Screen time: Down the Malgudi lane

A right hand man to director of the series, Shankar Nag, Bhat had been involved in many of his former projects and stage plays.

Published: 20th May 2020 06:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th May 2020 06:44 AM   |  A+A-

A still from Malgudi Days

Express News Service

BENGALURU: From hunting for a suitable location which matched RK Narayan’s original story, zeroing-in on artistes who could bring alive the rural lifestyle, and costumes that matched the entire setting, senior actor Ramesh Bhat recalls the 1980s when he was part of the crew that shot Malgudi Days. The series is now being dubbed in Kannada for the first time.  

A right hand man to director of the series, Shankar Nag, Bhat had been involved in many of his former projects and stage plays. In Malgudi Days, his main role included getting the costumes right. “I had a job which required a great deal of responsibility. Clothes couldn’t be new, but we had to ensure that they gave characters the right look. So, we often carried a bottle of grease to dab onto the clothes,” he says. 

Bhat cannot emphasise enough on the team they had which made all the difference to the end product. “There were no hangups about what one could do and coudn’t. If some garbage had to be swept aside, even Nag wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the broom. It’s hard to get a team like that,” he says.   For the next three years or so, Bhat had to forego other offers despite many coming his way. However, after the release of the series, the respect they earned left Bhat struck. “Honestly, I began wondering what we had done to receive that sort of adulation. The serial commands the same respect three decades after it was made. I am truly lucky,” he says.  

Master Manjunath who played Swami recalls the summer of 1986 when he first shot for the serial in Agumbe where the crew changed all signboards to create the fictional town of Malgudi. A child artiste who began acting at the age of 3, he had done 23 films before he signed for this role. Despite not knowing a word in Hindi, he was taken on to play the character by Nag, with whom he had acted previously, as the director believed he fit Swami’s role. “Aru aunty (Arundhati Nag) and Pinty aunty (Padmavati Rao) helped me learn the dialogues.

They would orally translate it into Kannada to make me understand, and then I would mug them. It was only half way through the serial that I actually learnt a little bit about the language. Otherwise I was completely clueless, only pretending to know the language,” he says, adding, “Even though I earned a Masters in English Literature, I carefully avoided reading the book. I was worried about the difference in portrayals,” says Manjunath. 

Twenty years after Nag’s version, Kavitha Lankesh who took on the challenge to direct fresh stories in the early 2000s, points out that the innocence of Agumbe was lost with rapid commercialisation creeping in. Mud roads had been tarred, cable wires had come up and the sleepy town had transformed into a bustling village. While Bhat mentions that things were easygoing in Agumbe where house owners lent their property, including brass vessels, Lankesh differs, saying home owners began charging a bomb to let out their houses for shooting. “Every scene had to be re-shot several times because there were so many vehicles on the highway,” says Lankesh, who dreams of making a full-length feature film on the book. 
(With inputs from A Sharadhaa)


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