DC 12th anniversary: Celebrities decode Chennai
It was a salute to the spirit of DC in Chennai that so many distinguished people came to the office of the Deccan Chronicle for an interaction with its journalists ahead of the newspaper's 12th anniversary. The presence of such accomplished people in the fields of entertainment, music, politics and IT led to a very lively session on their thoughts about the city they love and their ideas on how far our society has come after the tumultuousness of recent days and what could be done in the constant seeking of improvement.
Suhasini was the most complete South Indian actress in her heyday with her fluency and command of four languages. Gowtham Menon, who has GenNext eating out of his hands, has a virtual cult following for his films and their lyrical portrayal of people and events. Sudha Raghunathan has found fame for her command of the most traditional Carnatic music with her endeavours in fusion music opening up space for her creativity. Salma is a creative poet who is equally at home in Dravidian politics, bringing her fluency of language to public issues. Kumaran is an software honcho with a great belief that data can play a big role in analytics so useful as to have a real bearing on how we do everyday things.
A lot of what they said made sense even amid the cluttered political scene of the day. There were stunning views about life in the city which went beyond bland praise for Chennai as a blend of the old and the new. There were considered views on society that came from different perspectives. There were revealing insights which made the session quite fascinating and it was a pity that in the end it seemed too short to be able draw all the wisdom of people who are celebrities in their chosen fields. As Goutham Menon said at so many points in the course of the meeting, "we could talk for hours on this". It is only the constraint of space that forces us to put out only excerpts of the long transcript of a meeting that made us the hosts at Deccan Chronicle proud.
Divergent views try to find common ground
Chennai is an excellent city and many of our friends from Bollywood keep talking about how vibrant the city is. Even when Amitabh Bachchan comes here and when I take him around the city and when the car passes through Music Academy, he would ask the car to stop there. Bachchan would always say this is the stuff - like Music Academy - that we don't have (in Mumbai) and I have heard many of my friends saying they get "really good handbags" in Chennai and I know of a family who came all the way from Bengaluru for wedding shopping and I keep hearing that Chennai is the best place to shop in the whole of South India. These are the revelations that were new and one major plus point of we Chennaiites is that we don't wear our wealth on our sleeves. I was born here but grew up in a village till I came back to Chennai when I was studying 9th standard and since then I have been living here. And I feel and know women feel safest in the city.
Gautam Vasudev Menon
I feel a protest like one that took place for claiming jallikattu back was long overdue. And there was certain amount of fear factor during her (Jayalalithaa) regime when it came to films, I think we should stick to certain kind of filmmaking. And about the political scenario, I am aghast at what is happening and I did request some people, whose names I don't want to reveal, to step in and I think they are also weighing their options. And I think the biggest problem is we are laid back and now I see lot of youngsters coming and I hope youngsters come out in large numbers to claim rights and fight for the society. Another thing about Chennai is about the duty-bound women and I was taught automatically to respect women right from my childhood. For me Chennai is about films, Maniratnam and cricket. Besides culture, I think this is the face of Chennai. I remember long hours I used to wait outside Maniratnam sir's office to meet him.
I think Chennai is amalgam of what they have expressed. Even I love to get back home after spending few days outside Chennai. When my flight touches down in Chennai, I feel "Oh, it's lovely to be back." And one thing I don't like about the city is the climate, on which we can't do much, and the new high-rise buildings and the bridges. I think we have to fight a little more to get our rights and ensure the green cover is protected. Chennai is the place to be and the city is a nice balance of traditional and contemporary things where culture is at its best. Chennai is a place where culture is appreciated and we accept other culture music forms as well. While we embrace symphony from Germany, we also have cinema, Carnatic music, bharatanatyam and kuchipudi.
There has always been inclusiveness in Carnatic music and I think (T. M. Krishna) is empathetically standing for it. I have performed in parks, prisons and in Corporation schools and I don't subscribe to the fact that people believe they don't belong there (sabhas). I am ready to perform anywhere, but I am bothered about facilitation. You definitely need government's acceptance if you have to perform outside the sabhas and I go to one person to seek permission to perform in a park and he directs me to another. But, he (T. M. Krishna) is pushing it right there.
I would like to narrate an experience in Pakistan where I had gone to address a gathering of writers. When I introduced myself as a Chennaiite, everyone spoke to me warmly about how the crowd at the MA Chidambaram stadium would cheer the Pakistani cricketers as they would cheer an Indian batsman or bowler.
This is the impression that people of Pakistan have about us - the acceptance factor that is attached with people from Chennai. And when we talk about Chennai, the infrastructure has not been developed for a very long time and I feel there is a need to shift some of the government departments from here to Southern districts so that we don't complain about too many people coming in and shortage of water and other things. People from South Tamil Nadu should have same facilities like we have and they will not come to Chennai if they have same facilities there. And one example is the Madurai Bench of the Madras high court. After the bench was established, people from South districts go there and get their work done without having to travel to faraway Chennai. And Periyarism is keeping Tamil Nadu alive still today. Many infrastructure projects and many social welfare programmes have been hit or stopped due to the political crisis. And I feel youngsters in Tamil Nadu have larger political awareness and political understanding. Yes, I am opposed to personality-oriented politics and I feel MK Stalin would bring a change by shunning identity politics. Ashokamitran was a great writer and he represents every generation. This government had not been procuring books and has not been concentrating on libraries like the Anna Library. Tamil Nadu is the only state where libraries are not properly looked after by the government.
What must change in our city?
Accepting mediocrity should go. Songs like kolaveri, I think we are hooked to it. It is not that I don't like the song; I love the song but I think there is mediocrity in everything.
And I think for the past one month there seems to be a hurry to grab everything. And there is a price tag for everything here. People don't have the patience to wait till things happen; I hear people pay Rs 5,000 to get death certificate urgently. Why should we do this? Why can't we wait? I think the price tag is little higher these days. People should wait and go through proper channels.
Carnatic music's entry into the tech world has been really large and beneficial.
You don't have to go to a sabha to hear music, you can do it on your palm.
The entry of online music has hit CD industry but is largely beneficial to the masses.
Yes. There is gender bias in Carnatic music. But we pretend as if there is no bias. It's cloaked under the garb of secrecy.
We should also highlight the importance of Tamil without fanatics being involved in it. Language is also a leader and language does unite people. We should celebrate language without fanaticism involved in it.
Gautam Vasudev Menon
I did my schooling in Chennai and I went to Tiruchy to pursue my graduation and the film appreciation would happen in hostel rooms and after having seen the films and music, I decided this is what I wanted to do and quickly jumped into films.
Carnatic music brings peace to everyone. There has been lot of commotion inside my kitchen as my maids used to keep fighting among each other. And one day, I decided to play Illayaraja's music, the next day Carnatic and the third day my cook said she was happy hearing Carnatic music and she wanted to hear more and more. Thus peace was ushered in my kitchen.
This is the state where education and health have been more or less privatised and Tasmac has been nationalised. Any state or country would progress only if we concentrate on educating our masses and giving them proper healthcare facilities.
Why women do not succeed enough in film making?
Our priorities are different. I am Maniratnam's wife and still I have faced problems finding finance. They just don't seem to believe that women can deliver. Maybe, we don't have the fire that Gautam V. Menon has. And financiers and distributors also have a huge problem with women directors. But women can be the best producers. Women are aggressive and if they even go in to ask Shah Rukh Khan to leave his caravan and come and resume shooting he would do so immediately.
IT is truly the vehicle that is creating open democracy in the world. Social media is creating leaderless society and it has brought democracy inside groups. I think internet is the best education today.
The openness witnessed on social media platforms and online is unprecedented. There is too much of openness and frank discussions on these platforms. This is really a good sign and a different kind of democracy.
I think in the coming days, the power of money will come down and the power of script will go up. I think technology will facilitate introduction of more art films into the industry and I think the film fraternity should get in.
There are no clear-cut rules or decision. It is a group work.
Illayaraja sir's work should be like Shakespeare's work and I should not be asked to pay for that.