To the poet born
They had a dream, Kamal Haasan and K Balachander. To make a film on the great Tamil poet, Subramaniya Bharati.
It remained one until Gnana Rajasekharan came on the scene. Amidst reports that he was making money out of Bharati, he doggedly followed his heart. And his love for films. Even going so far as to cast non-Tamil-speaking artistes in the lead roles.
His bid seems to have worked.
The movie opens on a rather dismal mood: Bharati has just died and there are just 14 mourners at the Triplicane crematorium. Nizhalgal Ravi who plays Arya, Bharati's close friend, is in tears -- but in a theatrical style.
Why such a great poet had only 14 mourners when he died forms the rest of the movie.
Subbaiya (Pushpak, as the young Bharati, and a bright presence), displays sparks of rebellion, shattering his father's ambitious dreams of a career in science.
Moving at a snail's pace, it gains the pace of a tortoise when Subbaiya's father dies one day. The young lad is exposed to caste differences, untouchability and other disparities at Kashi. He throws away his sacred thread into the Ganges, chops off his hair, wears a turban, and decides to sport that famous moustache you associate with him.
This, to him, was by way of projecting his rebellious self.
A toughened Bharati accepts the king's invitation and returns to Ettayapuram and meets Chellammal (Devyani). Her softness melts his toughness. In the nine-yard traditional sari, Devyani lives the role and transforms into the poor timid Brahmin girl, pulling at your heartstrings.
Meanwhile, Bharati rejecting the king's friendship, and proceeds to Madras to become a teacher. He participates in the freedom struggle, uttering the famous Acchamillai Acchamillai, slogan, finally seeking refuge in French Pondicherry.
You can't put an ocean of a man like Bharati into a test tube. Why, Richard Attenborough took 17 years of exhaustive research to make Gandhi, which stunned the world.
As much as I want to refrain from any comparisons to films on real-life greats, it has to be said: in just the same way that there were just 14 people at the funeral, there were just a few people in the cinema hall. That in no way belittles the poet or the man.
Rajasekharan's Bharati is a Rs 1.30-crore experiment with only 12 prints being made.
What has been sacrificed, though, is periodicity. Bharati is shown travelling in a broad-gauge three-tier Southern Railway train. All that art director Krishmamurti managed was to add I to II in yellow colour. Rather childish, one thought.
The scenes showing Bharati speaking out to the crowds, for example, look quite pathetic with just 100 people. One would have thought that people would pour in voluntarily for crowd scenes. Where, when crowds turned up by the lakhs with packed lunches for Jabbar Patel's Ambedkar, was the need to hire a few junior artistes?
Also, the scene where Chellammal hugs her sister, Indu, show the sister's well-manicured fingers -- she might as well have worn jeans!
Sayaji Shinde as Bharati is simply splendid. His is an impressive performance, with nary an inkling of the trepidation that he is enacting Bharati's role -- he, a Maharashtrian and Tamil, an alien tongue.
His theatre experiences are evident in his closeups -- note the scene where he searches for the sacred thread.
The cinematography is good in several places. Perhaps even goes off focus in certain scenes to enhance or indicate the mood -- very unlike Thankar Bachan. But Lenin-Vijayan's editing is definitely a highlight.
Illayaraja's background score is apt, brings alive the period. Though you can't quite shake off the disappointment that the expectations from the maestro vis-a-vis the songs are not met.
Nirpathuve, sung by Harish Raghavendar lingers with you. Here is one more Yesudas. Pavadharini's Mayilpole is soothing, while Kelada, sung by Rajkumar Bharati [the poet's grandson in real life] is also good.
Yet, Illayaraja leaves you unsatiated.
Junior Balaiya, Balu Anand appear in comedy sequences which stick out. The poet Bharathidasan's character is also pathetic. They could rather have tickled the audiences to evoke laughter!
This is Gnana Rajasekharan's third film after Mohamul and Mugham. His experience is evident, but the screenplay lacks clarity. Bharati is a multifaceted and enigmatic man. Perhaps to understand him one would require the same sort of eccentricities that mark some such poets and artists.
Why did Bharati wear the sacred thread which he rejected in Kashi? The poet who said Jathigal illaiyadi paappa also sang Aayiram undingu jaathi? One wonders at this contradiction.
The man who brought a donkey to the agraharam became a Brahmin father and conducted his daughter's wedding ceremony with all the rituals. Why? Was there a transformation or did he yield to these rituals when it came to himself? What were the compulsions?
Bharati himself says in an instance, "Subbaiya was poor, Bharati is a yugpurushan." And then, in a scene, Bharati says his "head is reeling from the new habit." Here, it looks the director simply touched his narcotropics addiction very gingerly or perhaps very tentatively because it might stir some reactions?
Also, the scenes between Bharati and his wife Chellammal are shown as very domestic and mundane, the most pressing concerns are the lack of groceries in the house. Romance and chemistry? Zilch. Perhaps if Kamal had played Bharati....?
The dialogues are shudh in certain places, colloquial in the others. They could have done with some work.
That the director found a producer in Media Dreams is most commendable. Gnana Rajasekhar ought to given credit for the attempt.
But then, I come out of the theatre, and I can't help but think of S V Subbaiya playing Bharatiar in Kappalottiya Tamizhan singing Endru thaniyum indha sudhandhira thaagam...
'I was carried away by his performance'
'All technically good films aren't good'
Take a look at the video promos of Bharati!
Also hear an audio promo of Bharati!