IN THE LIMELIGHT Comment

Past forward

Still from the film Hridayam

Still from the film Hridayam

What do you do if you need to listen to a song? You would perhaps open YouTube or any of the music apps on your phone and play it.

In today’s world, it will take you less than a few seconds to do that. But back in the 90s , when a certain A.R. Rahman took the country by storm with his melodies in Roja and the groovy beats in Kaadhalan, the process was much more than that. You had to find a cassette shop and a player/walkman, and fast-forward to the particular number you’d like to listen.

This process of music consumption is chronicled in a charming manner in the recent Tamil film Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee, described by many '90s kids' as a throwback to the past. In a note, its director-composer Darbuka Siva writes about its trending title track, "The song is a collage of sounds from various musical soundscapes that relate to nostalgia and the wonderful memories associated with it." If Chennai's 90s came alive in this film, recent Malayalam release Hridayam, starring Pranav Mohanlal in the lead, also took Chennaiites down memory lane, featuring life in the city in the early 2000s, buzzing with engineering college students and busy roadside eateries.

Elsewhere, other people are taking a cinematic trip to the past as well. Hindi film 83, starring Ranveer Singh in the lead, provided cricket-crazy fans in India a ticket to travel to the time they backed Kapil's Devils.

Promotional poster for Mudhalnee

Promotional poster for Mudhalnee

Back and forth

Probably the biggest reason for filmmakers to dip into the past is that it has a sureshot audience: people who have grown up through that era. With 80s and 90s kids brandishing that fact on Twitter bios and WhatsApp statuses, anything that reminds them of their adolescent days is content they'll devour. Besides, it also lets the filmmaker draw inferences from what they have seen and experienced rather than create new material; case in point, Vineeth Srinivasan drawing from his personal college experiences for Hridayam.

Hridayam went that extra mile in tapping into nostalgia; the team even sold cassettes and CDs of their album that features 15 songs! Says its music composer, Hesham Abdul Wahab, "When we spotted shops in Turkey selling cassettes and CDs, we became nostalgic about our own experiences with music, and wanted to provide that experience for listeners." Music label Think Music, which urged listeners to try out this old experience yet again, sold about 2,000 cassettes/CDs, another indication that the past fills not just the heart, but also something located close to it: the pocket. Currently, vinyl recordings of the tracks are being planned.

The emotion isn't entirely new, though it does seem to have made a comeback in recent times. If Cheran's Tamil film Autograph (2004), featuring the protagonist go in search of his school and college flame, clicked with most audiences, Nivin Pauly's Malayalam coming-of-age hit Premam (2015) chronicled several phases of the protagonist's life. Songs that have a retro flavour in them — like the Ilaiyaraaja-inspired 'Thooriga' from Guitar Kambil Mele Nindru in Navarasa —or dance sequences that remind us of the costumes of the past, still find a pride of place in today's cinematic world.

While most movies target the 80s and 90s , there are modern-day films that go even further back. Like Pa Ranjith's Sarpatta Parambarai (2021), which dealt with the thriving boxing culture present in Madras in the 1970s. Not only did it open many sections of the audiences to a sporting culture they had no clue about, it also gave its own cast members a chance to experience life during much simpler times. Actor Arya told The Hindu, "The minute I entered the set, it felt like time travel because I would see people wearing retro costumes and conversing in North Madras slang."

Many years later, when filmmakers make films on 2022, a time when we have already crossed three waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will probably sit back and reminisce about the times when masks, social distancing and vaccination were hot topics.

Nostalgia, surely, will always be in vogue.


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Printable version | Jun 24, 2022 12:24:38 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/past-forward/article65058784.ece