It is only right that I saw Karnan inside the old world of AVM Rajeswari, the signage of which still displayed the stories of an era gone by, in a time where movie screens are more about six flavors popcorn and sofa seats for couples; this Vadapalani theatre still shows only one film and sells balcony tickets at the rate in which multiplexes sell steaming cups of European coffee.
Nostalgia is a dangerous thing, but a necessary danger. The statement seems like an often repeated school essay topic, Technology: a necessary evil or something to that effect. That brings us to technology which was used in the re-release, the constant buzz about it being digitally re-mastered to suit the audience of now.
But should a movie released in 1964 be processed so that a few scores of the t-shirt wearing dood speaking general public of 2012? Shouldn’t it be watched as it is supposed to be?
I do not believe that an advance in technology does directly correlate with the advancement of film, which belief holds good for ‘Karnan’ as well.
The film used to be showed on cable, not so frequently but on important weekends only to re-instate the fact that Karnan was no ordinary old film, in every Tamil movie watching family there would have been a discussion on the same, at least about the concise Gita or the ‘Ullathil Nalla Ullam’ song.
The screening last Saturday was not my first introduction to B.R.Panthulu’s pain driven epic; I use the four letter word only to signify the relation to Vyasa’s work rather than as a modern adjective used to describe the films of James Cameron.
The Mahabharatha is a known story, at least most Indians are familiar with the outline of what happens and how it all ends in battle and the complexities, numerous windings and characters make it ideal for any kind of performance art and naturally interpretations.
Karna, the first born, the one adorned with armour by default and owing to the Sun being his father, the quality of giving. For it is believed that the Sun gives all and takes none.
Left to drift in the waters, Karna falls in an age where being a Kshatriya was the greatest gift, the mystery of his birth plagues him till he falls by the wheel.
Karna was the hero who never was, the greatest warrior never to have achieved, his only known crime was his friendship with the otherwise fiendish Duryodhana, the main antagonist in the ensemble.
The whole story can be seen as a game of dice, played by opposing players in which Karnan appears to be the dice; rolled by both sides. Duryodhana who injects in him the hatred of Arjuna and by Krishna, who later plays with his emotions of unknown pedigree.
Sivaji Ganesan brings this character whose mind pencils from a supporting friend to a disillusioned warrior to life on the screen, but alas much of that is lost in the movie which tries to make a hero of him, cutting the story in the wrong place.
The character of Karna has no relevance if there are no Pandavas, the social life of the charioteer king seems to be as boring as the love stories of the recent times, and these are the most trying times for the movie watcher, saved only by the songs. Actress Devika portrays Suba, his wife while Asokan and Savithri fill in for Duryodhana and Bhanu in this socially insecure friendship quartet.
The movie only reaches the next stage when NTR comes blasting doors as the ever smiling and easy dharma quoting Lord Krishna, banking on his previous experience from the truly brilliant Maya Baazar(they should consider another re-release)is a joy to watch, the supporting characters: all big names(Muthuraman, VS Raghavan, ‘Javert’ Seetharaman, Jayanthi,Shanmugasundaram) are used adequately, but the point to be noted is the sincerity in the palace settings and outdoor locations( Saraswathi Mahal Palace and the real battlefield Kurukshetra). Many anecdotes are retold on how BR Panthulu made the mammoth of a film and it is fitting that Karnan was rereleased adjoining his centenary.
No work on Sivaji’s Karnan is complete without mentioning Viswanathan-Ramamurthy score and the wonder that is Kannadasan, whatever they did ‘digitally’ did not appeal to me, I liked it better when they played the film on Raj TV. My favorites would be ‘En Uyir Thozhi’ and ‘Iravum Nilavum’. Kannadasan is master, there is no word that could describe the happiness that he brings to songs, here he not only shortens the 18 chapter Bhagavad Gita to minutes but also provides a Tamil version of Adithya Hridayam and a final summing up in the all explaining, ”Ullathil nalla ullam” in which the dice finds its relevance.
Karnan is a classic, re-mastered or otherwise. I liked it because I have always liked it, but I cannot speak for the hundred or so school students who were brought in as an ‘educational’ trip.
It was a happy sight to see a morning show filled, for a movie released 45 years ago; one theatre man said that next show was also booked. Above him the painted face of Sivaji Ganesan looked down magnificently, just like old times.