The Proust Questionnaire is a fortnightly feature that alternates with the Saturday interview. These questions were most famously answered by the French writer Marcel Proust, whose personality-revealing responses came to define this form of celebrity confession. This questionnaire was administered by Sudhish Kamath
Singeetham Srinivasa Rao, born in 1931, is a two-time national award-winning veteran filmmaker of over 60 films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi and English. His collaborations with Kamal Haasan (Raaja Paarvai, Pushpak, Apoorva Sahodarargal, Michael Madana Kama Rajan, Magalir Mattum, Kadhala Kadhala, and Mumbai Express) have often met with both commercial and critical success
What is your idea of happiness?
Happiness is a tricky word. It is not an undefined, gelatinous feeling. It is not a reaction to an overall situation like ‘a happy family’ or ‘a happy job’. For me, happiness is practical and precise. It is concerned with every single moment of the present, say, when a person gets a rug in winter, a fan in summer.
What is your greatest fear?
An unexpected power failure at midnight. Sound sleep is the best part of life. No ego clashes, no scheming thoughts. It is fearful to think of a sleepless night.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I think I am perfect. If I could change, I probably would ask people what is wrong with me.
If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
My family loves me, adores me so much that they are all convinced I am ideal. I never wish a change in them.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Not having a single enemy. I don’t think there is any one unhappy to meet me or receive me.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
Undoubtedly, it will be myself again. I don’t think God is that creative to get such a drastic change.
If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
A movie camera. That way I can say nobody can make a movie without me.
What is your idea of misery?
An inability to laugh. An ugly serious demeanour, an irritating lofty smallness, a scholarly lifelessness, and no smiles at all. That is real misery.
Where would you like to live?
Home. It is so soothing. I feel the comfort of a child in the mother’s lap.
What is your favourite occupation?
Movie script discussion sessions, which is different from my writing script alone at home. There will be absurd inventions, intense arguments, heated exchanges, intermittent jokes, illogical scenes, tea breaks, criticising others, praising ourselves…
What is your most marked characteristic?
Trying to see humour in algebra. When someone is shouting at me in anger, I enjoy the way his eyebrows go up. When I fail, I laugh at my stupidity.
What is the quality you most like in the opposite sex?
Fighting for dignity. For ages, paintings of female nudes have been applauded, acclaimed and hailed as masterpieces. One is supposed to accept that a female is an ideal subject to be reproduced in oils. But the male? Oh, no! Even today, commercials insist that pressure cookers and detergent powders are for women and automobiles for men. Despite all this, the woman still smiles.
What do you most appreciate in your friends?
Their ingenuity in trying to pull my leg. Even after 60 years, when we meet, they exhibit the same spirit of irresponsibility, same jokes, pulling each others’ leg, same unalloyed laughter.
Who are your favourite authors?
Vemana, the Telugu poet, Mark Twain and P.G. Wodehouse. No one has expressed the truths of everyday life better than Vemana. I was introduced to Mark Twain by an American missionary when I was eight. It was Tom Sawyer. From then on, he has been my idol. P.G. Wodehouse can never be outdated. He is ever refreshing.
Who is your favourite hero of fiction?
He is the ultimate hero. Youthful, energetic, helping the downtrodden, punishing the unscrupulous rich, breaking the much-abused law just to make the spirit of law work — that great outlaw Robin Hood.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Of course, my grandchildren. They do what the heroes are supposed to do — give me hope, excite me to wonder, make me laugh, touch me with their honesty, engage me, entertain me, enlighten me.
What are your favourite names?
It is the one name that I have uttered the maximum number of times over the last 50-odd years — my wife’s name Kalyani.
What is your present state of mind?
Blissful. Never fretting about the past. Never apprehensive about the future. Treating the present as a great joke.
How would you like to die?
Say ‘Start camera’ on my hundredth birthday and refuse to say ‘cut’.
What is your favourite motto?
Always avoid the beaten track.