You must have seen or at least heard about the film River’s Son by now. It created quite a stir even before being released and much to the distress of the naysayers did well at the box office as well. The Man from Madras Musings watched with amusement as the doomsday advocates decided to anyway vent their spleen. They must have no doubt written their scathing reviews even earlier and then having watched with sorrow the film’s success added a few more paragraphs by means of a pen dipped in bile. Not that it made any difference to the film – it came, it was seen, and it has conquered. MMM hears that the money raked in was unbelievable and even the Mumbai film industry sat up and took notice. MMM is happy – not that he has any stake in the film – for when an industry battered for two years by a pandemic suddenly does well, it is a time for joy, and not jeremiads.
The problem with most of the Cassandras has been that they imagined they owned the eponymous novel. What they forgot was that River’s Son the novel was meant for a 1950s audience that read it over four years even as it was serialised in a magazine. The film on the other hand, is meant for a millennial generation with the attention span of an ant. And yes, MMM did notice many errors, in backdrops and costumes. In particular one that pervaded the novel and made it to the film as well – considering that the historical events on which the film is based spanned 16 years, not one of the characters age, in prose and on celluloid!
Be that as it may, MMM was tickled pink when media houses from up north began calling him and asking him for enlightenment. Having grown up on a steady diet of Mughal history (if that,) they were surprised to know that there existed kings down south. MMM found something innocent in their queries about Raj Raj Chol and his son Rajinder. They wanted to know as to why if the younger son had the title (surname in North Indian parlance) Varman, the elder brother was known as Karikal and the sister Kund Vai. MMM had very little to say for the very mention of Chol had taken him on a mental journey to the north where they made chickpea dishes in a fabulous manner. They also asked about Vaanthiyathevan which made MMM somewhat nauseous. They enquired about Nandini but stopped short of names such as Azhwarkadiyan, Anbil Aniruddhabrahmarayar and Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar.
And a couple of days later, MMM was mighty amused to find a report that read that the south Indian erotic film Pig’s Son had done well. The changing of an ‘o’ with an ‘a’ had done all the damage. MMM sadly did not notice any erotica in the film and is planning to watch it again just to make sure. There was yet another aspect – the action is set around 985AD and much of Indian media got it wrong. There was one group that said the film was about happenings in the 9th century (985AD they assumed was 9th century). There was a second group, slightly more knowledgeable than the first which knew that the century count was always different from the number in the hundredth place, only they did not know as to how it differed. And so they played it safe by referring to the film as being set in the 8th century!
As for the film itself, it may have been set in any century, going by the costumes, backdrops and props. And it could have been set anywhere as well – random monuments from North India and of a much later vintage kept zooming across the screen. The language was yet another matter altogether. Most characters did not know the difference between zha and La or La and la or Ra and ra (all to be understood here from the Tamil point of view). Very often MMM assumed that a tail was being referred to when all along the actor was meaning a sword. On raising this point with someone involved with the film MMM was informed that it was quite likely that people in the 10th century spoke Tamil the same way as people do now. Another person had it that the actors spoke that way on purpose, chiefly to engage with the young audiences of today. Somehow, MMM was not willing to buy either argument.
Nice article Sriram. Appreciate your concern for spelling Za La la. Am sure people would have spelt it correctly in 10 century.
Right from the title to the end of the musing, it was utterly amusing!
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