Last week, I was interacting with a popular critique before he was about to interview me for a video post. The interview he had panned was about a movie I wrote twenty five years back – Guna (1991) and how the character that the most prolific actor Kamal Hassan had given life to in the movie, became a milestone in Tamil Cinema.
For me, the character I created through the story and screenplay has surpassed the creator. A great artistic asset that I have carved out has grown way bigger than me, that Guna is remembered still live and lovable past the twenty five years, shrinking mystatus as creator to a non-identity.
My critique friend firmly believed present-day movies lacked the character's touch and depth when compared to those in the eighties to mid-nineties. Characters lack depth and tangibility, and seem derived, caricatured for fabricated dramatic plots. Was it a lament?
Is it really true? Or is it questionable at all that the psyche of the reader and viewer has changed drastically to live by the exterior indulging than any inner queries and gratification?
If it is, then is it because writers and directors don’t care to go find their characters, delve deep into them and bring out the best of them? Is it because the writers think the present-day audience doesn't want to see the depth in characters, as modern living has become more peripheral and shallow; with lesser values and more of consumerist, egotist, haute bourgeoisies, infotainment-based euphoria?
I don’t want to talk about the theories of character building here, which I think is all over the books of screenwriting and film-making. I’m trying to find a cause for the depletion in character dimensions, as my friend has pointed out.
M T Vasudevan Nair
I remember one of the great screenwriters, and novelist and creative writer, M T VASUDEVAN NAIR Sir, winner of the Jnanapeeth Award, talk about how great stories and great characters emerge –from agony and pain; both from the inner self of the writer, and the outer manifestations as the characters the writer finds around his/her world. So the pain in the writer, and of the character contribute to the many dimensions in the character.
Yesterday I happened to hear an Educationalist talk of human values at the school-day celebrations where my daughter studies.The guest speaker was heard asking a pertinent question: how many among us nowadays eat along with our entire family, at least once a day, where the mother serves everyone not just the food, but the warmth of love - 'paasam'.
How many of us as writers and, also as living characters go through any rituals of love these days? How many children of our times enjoy the solace of the breast-milk and the moonlight (oh, it’s the famous lines in Kamla Das's story, which I wrote as screenplay for a television-short for National DD long back)? How many show the compassion (or may be audacity) amid our busy day/night schedules to stop by the mad old woman on the payment and try communicate with her to find her state of schizophrenic psyche?
How many of us can care to experience a sleepless night, in a filthy shack in a mosquito-swarmed, rain soaked slum? How many of us can identify the pain of separation, the agony of poverty, the anguish of uncertainty, the misery of tarnishing, the despair of ostracization, the fear of debt, the guilt of helplessness, the defeat in deceit?
No, most of the times we writers don’t. We’re in a rat race to accomplish the luxuries of life, and the flamboyance of the cinema.
And that's the death of character.