Sunday, March 18, 2007

P Bhaskaran. Filmmaker, Poet, Lyricist, Actor

Remembering P Bhaskaran

C S Venkiteswaran

The departure of Bhaskaran Mash marks the end of an era in Malayalam cinema. In the early days of Malayalam cinema, it was filmmakers like Bhaskaran who gave a fresh life and flesh to it through their charming films. Films like Neelakuyil (1954) Rarichan Enna Pouran (1956) Adyakirananagal (1964) Iruttinte Atmavu (1967) and Kallichellamma (1969) etc brought the land and life of the emerging nation of Kerala into the secular space of the celluloid medium. For instance, a film like Neelakuyil is rare in Indian cinema for making a stark portrayal of the deep ambivalence inherent in the modernist project – here you have the emblematic figure of progress, rationalism and modernity, a school teacher (played by Sathyan, in his first major appearance) in a villainous role. This harbinger of enlightenment of the times, in the film, impregnates a dalit woman and then betrays her leaving her to a miserable death. This figure and the milieu in Neelakuyil poignantly presents the deep conflicts that animated Kerala's modernization project - one which was torn between a modernity that was not adequately socialized, and a sociality that was not adequately modernized. Films like Rarichan enna Pouran take this question further, frontalising the adolescent figure of Rarichan to tell the disturbing story of the new citizen in a nation-in-the-making.

It is this deep and critical sensitivity that marks filmmakers like P Bhaskaran apart from the sloganeers and polemicists of the period. Through his works, he brought to the surface the angst of his society and more importantly, also the joys of romance and the lyricism of hope . His lyrics illuminate a whole inscape of yearning, hope, love and despair of that generation.

I have always wondered why this very socially insightful filmmaker of the first decades of his career spanning from the mid-50's to the early 70's suddenly turn to films like Arakkallan Mukkalkallan (71) Srimad Bhagavad Gita (76) Jagadguru Sankaracharyar (77) and Guruvayur Mahatmyam (80) etc in the next phase of his career? Once I posed this question to Bhaskaran mash himself. He gave that typical half smile of his and asked me back:"would you pose such a question to a lecturer, a clerk, a banker or an engineer? I did them because that was my job, that was part of the profession I was in". But retrospectively, one feels that apart from professional exigencies, there were other reasons too. In the euphoria of modernism in literature and the new wave in cinema, and the turmoil of politics (the Emergency and the Naxalite movement, irrevocably redefining the interface between the state and liberatory politics ), filmmakers and writers like Bhaskaran mash were relegated to the past. There was no place for them in those celebrations of the 'aesthetics of the moment'. It must have been this amnesia of celebration that drove Mash to take refuge in films and endeavours like that.

What is often forgotten in the obituaries is the fact that apart from being a great filmmaker, lyricist and poet, he was also the founding chairman of the first television channel in private sector Asianet Television!

But a true artist that he was, his works will be remembered and treasured by the future generations, for they were true to their times and dreams .

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