As N. T. Rama Rao in the role of Lord Krishna walks on the battlefield that has turned bloody with bodies of soldiers lying all around, I wonder how director B. R. Panthulu could have filmed the mammoth scene more than 40 years ago when graphics and gimmickry were unheard of! “Exactly,” says Mrs. YGP, dean and director, PSBB group of schools, who was among the audience that watched “Karnan” recently. “Panthulu's son, Ravishankar, told me that it took four days for the shot that appears for just about two minutes in the film,” she adds.
In the Mahabharata, the character of Karnan has several interesting facets. You can gauge the extensive reference that has gone into the production. “I remember dad poring over huge volumes for months on end for the project,” Ravishankar had told me when I met him recently. “It is an authentic depiction of the Mahabharata,” says Mrs. YGP.
Sakthi Krishnaswamy's dialogue is another enhancing factor! “Today we wax eloquent about Tamil culture, language and values. But the ‘Karnan' team highlighted these commendably decades ago,” she says.
Ganga's artwork is an exercise in aesthetic splendour — be it the palaces or the outdoor locations, his contribution is considerable. Particularly, the scene at dawn near the river where Karnan meets his mother Kunthi Devi is excellent for its muted lighting and the Sanchi Stupa-like structure that forms a silhouette in the background. V. Ramamurthy's cinematography and Ganga's art meld beautifully here!
Every scene of “Karnan” has been crafted with care. And for his part, now, S. Chandrakumar has done his best in the DTS department.
“It's like watching a new film. To me it is in the league of ‘Ben-Hur.' Remarkable job,” Mrs. YGP extols.
Perfect body language
If the technical crew is brilliant, so is the cast that has Sivaji Ganesan at the helm. “Every muscle in his body performs. His eyes convey much more than words can. This is what I term as perfect body language,” she says. By today's standards songs could have been fewer and a couple of scenes could have been underplayed, you could say, but the riveting performance of Ganesan throughout makes such comments too frivolous to mention. What a performer! When will come another such? Notable actors such as Muthuraman, M. V. Rajamma, Sandhya (mother of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu), Savithri Ganesan, Devika, Asokan, Jayanthi, Kalpana and Javert Seetharaman play significant roles.
The illustrious composing duo of Viswanathan and Ramamurthy has worked magic with music. “The ‘Ullathil Nalla Ullam' song gives the essence of the Bhagavad Gita in three verses,” Mrs. YGP says. They are by Kannadasan, that lyricist nonpareil!
A classic that was almost gone has been restored to the maximum extent, thanks to the perseverance of Shanthi Chokkalingam. Yet minor hiccoughs seem inevitable.
Besides other theatres, Karnan releases this Friday at Sathyam, Serene and Escape.
Swaroop Reddy, director, Sathyam Cinemas, feels “Karnan” isn't a mere business proposition. “The Tamil culture of the past has to be projected. Also such efforts would help the producers and distributors involved. Money is secondary. We are releasing it, not on a rental, but on a sharing basis. It means we could win or lose, but we feel it's worthwhile,” says Muni Kanniah, VP, Movie Scheduling and Distributor Relations.
“And for my part, I plan to bring my students from Classes IX to XII to the theatres so they can understand the values the epic imparts and watch the versatility of that great actor on the big screen. ‘Karnan' is a film for people of all age groups. Hope they throng the cinemas to watch it,” Mrs. YGP smiles.
The words propel me to my past, when Ms. Jesudas, who taught us Tamil in school, walked into the classroom with the announcement: “The school plans to take you all to watch ‘Karnan' this week.” We were thrilled.
To me, Karnan is synonymous with Ganesan, and my memories remain evergreen…
Living the role
“Panthulu means magnificence,” laughs octogenarian V. S. Raghavan. Just a couple of scenes, but, for the veteran it was enough to make an impact. Humiliated at Duriyodhanan’s court, Vidhuran vows not to fight for the king in the war, breaks his bow that has the power to annihilate the opponent, and walks out in a fit of rage. “I got so involved in the character that even after the shot was over I kept walking. Only when N.T. Rama Rao stopped me and asked, ‘What is this,’ did I realise it,” laughs Raghavan. “And later when Sivaji Ganesan complimented me for my performance, it was like winning an award for Karnan,” he recalls.
Shanmugasundaram who played Salliya Chakravarthy, a charioteer as skilled as Lord Krishna, was just 19 at the time. “A terrific experience! I think my fit physique gave Panthulu the idea that I could pull it off,” he smiles. His superciliousness in the battle sequence proves Shanmugasundaram’s potential. “It was shot in Jaipur. After work for the day was over, the horses, about 400 of them, were being led away in rows of four. I was still in the garb of a royal soldier and wanting to cross over to the other side I began moving between the rows. But the horse before me sensed my presence and gave me a solid kick on my jaw with his hind leg that I couldn’t close my mouth for a while. Every time I think of ‘Karnan,’ the horse and its kick come to my mind,” he laughs.
Moved to tears
The actor may be the father of two teenaged sons now, but he is still known as Master Sridhar. He was the orphaned child who seeks justice in Karnan’s court. “I’ve been extremely blessed to act with such a storehouse of talent. As I delivered my dialogue, Sivaji Ganesan was so moved that tears rolled down his cheeks. He called out ‘Cut’ and the scene had to be re-shot. Drawing me towards him after the shoot, he gave me Rs.1000 as a reward and gave me a hug. It was a memorable moment for me,” says Master Sridhar.