Rudraiah, my father

The Outsider wants to cease to be an Outsider.

He wants to be integrated as a human being, achieving a fusion between mind and heart.

He seeks vivid sense of perception.

He wants to understand the soul and its workings. He wants to get beyond the trivial.

He wants to express himself so he can better understand himself. He sees a way out via intensity, extremes of experience.

– Colin Wilson (1982)

After venturing out too far to the edge of the cliff, the man yelled back at rest of us: “I am fine here”. He refused to leave his precarious position and fiercely danced along with hostile winds mainly to uphold his right to plunge into non-being. From this interesting vantage point, he happily embraced life and told passionate stories drawing people from all walks of life. His face contorted into blissful smiles and unfettered laughter, and his audience looked visibly drenched in this exuberant show of love for them. Sometimes, to help me overcome systematized fears, he held my hands in his strong, ruddy palms to show me the steep drop to non-existence.

I grew up with a father whose persevering preoccupation with creating cinema promptly situated us in some kind of transcendental dialogue with time and reality. He often made fear-allaying gestures with his hands and returned reassuring smiles, prodding people around to continue carrying on with the habit of living. He walked plenty inside all our rental homes and through all our transient neighbourhoods in Madras. Walking was his preferred rhythm of survival as he perused through his thoughts. Passing glimpses of his moving legs as he walked past rooms evinced not just his presence as a father at home, but that there was a thinking man dwelling in our midst. I watched my beloved Nana tirelessly conduct his existential isolation with his physical and mental limbs, wrangling with the perplexing currents of society’s prescriptive pursuit of power, happiness and damnation.

Very early into childhood, I was able to gather all the life-anchoring pieces of information. Aval Appadithaan was the most central unit of our lives, and its subsequent love story and the coming-together of my parents explained my arrival on the scene. There was only one collective goal governing all our domestic operations – another film was to be made by father. The making of ‘cinema’ became the dreamy goal of our daily struggles. Sometimes, repetitive adjournments of ‘cinema’ would confuse me and I would cheaply wish myself to sleep, hoping that the morning will bring forth this film that everyone wanted so badly. It was supposed to monumentally change our lives. My father never gave up his dream, and my mother was his strongest believer, so ‘cinema’ was continually in-process at home. But growing up with a sloth-paced ‘cinema’ that was eternally due, dragged us out too long into an inescapable metaphysical relationship with the celluloid medium.

On November 18th 2014, when he died, cinema stopped forming for me. I stood in sullen silence after I hung up the phone. I had just heard my brother weep, and in the background I could hear death-delaying hospital machines announce my father’s passing through digital mono-sounds. I made a proverbial attempt to hold onto his leaving self. I wobbled through the deafening noise of my heart beat and I began a frantic mind-search. I waded through the memory of black and white film stills of a lone film’s history from a photo album. I scavenged through minimally lit scenes and shadowy frames for at least a partial silhouette of my father. I carved deep into the film’s dialogues to recall his true story. I looked for the man who casually turned his back on all arbitrary structures of reality. I was searching for the dissenter. I was searching for the outsider. I was searching for my archetype.

For a man who vehemently refused to be mythologised, death inevitably led him to get memorialised. The man and his film have now become one – memorialised into a single myth. Posthumous analyses of the man projected everyone else’s stale dejection with Tamil cinema and their yearning for the ‘what-could-have-been’. Some authors painted the phenomenon of Rudraiah as a rebel’s tragedy, and agreeably so because conventionality dictates restricted readings of “failure”. He had to be placed in a tragic narrative so that his life (now that it has ended) becomes comprehensible to others. In an alternate world of truths, however, he was a free-willed existential protagonist in the book of tragedy that played out as Tamil Nadu’s socio-political history. Much harm has been caused by the human tendency to classify and categorize, yet there is one categorization that is so close to the edge of imagination where categorization does not mean anything to this group of people – self-outlawed by logic, rationalism, and absurdism – they were the ‘outsiders’. Rudraiah was an outsider right in our midst. Non-conformity is a natural reflex for this celebrated literary prototype.

My father famously shunned the ‘artist’ label and openly voiced his disgust for cinema. He rarely watched Tamil films in theatres; on the days he surprisingly did, he never stayed beyond intermission. He loved people, not cinema. He did not love the medium as much because of how it could derogatorily influence people. For the outsider, the cinematic apparatus then opens up unimagined possibilities of relating to a meaningless life by connecting to people. Creative agency over such a powerful medium of communication offered him with a state of being that was less deceptive. With tools for cinematic reproduction, he was able navigate life’s unending sea of nothingness. So when cinema was constantly being denied to him, when he was continuously obstructed from producing authorial messages through visual language, when his own friends dislodged his career, he suffered too much pain but never gave up. All he wanted was to visually transcribe critical human stories into very engaging and accessible ‘thinking’ texts. Unfortunately, we not only stopped him from completing his works, we also did not allow him to gradually mature as a filmmaker. After Aval Appadithaan, which was his first film right after film school, when his natural creative surge was stalled by practical issues of finance and industry politics, his noncompliant responses may have been hasty but his instinct for self-preservation remained his greatest virtue till the end.

One film’s existence came to deeply shape the lives of four individuals. I am where I am now because of Aval Appadithaan. The film was not just a film. It became the superseding fictional basis for our realities. My father’s legacy obviously doesn’t rest with Aval Appdaithaan alone. It also entails tangible impressions he has left behind with all his people gathered along the way with and without cinema. I firmly believe his legacy needs no carrying forward. That today he has children who know him for who he really was, will more than suffice. What my brother and I may or may not do with the film medium will only be cursory to his legacy. I see no better way of celebrating my father than bearing and sharing these truthful insights, especially when my brother and I are already his de facto achievements after all.

While we are ensnared by time to be someone, outside of time we are all nothing – neither alive nor dead. Only through externalization, we knead for ourselves a subjective form of complete existence. And in many ways only surrogate dreams are left to validate a life that was lived.

Let the outsider in each of us take courage from his indelible lived reality.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 4:11:57 PM |

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