Subramaniya Bharati’s poetry in Tamil cinema

Posted on September 11, 2018


Read the full article on Film Companion, here:

The great Tamil poet, activist and social reformer died on September 11, 1921. Here are some of his songs that made it to the big screen.

Had this been a literary web site, I would have used this occasion to talk about AR Venkatachalapathy’s Who Owns That Song: The Battle for Subramaniya Bharati’s Copyright. The book comes with a provocative blurb: “Arundhati Roy received a million dollar advance for The God of Small Things. Amish Tripathi bagged a million dollar advance for a trilogy he hadn’t yet written. Why did the greatest modern Tamil poet die in poverty?” This is not – technically speaking – a valid comparison, for the publishing structures of the two eras are vastly different. (Maybe Tagore would have been a better reference?) But the point is well taken.

The book is a fascinatingly researched account of how the state, in 1955, acquired the rights to Bharati’s work and placed it in the public domain – which makes a good segue to the fact that so many of his poems ended up in the movies, before and after. As with a lot of literary (or non-colloquial) Tamil, my exposure to Bharati’s poetry began with the movies. Even in my schooldays, I could make out that this was something different – and not just because the syntax and flow and even the odd word was different from the way a Kannadhasan or Vaali would write a lyric. There was a mad passion even in the gentlest love lyric like Kaatru veliyidai kannamma, which was picturised as a duet between Gemini Ganesan and Savithri in Kappalottiya Thamizhan (1961).

Continued at the link above.

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