Bitty Ruminations #23

Posted on July 9, 2010


JUL 9 – Have been a little lax about apportioning time to these tidbit posts, and KB’s 80th birthday seemed a good opportunity to unleash another bitty rumination. Well, not a rumination so much as a link to one of the most satisfying and entertaining interviews of my (admittedly not very lengthy) career.

Here it is.

There is no use showing up at a director’s doorstep with a sheaf of questions if the interviewee will not talk (for whatever reason). KB was not only communicative, but delightfully so, discursively so. We spoke for a long time. He was a trifle surprised that I knew so much about his films, and that modesty I found enormously touching. I mean, this is just one of the giant architects of Tamil cinema. Who wouldn’t know about his films?

Mandatory video follows, of a great song in both the musical and lyrical sense. Ilakkanam maarudho, ilakkiyam aanadho, referring to the heroine’s mellowing from the stringency of grammar to the softness of poetry.

This leads to me an aside. However accurate subtitles are in the meaning-of-the-word sense, how can they convey the context? I was listening to the Mani Ratnam interview on AIR FM Rainbow this morning (yes, with my kind of job, you get to do things like that and call it work), and, betwixt questions, they played Vidai kodu engal naade. You can translate the next line, kadal vaasal thelikkum veede, as the house/country on the shore touched by lapping waves, but how can you translate the Tamil-ness of the phrase, the sense of vaasal thelichu-fying and kolam pottu-fying that Vairamuthu so beautifully brings out, that traditional feeling of home that makes the separation all the more poignant?

In a reverse moment, I felt that the bak-bak use in Raavanan would have actually benefited from subtitles, and from not knowing the language. In the Hindi version, the bak-bak phrase is germinated by Priyamani after she is raped (she says she won’t have to listen to her brother’s bak-bak any more, as he cannot speak now, a bullet having grazed his throat). And besides, bak-bak is a genuine Hindi colloquialism — it actually means something. But in Tamil, it’s just noise (a pigeon-y noise, as in Oh bak bak bakkum bakkum maadapura, that song from Annai ), and the Hindi phrase comes off distinctly odd in the context of the epic-poetry-spouting heroine, especially at the end.

Anyway, this post is about KB, and to him it shall rightfully return. Thank you sir — for the movies, for the memories.

PS: My favourite phase of his has to be the seventies. Moondru Mudichu, Avargal, Thappu Thaalangal, Varumayin Niram Sivappu, and especially Nizhal Nijamagiradhu

PPS: I look forward to attending the celebrations this evening at Chettinad Vidyashram. Hopefully, there won’t be much rhetorical grandstanding from guest speakers, but even if there is, I don’t think I’ll mind. The man deserves it.