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August 3, 1998


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Back where he belongs

Shobha Warrier in Madras

The huge gate was wide open. And the flowers, the trees, the sculptures in the garden beyond all stood out the starker in the aftermath of the rains. Still it was, all very still as Bharatan and his friends awaited the time of his final journey.

Bharatan is known as a talented and successful film-maker. But he was more than that. He was a painter, a sculptor, a violinist and a mechanic too.

"I have a passion for everything. I move smoothly from one to the other. That keeps me going. I was never bored in my life," he told me once passionately. Now he lies there before me, his many passions all stilled at once.

The abundance of greenery around the house had struck me then, when I first met him. That was what kept the place cool while beyond the gate, the glare, dust and heat were almost unendurable.

It was a village from Kerala transported into Madras. And the massive tiled structure before me reminded me of Keralaite architecture. There was a pond full of lilies and another with a statue of Lord Krishna on the snake Kalia, performing the Kaliamardana. Here indeed was a man still in touch with his roots.

Bharatan had come out then, touched the sculptures of Krishna and Kalia with the fondness you would think were reserved for a child. They were his children -- he'd made them.

"Nature has moulded me, my creativity and my individuality. There was no way I could escape the beauty of nature. It filled my heart. I'll say, Nature, Mother Nature is a part of me and I can never create anything without a glimpse of it somewhere. Nature is there in all my paintings, movies and music," he had told me. And now he was one with it.

Bharatan had spent his entire childhood in a small village called Vadakkancherry near Thrissur in Kerala. He had hundreds of acres of land on which to run around, a river to splash into. There he could see a clear sky with an incredible number of stars, not having the smoke of the city to obliterate them.

He wandered through stands of tall trees and swaying paddy fields in the day and, in the evenings, sat next to his grandmother reciting kirtans before a lamp.

Life in a village with its rich folk music and folklore had a great influence on his young mind. Music to his mind was those kirtans and the rustic songs. With this background, it was natural that nature and rural music influenced his films.

His grandmother's tales drew him into a world of books and soon, became an admirer of M T Vasudevan Nair. After learning art from the Fine Arts College, Thrissur, he went to Madras to join a studio as a background painter. He used to finish his work fast that he could join his uncle, P N Menon, the noted film-maker, MT, and many other creative people.

They were at the time giving the finishing touches to the script of the award-winning Olavun Theeravum. Under these greats, he learnt everything about film-making, from song recording to set erection to photography.

He ran the line between the new wave cinema started by Satyajit Ray that P N Menon and MT worked in and the commercial films he saw made in the studios. And, finally, he became the pioneer of the middle cinema movement in Kerala.

His first film, Prayanam, was born out of his friendship with Padmarajan. The film based on a short story by Padmarajan, with Lakshmi in the lead, was a visual treat.

"I pooled my own money, ran around on my Lambretta, worked for nearly 18 hours a day and finished the film It was a big achievement for me. It was an enlightening experience for me to see my characters come alive on the big screen," he said of those times.

Several films followed, most of them with newcomers but each was in one way or another a landmark in the history of Malayalam cinema.

The film movement he started died long ago, and the passion in his films were also dying slowly, as Bharatan himself admitted. And now the creator himself is dead.

He lay in a very serious condition in the Vijaya Hospital in Madras, suffering from liver cirrhosis, for nearly a month and a half. That cliched line, 'It is the end of an era' wouldn't work here. For he will live on in his films.

And his own eyes may see them. For he had donated both his eyes away.

And now? His body was taken back to Vadakkancherry for the cremation. He would have been happy. His ashes will mingle in the soil of his village and paddy fields, rise into his sky, slip into the river he played in...

However far Bharatan went, he is finally back, back where he belongs.

Director Bharathan dead

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