At The Madras Mag’ s conversation series, proceedings kicked off with a laidback, informal event on Tuesday at Gallery Sri Parvati — a talk between authors Baradwaj Rangan and Aditya Sudharshan on their respective books, Dispatches From the Wall Corner and The Persecution of Madhav Tripathi , and later, when the conversation veered, on to art.
Baradwaj set the ball rolling with a pertinent quip — “We could use more literary gatherings in the city.” Meanwhile, Aditya wanted to know how Baradwaj developed the critical muscle and resisted emotional pull while reviewing films. “I don’t know if I ever developed it — they’re not two separate things. I exist in a middle zone where it both happens. For me, this is enjoying a film,” Baradwaj said.
The conversation moved to Aditya’s recent piece in BLInk about the role of English speakers in India, a sort of a rejoinder to Aatish Taseer’s essay in the New York Times where Taseer bemoans how the English language ruined Indian literature. Aditya said that, as someone who has been living in Versova, the heart of ‘indie’ Bollywood, English has been very influential in business transactions and everything else but the lack of Indian-made English movies baffled him. Baradwaj attributed this to a problem of lines being lost in translation — "Metaphors are lost when the lines are being translated from one language to another" — and of restricting viewership. Baradwaj then steered the conversation towards Aditya’s essay, saying that writing in English diminished writing in other languages, to which Aditya replied, “English is a marker of class; as a language it is too privileged.”
Moving on, Aditya said that if a language becomes a tool of commerce, like English has, it ceases to become art and related this to his latest book, The Persecution of Madhav Tripathi . “There is a sense of rootlessness in the Indian-English community, of not knowing where you belong and I’ve explored it in my book.” Baradwaj wanted to know what Aditya meant by ‘rootlessness’, especially when most of us are comfortable being bilingual and switching from one language to another with ease. “It cuts a lot deeper than that. The Indian-English community feels they are alone with their forward-looking values; there’s a clash of world views,” Aditya replied, adding that being bilingual was to some extent generational and with every generation, we’re all increasingly becoming monolingual, citing himself as an example.
While a major portion of the discussion was based on the essay, the duo read out passages from their books and the topic slowly shifted to cinema and its dominance in today’s world.
Aditya’s major angst, as he put it, was that cinema overshadowed other forms of art — “it’s like a pampered child” — and suggested that it perhaps needed some sort of soul searching. Baradwaj disagreed and called it a collaborative medium. “I disagree when you say screenplay writing is not the highest a writer should aspire to. Similarly, music has constraints that give rise to the most magnificent pieces, cinematography can be compared to paintings... all these come together to make a film.”
Baradwaj and Aditya had disagreements about art and entertainment (Baradwaj: “The way it is today, people have time to spend three hours watching a film than spend three days reading a book”) before shifting to talk about criticism of their work (Aditya: “I’m a big supporter of critical culture. A lot of writers do get upset about negative reviews; honestly speaking, they should be happy that someone has engaged with them”). The perceptive conversation ended with questions from the audience.