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The fool fades into hero

The endearing clown is fighting a losing battle in all genres of art, observes PRAKASH BELAWADI on All Fools' Day

THE HERO gets the girl and the goodies at the end of the happy story, but what happens to the hero's chamcha — the clown, the joker, the fool that follows his lord into the wilderness and adventure? At the happy end, the hero does not need the fool. He cannot afford him. At the tragic end, the hero is left with only the fool... indeed becomes the fool, usurping the clown's only possession: his foolishness.

We have all known them in school, at work and among our relatives. They are always outside our scheme of the world, the heroic failures, without ambition but trying the implausible, making the odd move, saying that funny thing. He trembles for us when we are afraid, he fumbles for us in front of authority, he slobbers for us and takes the slap from the pretty girl.

It is seldom that the fool emerges so solidly the Wise One as in Akbar's Birbal and Krishnadevaraya's Tenali Ramakrishna. The essential characteristics are there though: he has the confidence and affection of the protagonist. He lives to please the king, never challenges him for power. He expresses no yearning, no pain, no goals. Almost.

But the fool plays truer when he weeps in secret. In Girish Karnad's Tughlaq, Aazam follows Azeez on his ambitious path, but does not share the grand vision. A thief, but he does not care for great wealth; he profanes, but grieves over the killing of a holy man, however wretched his holiness; he groans when a stranger is in pain. He is afraid. When Azeez must kill him, inevitably.

The fool must die or fade away. The vidushakas as Johnny Levers, Senthils and Goundamanis of cinema cannot win for that will rob the hero of his glory. The circus in the clown must fall, clumsily, yelping and jumping in affected pain, because he helps us sublimate with laughter our own pain of ordinariness and awe of the great trapeze artiste.

Allegory of the weak

In Karnad's literature and cinema, the fool, as in western tradition, keeps re-emerging as an allegory of the weak, the voiceless, the `twisted-ness' of the world. In his award-winning film Ondaanondu Kaaladalli, modelled on Kurosawa's great work, the village clown, played to perfection by V. Ramamurthy, has spectacular outbursts of bravado, to parody the violent heroism of the feuding clans. In his film Utsav, Shakaara, in a twist to Shudraka's Mricchakatika, returns to Vasantasena. She receives him, for they are both outsiders — the prostitute and vanquished, fools and losers. In Kambar's Tukrana Kanasu, adapted from Lu Hsun's The True Story of Ah Q, the fool imagines himself as maker of history, a parody of all claims of posterity, which always leaves out most to preserve a few.

That then is the key condition of the fool. He is the outsider. He is the trusted and loyal friend of the protagonist when he is fighting from the outside. He is closest to the hero in defeat; he has to be abandoned in victory. The fool cannot belong, because if he did, he becomes one of us and we cannot be.

The comic can become the clown only when violence, physically or verbally is done to him. The clown that does not fall, bump or stumble is not a clown. If the last brick does not drop on Hardy when he looks up, if the fat man did not slip on the banana peel, if the poor worker did not get swallowed by the machinery, we cannot laugh away our fears and pain.

But sadly, in a strange paradox of plotting, the fool has begun to win. With the death of tragedy, the hero cannot now become the fool. King Lear cannot be staged anymore. The fool is now becoming the hero. So, when the fool does win, he must stop being foolish. This constitutes the main plot line for films starring comic heroes — Govinda in Gambler, Amitabh Bachchan in Don, Rajnikanth in Annamalai. In Jaggesh's films, he clowns around in the first part as the jester, the village idiot, the naive and the innocent. No ambition, no power, no grace; he makes funny noises, says funny things, makes funny gestures. In the second part, he becomes the hero as the city slicker, the disco dancer, the brave.

Death of tragedy

The death of tragedy has also meant the disappearance of the fool. Rachya in G.B. Joshi's Kadadida Neeru, the characters in the absurd plays of Chandrashekhara Patil and P. Lankesh, the village fool in Lean's Ryan's Daughter are yielding to comic heroes and ever more comic villains. Lokanath in one memorable scene of Siddalingaiah's Boothayyana Maga Ayyu raids the house of Ayyu along with angry villagers. While they loot the house, Lokanath sneaks into the kitchen to grab a jar of pickle and begins to eat it, ravenously, a grotesque parody of violence of villagers. But Tennis Krishna parodies nothing but himself, because they don't write scenes like that anymore. If the scene is there, the hero takes it. When Mehmood plays the nadaswaram with tears rolling down his cheeks in the last shot of Padosan, he steals the show. In the family photo at the end of Gol Maal, Utpal Dutt signs of a great performance with his moustache shaved off. The star culture today wouldn't permit that. In the end, the hero gets the trophy; that's it.

The tradition of great comedians of cinema has already seen its end with Hollywood. There is no Chaplin to make the poor and oppressed bear their pain with laughter. There is no Laurel and Hardy to make losers tolerate their helplessness when declared incompetent. In Indian mainstream cinema, it could be said the Johnny Levers and Senthils are fighting a losing battle. In the theatre, Cho Ramaswamy on the Tamil stage or Master Hirannaiah on the Kannada stage do not see challengers among the young. The art of the comic on stage is dying. The grotesque, a necessary condition for the clown, if finding expression ironically in the new hero and heroine — twisted, violent and vulgar.

But we need to laugh at ourselves. And life will find a way. The biggest draws in the entertainment industry in Karnataka are the Hasyotsavas. They are two or three-day events, with thousands in attendance, when poets, wits and actors regale humour-hungry audiences with anecdotes, parodies, farcical mime and skits. The Hero would naturally want to takeover the stage, but at a Hasyotsava there is only one fool in the conventional sense: The man who wants to be Hero.

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