Monday, January 29, 2007
Some Ramblings - Sri Ramadasu
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Ramadasu was a person consumed by his passion, to the point that he was almost blinded by it. His single minded devotion towards constructing a temple for his Lord made him overlook his duties as a "Tahasildar", and it was when he was jailed, for reneging his responsibilities as a man of office, did the real litmus start for him. Shackled up in a solitary cell with just a square block of opening on the roof as his only source for light (which one could still see by paying a visit to Golconda fort), he spent years in jail undergoing all the different phases usually associated with such staunch devotion. It starts with confusion, where he becomes incapable to come to terms with the consequences of his actions of working against the will of the administration, changing somewhere into the undying hope that he would be rescued by his God for all his good deeds, transforming into resentment for being left alone to suffer and be tortured, before it becomes a full-fledged denial of the very Lord that he dearly adored. It is at this point that the atonement comes about where all his prayers are answered and his devotion and faith, reposed. This cycle is pretty much the same for every devotional story and it is particularly appealing in Ramadasu's case, because the man is very contemporary to the current era, and that his writings depict all the above said phases in great detail - his inner turmoil, his coming to grips with his faith, that was called into questioned once too often, his unfazed devotion and above all, his love for his Lord. To even think about that such a man who had been incarcerated and tortured for 12 long years, came out his cell unscathed in his devotion and his passion, makes him a great devotee in the truest sense and his story stands mightily for generations, without the need of embellishments, gloss, lores and myths.
.... and this was the MAJOR problem with "Sree Ramadasu". Why didn't the writer and director trust in the depth of this story to carry the entire weight of it on its sheer strength of passion and devotion, without having to resort to cheap (and sometimes vulgar) comedic situations, loud villany and other regular commercial gimmicks? Why did they feel thatthey had to "commercialize" such a beautiful story and coat such a sweet one with an ugly commercial exterior? The common escape reason quoted for such unwanted detour is that the audience would become quite antsy and impatient if all that is in a devotional movie is just the devotion and nothing more; (great) dramatic licenses need to be taken in the current scenario of short attention spans and instant gratification generation, because they wouldn't sit through scene after scene of devotion and song after song of passion. Who decided this? Who came up with this weird theory of undermining the intelligence of the audience by dumbing down the content to pedestrian level, that it does not matter whether the protagonist of the story is Ramadasu or Devadasu? Start off with the love track (with a cheap picturization not worthy of the movie of this stature), intersperse it with crude comedy, show glimpses of Ramadasu getting on track with the plot, throw in some more inane comedic sequences, introduce a villan, who is almost a caricature, build up the (un)necessary issues of (socialistic) struggle, followed by some more ridiculous comedy..... If the writer and the director were thinking that weaving such extraneous elements, purely for the purpose of relief (and cigarette-breaks), along with the main thread, would somehow enhance the quality of the movie, there are just sorely mistaken. All that it did was dilute the concentration rendering it insipid and tasteless. Had they allowed Ramadasu more time to breathe, more time to express and more time to evolve, instead of having him fight, with these other caricatures and cartoons, for more screen time, Ramadasu would have joined the ranks of great devotional movies of exceptional quality.
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Here is another interesting script choice – The crucial part of the story of Ramadasu lies in the 12 years that he had been jailed. From the point he is shackled and chained to the moment he was freed from the prison, lies the crux of Ramadasu's life. It is his constant introspection, constant questioning of his belief system and very immediate re-affirmation (questioning "evaDabaa sommani kulukutoo tirigaevu" on one hand and immediately apologizing with "debbalaku Orvalaeka abbaa tiTTitinayyaa rAmachandrA"), constant vacillation from one end of the spectrum to the other, that make him such a personable, humble and a 'human' devotee. Redemption to him does not occur until after 12 years. Bharavi's script filled up three quarters of the movie with all the unnecessary sequences, that by the time it got to the point of the real story, there simply wasn't enough time and room to show why Ramadasu was such a great devotee after all, even after enduring great duress, physical and psychological, in that solitary cell, carving images of his deities in stone and authoring such great verses in his tone. From among the lot, Keeravani emerges as sole voice of reason and sanity in the proceedings. The sheer audacity to set the popular "Ramadasu keertanalu" in a different mould, contrary to what have been made popular by the renowned Mangalampalli, while still paying homage to the original tunes, is brilliant of Keeravani. The traditional krithis aside, the songs "Allah.." and "Dasaradhi.." (and great rendition by SPB) stand testament to the contribution of Keeravani in trying to change the course of an otherwise very ordinary script and enhance the emotional involvement of the audience, at least, musically. More than Annamayya, where his work can be deemed as a music arranger as all the original Annamacharya tunes (popularized by TTD and Shobaraju) have been used unchanged, Ramadasu would stand as the shining point in Keervani's career. And alas, the same cannot be said of the rest of the makers involved...