FRIDAY REVIEW

A spiritual quest and identity search

No ordinary serial: Scenes from Enge Brahmanan.

No ordinary serial: Scenes from Enge Brahmanan.   | Photo Credit: Photos: R. Shivaji Rao

GEETHA VENKATRAMANAN

The conflict between the material and the metaphysical comes to the fore in Cho’s ‘Enge Brahmanan.’

Sathyam Bhruyaath
Priyam Bhruyaath
Mathbhruyaath sathyam apriyam
Priyam cha na anrutham bhruyaath

(Speak the truth, speak the soothing word,

Even if true, do not speak the harsh word,

Even if soothing, do not speak the untruth.)



This is how Cho sums up ‘Enge Brahmanan?’ the serial on Jaya TV that has captured the attention of viewers across age groups. An adaptation of his novel of the same title, it has shattered the mould into which Tamil soaps have fallen.

But, ‘Enge Brahmanan?’ is no ordinary mega serial. “It is not intended to be,” affirms Cho. “Between 100 and 120 episodes. We decided even at the outset not to stretch it.” The product has materialised after being on the anvil for four years.

Huge success

The book, written in the Eighties, was a huge success. With the serial reviving the interest, the book is again a sell out and Alliance Publications is going in for a reprint. The story pivots round the family (brahmin) of Nathan, a rich industrialist, wife Vasumati and son Ashok, in his late teens. The boy, untouched by the father’s affluence, is a puzzle. Spiritually inclined, he seems to be in search of his identity. Mahadeva Bhagavathar, Nathan’s friend, philosopher and guide, plays a crucial role in the drama. Through characters and situations, the narration touches upon Hindu rituals, customs and practices.

“The appreciation has been overwhelming,” states Cho. Viewers find it educative. If brahmins learn more about what they have been mechanically doing all along, others find it an eye-opener. “Full credit to Venkat, the director, for translating it so well on the small screen,” acknowledges Cho. “Right from casting to sequences it is his effort. I have only provided the canvas. He has made all the improvements and improvisations to make it gripping, episode after episode.”

The narration is taken forward by the conversation between the writer and the sceptic ‘producer’ (played by D. Narayanaswamy, one of the founders — Ambi and S.R. Srinivasan being the others — of Viveka Fine Arts Club. “I joined the troupe later and eventually hijacked it,” guffaws Cho). The dialogue technique was Cho’s idea. “I had actually used it in my play, ‘Saraswathiyin Sabatham.’ It came in handy when the channel insisted that I appear in every episode. And it has become a hit,” explains the writer. “It helps me to expand on aspects that the characters merely mention.”

In these segments, Cho fluently quotes from the Vedas, Upanishads and Gita, not to mention the small stories to drive home a point. How did he gain such knowledge? “Well, ‘Hindu Maha Samudram,’ the serial that I’m writing for Tughlaq requires extensive research and reading. I picked up a lot in the process. And the learning is continuing.”

Being born into an orthodox family, the seed was sown long ago. “But I’m not orthodox,” laughs Cho. “I imbibed a great deal from my grandfathers and my mother, who learnt all the slokas just by hearing them recited.”

Neelu as Bhagavathar doesn’t lag behind with his nuggets. “It is an extension of a character he essayed in ‘Sambavami Yuge Yuge.’ Of course he was thorough with his homework for the serial.

Did Cho have an aim while writing the book or when he thought of the serial? “Well, I wanted to capture the community with all its strengths and weaknesses. It is impossible to lead the life of a brahmin as given in the scriptures, today. There is simply no support system. But there are a few, who are trying to uphold values, amidst pressure. The rituals have significance, provided you care to delve into the background. Criticising a faith or its followers without first acquiring knowledge is not fair. The sloka I quoted in the beginning is the essence of Hindu philosophy.”

Tailor-made role: Neelu

The role is tailor-made for me. All those Harikathas that I heard of Sengalipuram and Balakrishna Sastrigal are useful now. And the lectures of Pulavar Keeran and Suki Sivam.

Did he learn Carnatic music? So effortless seems to be the singing.

“No, but I soak in it,” is Neelu’s cryptic reply.

Director's take

"I'm eternally indebted toCho for giving me thisopportunity," says Venkat,who has also written thescreenplay and dialogue. Abanker, he gave up the job tomake writing scripts forstage plays his vocation.

"In about 25 years, I'vewritten scripts for all thetroupes and several TV serials.

But never have I felt thiskind of fulfilment. And suchfantastic response from theviewers. `Enge Brahmanan'has been an eye-opener. Ithas broken the myth that aleserialought to have anoverdose of sentiment andmelodrama. Of course the giganticpersonality of Cho isbehind the success. The serialstands on a rock solid story,which is based on one ofthe enduring subjects - theHindu philosophy. It isTruth that is working magichere."

Venkat is all praise forCho, who has given him totalfreedom in shaping the serial.

And the cast - Delhi Kumar,who plays Nathan, theindustrialist torn betweenmaterialism and the anxietynot to compromise his faith,Nalini, his wife steeped invanity, Neelu as the Bhagatevathar, Kambar Jayaramanas the upright sastri, Thyagarajanas the judge. - everybodyhas given their best. Itis, however, Afsar, who stealsthe show as Ashok, the protagonist.

A Muslim, he reflectsthe agony of a youngHindu, who is searching forhis identity. "He took up therole wholeheartedly and hasworked hard for it," saysVenkat. "The artists, on thewhole, have lifted themselvesto a different plane inthis serial," he adds.

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