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Friday, February 16, 2001

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Does cinema reflect literature?

SAHITYA AKADEMI, in collaboration with Sri Sankaradas Swamigal School of Performing Arts, Pondicherry University conducted a three-day seminar in Pondicherry on ``Film and Literature''. Participants analysed the interaction between the two with particular reference to the Tamil context. A good number of writers and artistes from the film industry took part. A broad spectrum of issues related to film and literature were discussed.

Delivering the keynote address, writer Jayakanthan, who has the distinction of having adroitly adopted his own writings for his films, said that before the arrival of cinema we responded to life in a different fashion and our literature had certain features which appeared to anticipate the visual medium. When Kamban, while describing Rama said, ``Thol Kandar Thole Kandar'' he was resorting to a technique later labelled as close-up. His caution that writers should not allow themselves to be engulfed by the power of cinema but be influenced by cinema, triggered an intense debate.

Dr. K. A. Gunasekaran, Head of the Department of Performing Arts, Sankaradas School, Pondicherry, firmly asserted that cinema inherited the language of literature in its formative years and also derived its contents from it. Their interdependence, though mutual, could not be construed at a literal level, he noted. Novelist Neela Padmanabhan, who had written the Tamil dialogue for G. Aravindan's bi-lingual film, `Chidambaram', said that Tamil films had not successfully adopted the novels. Had literarture made any contribution to our films? It was a viewpoint shared also by TV News Editor Malan.

But there was surely another side to the coin. Film Director, Gnana Rajasekaran, lamented that films made on literary works could not elicit critical support from the literary fraternity. Film Director Balu Mahendra contended that if a film was made on a written work the demands of the film medium should be squarely met and literature be relegated as mere matter. Surprisingly there was consensus on that and similar points, from writers who were often considered intransigent. V. Senapathy, Director, Doordarshan Kendra, Chennai, who chaired a session on `Ideology of Cinema' observed that cinema used various arts and it was the creature responsibility to make optimum use.

Venkat Swaminathan, literary critic noted that Tamil cinema was tamed,never showed any rebellion. Even Bharatiyar's songs were featured in films only later and not in the 1930s when the risk of attracting the wrath of the British rulers was greater. A Makx lashed out that films that came from Dravidian Movement blunted their critique of society and favoured status quo values. S. Theodore Baskaran, film historian, enumerated the problems faced by him in collecting material.

Since film was thought of purely as a medium of entertainment there was no official documentation. All the Tamil films of the silent era, save a solitary feature called `Marthandavarman', made in 1931 were lost. Besides films were burnt for the saleable silver they contained. He also clarified that the film `Thyagabhoomi' (1939) was not banned on release as was widely believed but only later in 1944.

Music Director Ilaiyaraja gave the valedictory address and seeing the large number of students in the throng he chose to talk shop once too often. Going down memory lane he said that in the beginning he could not hand out the notes to the orchestra and became the butt of their ridicule but later when he became experienced his notes could not be played by them easily. There were instances when music concealed the flaws latent in the execution of the film.

While the director gave the situation the music director called the appropriate tune. By way of demonstration he showed how dialogue could be used as a counterpoint in the background music of the film. There were seven sessions in all and not all of them strictly confined to issues inter-related to the twin media. Film-related issues got the better of the focus as status of women in cinema, documentary films and portrayal of songs were discussed. Strangely the influence of film on literature was never touched.


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