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Television as we knew it

A still from Marmadesam Photo: Special Arrangement  

‘The streets were deserted. Everyone was cooped up at home. Life came to a standstill in Tamil Nadu from 8.30 p.m. to 9 p.m.’, read a story in a Tamil daily in the late Nineties. The reason — a TV serial. Hard to believe? I don’t know about the whole of Tamil Nadu, but life did come to a standstill in my apartment in Coimbatore. The climax episode of the Marmadesam series’ Vidadhu Karuppu was playing, and even people like my father, who scoffed at us when we scrambled to switch on the TV every Wednesday night, joined us. We waited with bated breath: Who was Karuppu?

We’re talking about an aruval (sickle)-wielding, horse-riding guardian deity who brings wrong-doers to book. For almost two years, homework was done, dinner was cooked, and doors were shut by the time the word ‘Marmadesam’ appeared on the TV screen, accompanied by the spine-chilling neighing of a horse. Today, the series is being re-telecast on Vasanth TV, much to the delight of a whole generation whose dinner-time conversations revolved around when Karuppu will strike next.

The thing about re-runs is that they take us back in time. Each episode is associated with a memory. For people like me, who grew up in the Nineties, Maths homework and brown-paper covered notebooks come to mind as the title card appears now. There’s a whiff of memories of fountain pens and school pinafores — I would fill ink as I watched the serial with my mother. Dinner was served in front of the TV — but we did most of the eating during the commercial breaks.

Writer Indra Soundarrajan, who first wrote the story as the series Vitu Vidu Karuppa for Kungumam, gets nostalgic as he recounts how he first chanced upon the Karuppu legend in Madurai. “Twenty years have gone by,” he says. “I met this man, a rowdy of sorts, whom even the police feared. But when he passed by the Karuppu temple, he walked in prayerful respect. The man feared Karuppu.” His story took off from there.

The writer says it was exciting to see his story in the visual format, and attributes its success to a “good team”. Naga, who directed the Marmadesam series, says that he continues to get at least an email a week from youngsters who rediscover the show online. The series consumed him, so much so that “even when I walked, I did so with a sense of suspense”. Naga wanted a change. He approached his producer and went on to direct the romantic comedy Ramani vs. Ramani (also being re-telecast) simultaneously.

Marmadesam was produced under the banner of Minbinbangal, run by Kailasam, the son of director K. Balachander. “KB sir was impressed with Naga, the cinematographer for his first mega-serial Kaialavu Manasu,” recalls Mohan, who was K. Balachander’s manager.

Naga, however, doesn’t watch Marmadesam. “If I do, I will keep finding faults and criticising it,” he says. But there’s another reason why he doesn’t watch it. He directed it many years ago, when he was in his prime. “I don’t want to feel old,” he laughs.

Marmadesam airs at 7.30 p.m. Monday to Friday on Vasanth TV.


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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 9:26:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Television-as-we-knew-it/article14010100.ece

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