Entertainment

When Agumbe turned Malgudi

Karnataka : Bengaluru : 05/11/2018 : Be Carrier serial shooting at Agumbe. (Malgudi Days - Agumbe) Photo : Muralidhar Khajane / The Hindu.

Karnataka : Bengaluru : 05/11/2018 : Be Carrier serial shooting at Agumbe. (Malgudi Days - Agumbe) Photo : Muralidhar Khajane / The Hindu.

A Kannada organization recently demanded that Malgudi Days directed by Shankar Nag be dubbed in Kannada, 32 years after one of India’s finest television serials was made. For those who reported the serial, striking for its native ambience, it was a moment for memories. Shankar Nag, a dreamer of the real sense passed away 28 years ago, leaving a bright and indelible impression on the celluloid world. Though Shankar Nag was known only in Kannada, the making of Malgudi Days catapulted him to the national scene. Had Shankar Nag lived, he would have turned 64 today.

It is difficult to find an answer as to why Shankar Nag made Malgudi Days, (based on R K Narayan's works, which in 1986 became a phenomenon) in Hindi and English rather than in Kannada. He could have offered a convincing reason. According to those, who worked with Shankar in late 80s, Shankar wanted to reach a wider audience and also to showcase Kannada talent across the country. Following the success of first 13 episodes, an elated Shankar had said: “Malgudi Days changed everything. Ordinary people come and chat with me about Malgudi Days even in places such as Delhi and Bombay. This has also helped me to jump airline queues, as they tend to treat me as a VIP,” he had smiled impishly.

Karnataka : Bengaluru : 05/11/2018 : Lali statu on Malgudi Film. (Malgudi Days - Agumbe) Photo : Muralidhar Khajane / The Hindu.

Karnataka : Bengaluru : 05/11/2018 : Lali statu on Malgudi Film. (Malgudi Days - Agumbe) Photo : Muralidhar Khajane / The Hindu.

Noted actor Ramesh Bhat, associate director of the acclaimed Malgudi Days who also essayed several roles, opposes the move of dubbing the serial in Kannada.

“As a principle, the all-time classic serial should not be dubbed into Kannada. If needed, it is better to produce the serial with Kannada actors and crew with a fresh approach".

Malgudi Days was described as "a piece of genuine India" and viewers, especially in old Mysore region found themselves relating to each episode. This, in fact, is the outcome of any sincere cinematic exercise, which treats simple human folk in simple terms. Malgudi Days reached the hearts because of its plain looking characters and incidents, which helped them find latent mysteries of ordinary human existence. With the signature tune and music by L. Vaidyanathan (which is now a popular, ring tone), the heartwarming stories, sketches by R.K. Laxman, and performed by talented actors made Malgudi Days exemplary.

Karnataka : Bengaluru : 05/11/2018 : Abur Road, Trunk Road and Lali Extension of Malgudi Film Photo : Muralidhar Khajane / The Hindu.

Karnataka : Bengaluru : 05/11/2018 : Abur Road, Trunk Road and Lali Extension of Malgudi Film Photo : Muralidhar Khajane / The Hindu.

The credit for the success of Malgudi should also go to cast comprising of Master Manjunath, Girish Karnad, Ananth Nag, Vaishali Kasarvalli, B. Jayashree. Interestingly, the late Vishnuvardhan was also a part of the serial when he was a superstar of Kannada cinema. It is veteran cameraman S. Ramachandra's artistic touch that provided a unique character for the serial with his superb lighting compositions.

It is important that even Malgudi Days faced problem in the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) for no genuine reason. Some sentences in Mithaiwala episodes were muted by CBFC. Shankar Nag, who was shooting in Agumbe at that time, shot off a protest telegram to Doordarshan objecting to cursory unnotified censorship of certain harmless passages.

In real space Scenes from the immortal Malgudi Days Photos by Author

In real space Scenes from the immortal Malgudi Days Photos by Author

It is also sure that, certain things never tire audience. Set in British India, Malgudi, a fictional town, is a dream which viewers would like to see again and again. This idyllic world can never stale. R.K. Narayan, was often asked: "Where is Malgudi"? To which, he in his introduction to the short story collection Malgudi Days (1942) says: “All I can say is that it is imaginary and not be found on any map (although the University of Chicago Press published a literary atlas with a map of India indicating the location of Malgudi.) If I explain that Malgudi is a small town in South India, I shall only be expressing half-truth, for the characteristics of Malgudi seem to be universal.”

It was a challenge for Shankar Nag and producer T.S. Narasimhan to zero in on Malgudi. Mysore is actually the Malgudi of Narayan, where the writer lived and wrote. As Mysore turning out to be metropolis and lost its old charm because of its urbanisation, producer and director considered Nanjangud town for a while. But, they rejected it, because of its proximity to Mysore. Finally, the one-street Agumbe, in the heart of Malnad found to be the fittest choice, because of its old charm, the sleepiness, the rustic ambience. With a river running quietly, century-old tiled houses and a sedate way of life and where television was just making an appearance with the help of tall boosters, Shankar found his imaginary Malgudi in Agumbe and surrounding areas. Arasalu village with its tiny railway station where just two train passes daily provided the ideal location for the serial.

Malgudi Days  - 'Swami & Friends' (1987)

Malgudi Days - 'Swami & Friends' (1987)

The credit of transforming Agumbe into Malgudi has to go to the sculptor, art director and town planner John Devaraj. He conceptualised everything that needs to make Agumbe look like the imaginary Malgudi. He created carts, statues, avenues, shops, bus stand, schools, shops everything. According to Jagadish Malnad, who was in control of production, Shankar Nag invested loads of energy and enterprise into imaging the minute details of life in Malgudi. Shankar Nag’s precision for details and authenticity turning Agumbe into Malgudi had become a daunting task. Donkeys were transported from Shimoga to Agumbe and elephants from Bangalore. Austin and Hindustan cars were borrowed from friends. A road-roller had to be transported from Bangalore. Shankar Nag virtually erected a gaiety land replete with dancers, wrestlers, fire eaters, bangle sellers for Talkative Man episode. Crowds were lured from nearby villages by wooing them with lunch and bus fare. Hundred plus actors and crew were lodged in the houses of the village. Almost every house hosted one member of the team recalls Ramesh Bhat.

After three decades, there are no traces of Malgudi in Agumbe. Time has erased even memories. Some of the properties of Malgudi Days, which Shankar left for the people of Agumbe, is in the premises of a school. But, people of Agumbe still remember Shankar Nag, who gave it more meaning than being known to receive highest rainfall in the Western Ghats.


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Printable version | May 18, 2022 3:21:46 am | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/when-agumbe-turned-malgudi/article25443929.ece