at other places. Children were in tears. They came and ate finally, the old man did not. Problem there was it was the cheapest meal available there. Or they have to order to the room, a difficult proposition for the ten of the family. His son was seen telling him,” We are earning a lot. And once in life time do not spoil the spirit”. No. It was not to be. A lot of heart burn. Avoidable.

“Family isn’t something that’s supposed to be static, or set. People marry in, divorce out. They’re born, they die. It’s always evolving, turning into something else.”
― Sarah Dessen, Lock and Key

The above quote is from my first follower on Twitter. So Status Quoists! Please change your attitudes. Everything evolves, everything changes into some other thing, everything burns and is reborn like Phoenix.

Finally, a humor quote or two to end.

“Nothing like watching your relatives fight, I always say.”
― Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief

“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
― George Burns

Nota Bene: In this blog I dealt with the problem seniors pose. My next blog is how children trouble elders and solution to both problems.


You can follow  Chandra garu on his blog here and on Twitter here.

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Andhra Cultural Portal.

Cinema: Missamma

In continuing our coverage of Classic Andhra Cinema, we examine another of the all-time favorites: Missamma.

Story

A Telugu story that very much cuts across caste and creed, it is a tale of a Christian girl who falls in love with a Hindu boy, and the subsequent situational comedy that ensues. The fundamental centrality of Dharmic Indian culture is very clearly seen not only in story, but in the showcase of both classical Indian music and dance. Despite their differences in creed, neither converts, and it is the centrality of Bharatiya Samskruthi that serves as their common unifying factor–rather than foreign imposed frameworks.

But the true standout aspect of this 1955 Romantic Comedy is that the protagonist and central character is a woman, masterfully played by the original Top Actress of Tollywood: Savitri. The object of her affection is none other than the legendary NT Rama Rao himself, clearly at the peak of his powers here. Both play unemployed young, unattached graduates on the make, seeking to make a life for themselves. Due to residential circumstances–in a way that anticipates the 70s American sitcom Three’s Company, albeit, in a more traditional Indian way–they end up having to pass off her character, Mary, as Mahalakshmi–MT Rao’s wife. The ensuing hilarious hijinx results in creating one of the truly timeless classic films of Andhra, and indeed, Indian Cinema.

While the first half starts off rather slow, there are a number of memorable scenes, above all, the incisively cheeky song: Aduvaari maatalaku, ardhaaley veruley [The words of Women have different meanings]

However much feminists may outrage, it is a universal sentiment that is playfully treated in this ever-green ghaana, acted out expertly by the ever-funny Relangi.

Nevertheless, the ploddingly-paced pre-intermission portion sets up what will soon be a rapid-fire barrage of comedy that ensues in the second half. Another leading man of the era, ANR, should be particularly noted for demonstrating his range, providing much fodder of funny in the movie as seen here:

The inter-religious nature of the romance is treated with both dexterity and bathos. Indeed, while Mary is a stubbornly devout Christian, MT Rao (NTR’s character) handles this narrow-mindedness skillfully, and shows his mature acceptance of all different faiths.

While not famous for its romantic dialogues, the chemistry between Savitri and NTR’s characters has all the hallmarks of Sringara.

Production

This movie is responsible for launching one of Telugu Cinema’s greatest artistes, the actress Savitri. In what proved to be her breakout role in film, she won the hearts of audiences of what was then Madras based, South Indian Film-dom. Situational conflict worthy of Missamma itself resulted in the actress original slated to play the title character walking out, paving the way for the rising star.

The pairing of Savitri and NTR is exquisite. Savitri plays the traditional Telugu girl, easily piqued and ever-conscious of respectable reputation, while Rama Rao is teasing, witty, and aspirational in this snapshot of post-Independence Andhra. It’s very much a modern story in a modern (vs post-modern) setting, all while remaining undeniably Indian in its inspiration and essence.

Hilarity aside, at its core, Missamma is a romantic movie, in both senses of the word. There is even an heroic dream sequence to boot for our movie’s damsel in (comedic) distress.

The production team and cast were so strong, that 1957’s Maya Bazaar would retain most of them, as well as this over-arching sense of Sringara. While Akkineni, Nageshwara Rao, SV Ranga Rao, Gummadi, and Relangi are all strong supporting members, the other standout besides the leading actress herself is Jamuna. Playing what is arguably the original “bhutta-bomma” of Telugu cinema, she comes across as nothing short of a doll, in her dance and dialogue. Serving as romantic rival to Savitri, her character’s chemistry with NTR, and common religion, is cause for much jealousy on the part of Mary, which we see in the first song below. As we say in Telugu, “Nijamga Sathayinsthundhi” [She truly irritates her], and this friction between the two characters is the source of many laughs.

Songs

The paatas naturally touch on various themes in the story. Some compositions are more comedic in nature, and others more oriented towards love, but the clever-treating of the inter-religious nature of the romance is also well handled in songs such as Brindavanamadi Andaridi, Govindadu Andarivadey le [Vrindavan is for Everyone, Govinda belongs to Everyone].

Of course, songs of that bygone era almost always included the lullaby-reveries that more than any other language, Telugu does best.

Appropriately enough, the most important song in the movie is probably the least celebrated. And as a sign of the times, an all too forgotten theme is the name of the song itself : Dharmam Cheyi Babu [Do your Dharma, young man]

Again this song demonstrates how Dharma remains our timeless Indic principle that cuts across caste and creed. While in this case, it is done somewhat mockingly with the con-man sidekick, Devayya, the message is clear enough: while broadcasters may not always be genuine, it’s what is being broadcast that matters.

In a wonderful tribute to our classical high culture, the main character is seen singing one of Tygaraja‘s classic Krithis: Raaga Sudharasa

Incidentally there were several remakes, starting with the Tamil “Missiamma” below. While some (South of the Penner) may call it the first true Telugu-Tamil bilingual film due to change in cast, the prior release of the Telugu rendition as well as the Aaduvari song is what truly make the Telugu version the original (as do the very Telugu Savitri and Jamuna):

A Hindi version (“Miss Mary”) later followed (which retained Jamuna) and starred Meena Kumari in the title role, with Gemini Ganesan again playing NTR’s character.

Miss Mary, 1957

Even a TV Serial was later developed (though it appears to depart heavily from the original concept)

A Telugu remake eventually came along in 2003; however, it seems at best inspired by the original rather than a verbatim re-enactment. From the plot, it’s apparent that it was merely capitalizing on the name of the original, leaving the door open to a truly recreated Missamma for the current generation.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b7/Missamma_2003.jpg

Ultimately, Missamma is a must-watch for any aspiring aficionado of Andhra Cinema. While I’m not quite sure what the verdict was on the remakes (readers are free to opine on this), a fairly recent song inspired by the original demonstrates, as Missamma expertly did in its own time, the value of updating our culture: Keeping the spirit of tradition, while making it relevant to the times.

Cast

Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao – M. T. Rao
Savitri – Mary / Mahalakshmi
Akkineni Nageshwara Rao  – A.K. Raju
S.V. Ranga Rao – Gopalam
Relangi Venkatramaiah –Devayya
Jamuna –Sita
Rushyendramani – Gopalam’s wife
Allu Ramalingaiah –Musali Panthulu
Ramana Reddy – David
Balkrishna –Govind
Doraiswamy –Mary Pempudu thandri
Gummadi –Employer (guest role)

Language

Telugu

Remakes: Tamil & Hindi

Runtime

225 minutes

Release Date

1955

Color

Black and White

Director

L.V.Prasad

Writer

Pingali, Nagendra Rao

Producers

Chakrapani & B. Nagi Reddy

Music

Saluri, Rajeshwara Rao

Raja A.M. –playback singer
Leela P. –playback singer
Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao –playback singer
P. Susheela –playback singer
Relangi Venkatramaiah

Cinematography

Marcus Bartley

Art Direction

Madhavapeddi Gokhale

References:

  1. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0251847/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1
  2. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/missamma-1955/article6508169.ece