Friday Review

Kamal and the art of screenplay writing

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“Charu anna would be composing these funny lines and singing them to tunes of the latest Tamil film songs. Much later, RC Sakthi made me write. My friend Puviarasu made me write. Great poets such as Gnanakoothan encouraged me to write”

(This is the fifth in a series of articles on Kamal Haasan’s tryst with the arts.)

Part 1: >His classical odyssey

Part 2: >'You can feel the fear in this song'

Part 3: >'He taught me to sing with abandon'

Part 4: >And more on the Ilaiyaraaja connection

When I asked Kamal Haasan what kind of music he listened to, outside of work, he said, “Pretty much anything that comes my way – even dubstep, which (Gautami’s daughter) Subbulakshmi introduced me to.” He said he was most fond of neoclassical music, and he named the composer Alex North, who veered away from the traditional orchestral approach prevalent in Hollywood and incorporated other elements – jazz, for instance, in his score for ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. (North went on to compose for well-regarded films such as ‘Spartacus’ and ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’).

“You can see those influences in my films,” Kamal Haasan said, “right from ‘Rajapaarvai’.” He then spoke about an “extraordinary neoclassical score,” a Hiranya Vadham kind of piece, which Ghibran has composed for the soon-to-be-released ‘Uthama Villain’.

“I am not a great fan of songs being part of the film, unless it’s a musical,” he said. “I think it’s high time for a bifurcation between music and cinema. It’s such a nuisance when we bring in songs. We have trained the audience like that. It takes a long time to make the audience understand that too much fried food is bad for you. They listen only if the doctor tells them. But now that the portion sizes have become small, they’ve begun to understand.”

***

We then spoke about his writing, and Kamal Haasan went into a flashback to when he must have been around 16. He and his brothers were waiting for their mother to serve them dosais and Charuhasan, on the spot, composed and sang this pastiche based on the tune of ‘Vettri meedhu vettri vandhu ennai saerum’, the popular MGR song from the 1970 film ‘Thedi Vandha Maappillai’.

“Dosai meedhu dosai vandhu ennai saerum,

Adhai vaarthu thandha perumai ellam unnai saerum,

Idli-oda chutney thandha annai allavo,

Idhu oosugindra dosai enbadhu unmai allavo.”

This is impossible to translate with its flavour intact, but the point Kamal Haasan was making was that, as with music, writing too was all around him in that household. “Charu anna would be composing these funny lines and singing them to the tunes of the latest Tamil film songs. Much later, RC Sakthi made me write. My friend Puviarasu made me write. Great poets such as Gnanakoothan encouraged me to write.” Even Raghu Rai could be added to that list, for Kamal Haasan said that poetry and photography are very important hobbies that a screenwriter should have, because they make you think of succinct ways of saying what you have to say. “I’m a great fan of Raghu Rai. Each photograph of his tells you a whole story. A little higher up, a different angle, and it’s a whole new story.”

RC Sakthi, who would go on to direct films such as ‘Dharma Yudhdham’ and ‘Sirai’, told Kamal very early in their association, “You are a screenwriter.” He thrust a 40-page notebook in Kamal’s hand and told his friend to start writing his screenplay. This was around 1970-71. Kamal started writing something called ‘Ninaivugal’ for a short film. Sakthi liked it and asked Kamal to join him as co-writer on ‘Unarchigal’, a film he was planning about the sexual misadventures of a teenager. Kamal, who would play this protagonist, came up with the title. The film was supposed to be a quickie, released in 1972.

But it got embroiled with the Censor Board over its content, which was fairly explicit for the time. The 1972 roster of the Tamil film industry included ‘Agathiyar’, ‘Dheivam’, ‘Annai Abirami’ and ‘Sakthi Leelai’. The story of a teenager who contracts a sexually transmitted disease must have been a bit of a stretch. ‘Unarchigal’, finally, made it to the screens in 1976.

(To be continued)

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Printable version | Nov 13, 2019 5:53:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/kamal-and-the-art-of-screenplay-writing/article6401133.ece

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