In search of an answer

Print edition : October 28, 2000

FOR Gnana Rajasekaran, a senior Indian Administrative Service officer belonging to the Kerala cadre, who took special permission from the government and took leave to make Bharati, cinema has been a passion for long. He says that he has seen all T amil films released from 1965 to 1977, during which period he grew up from a Class VI student to a post-graduate in Physics. He spent a brief while in the Chennai Film Institute as a student.


Bharati is Rajasekaran's third feature film. The first, Mogha Mul (1994), based on a novel of the same title by T. Janakiraman, won for him the national award for the best first film of a director. His second film was Mugham, made in 1999. His short film Oru Kann, Oru Parvai (1998), based on the incident of a Dalit girl child in a Salem school being beaten by her teacher and being injured in the eye for drinking water in a tumbler meant for upper-caste pupils (Frontline, September 8, 1995) was selected for the Indian Panorama in 1999.

Rajasekaran is interested in theatre also. He has penned three plays, "Vayiru", "Marabu" and "Paataliputram". "Vayiru" won an all-India award. Yaanai, Kuthirai, Ottagam is a novel written by him.

Asked what prompted him to make a film on Bharati's life, Rajasekaran told Frontline that he had for long been an admirer of Bharati. At a function in a school in Thrissur, where he was Collector six years ago, a boy who heard his lecture on Bhara ti asked him why he had not thought of making a movie on such a fascinating subject. That made him think about it, and the film is the result of study and research on the poet for about five years. He had discussions with R.A. Padmanabhan, a Bharati biog rapher, novelist Rajam Krishnan, who had also researched Bharati's life and works, and others. He said Bharati was an "international" subject Tamil Nadu could offer to the world. Although Bharati was born in Tamil Nadu, his life and works could not be re duced to mere Tamil-specific or region-specific subjects, he said.

First Rajasekaran decided not to make a full-length biographical film on Bharati since authentic details were not available on all facets of his life. It was quite a task for him to evolve a story-line. It clicked when he read details about Bharati's las t days - the information that only 14 persons attended the funeral of the great patriot-poet, whose songs inspired thousands of Tamils even during his life-time, disturbed him. He wanted to find out how such a great person could have become unpopular. Hi s quest for the reason formed the thread of the theme. He found that many of Bharati's ideas, particularly those on religion and the caste system, were far ahead of his times and were unacceptable to people around him. ("Bharati was real fire; they could carry fire in their hands for some time but not always; they had to drop it at some point and they dropped it."). "It is really surprising that even in 1900 Bharati articulated views on social issues, particularly gender-related problems, considered modern in 2000," Rajasekaran said. As a poet he was a dreamer, but he did not persist with his dreams, though they were honest ones. His strong views against rituals and casteist oppression and for women's rights developed into an obsession. He tried to pra ctise what he preached at least at the personal and family levels. It was this that alienated him from even his near ones, who had great affection for him. It is here that he differed from most other political activists of those days. "It is only when Bh arati as an angry young man touched what others feared to, he was in for disappointment and dejection, and he became unpopular," Rajasekaran said. Viewed even from the contemporary background in a society ridden with casteist oppression and caste-related conflicts 50 years after Independence, the reason appeared plausible. And this makes Bharati the poet and Bharati the film relevant to modern society.

To the critics who say that the film is uni-dimensional, overemphasising his passion for social equality at the cost of his contribution to other fields such as literature, nationalism and spiritualism, Rajasekaran's reply was that his intention was not to cover the entire range of Bharati's biography. Yet he had given adequate representation to all the facets of the poet's life, either through visuals or through dialogues and songs. The film, he said, had shown how a young poet evolved into a great per son (mahapurushan), although he could not claim that the film was free from flaws. He wanted the film to be seen and appreciated by even those who knew little about Bharati and his works.

Asked why he chose a Marathi actor (Sayaji Shinde) to do the role of Bharati, Rajasekaran said: "I was keen that the viewers should see only Bharati in the character, not any popular actor with his all-too-well-known mannerisms."

Rajasekaran (45), who served as Regional Officer, Central Board of Film Certification, Chennai, from 1995 to 2000, is Secretary, Power, government of Kerala and Chairman of the Kerala State Electricity Board.

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