I sighed as an immediate reaction to the news of veteran Kannada actor KS Ashwath’s demise. There was something very unsettling in this revelation that went beyond, way beyond, just feeling sorry for the rude victory of death- the inevitable. More than grief, this time, a distinct hue of shame embroidered itself across my distorted fabric of apathy. As I investigated further, some reasoning seemed to be surface.
I remember the first time I had seen the popular HBO show ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio’ hosted by James Lipton in the United States. While on the outside it seemed like just another show where celebs would drop by and share tales from their extremely eventful lives, a few consistent viewings had me convinced that this wasn’t just a show that was designed to pump more gas into the already overflowing popularity tags attached with these well known faces.
No. This was a more personal, more casual and definitely more real interaction session that these so-called legends would have with the students who were being trained at the actor’s studio. Some of the folks in the audience were studying cinematography, others were budding screenplay writers, others aspiring assistant directors.
But regardless of their passion, they were treated to an hour of wholesome,engaging and certainly entertaining conversations with the likes of Tom Hanks, Steven Speilberg, Michael Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Johnny Depp, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Robin Williams…the list goes on and on.
What made me always curious was the criminal lack of such a platform for local legends like Sri Ashwath in our land. And this doesn’t just apply to Karnataka either. Take any film industry in our country. All we have to show for it is a mindless and maniacal demi-God worship of people who walk around with their inflated egos and over-inflated wallets.
What made this further more tragic was how acting, as unplanned a nation as India has always been since its awkward geographical abortion in 1947, is also something that rarely requires ‘training’. Most of the ‘top 10 superstars’ we currently admire by giving them weird labels are people who either got lucky or are second generation actors.
Sure, there are some with a bit of natural screen presence too. Agreed. But what use is it if there is going to be a megalomaniac monotony over what we are shown as the audience? What use is all this talent if it is going to be shut away behind closed doors and draped in silky robes of mediocrity? Could this be why we are not able to encourage and harness talents like Prakash Rai to stay back in our state?
Ashwath sir’s death brought back memories of Sri Balakrishna. Another extremely talented veteran actor/comedian in Kannada. He too disappeared into the hideous wraps of mundane entertainment without so much as a song. Even today when I watch his amazing spontaneity and unarguable onscreen timing, I feel blue that such a unique talent was cruelly ignored by both filmwallahs and the audience once his peak had passed him by.
I wonder what it would have been like had he been brought to a stage where he could sit with budding actors, comedians, technicians, writers and made to share his tale. It would have been a session, I am sure, that would have been filled with so many unique and precious moments that all of us could learn something from.
Instead, we handed him a bunch of worthless awards and made him die in poverty and loneliness. Criminal. Just plain criminal. Not at all worthy of a man who made a Herculean performer like Dr. Raj Kumar a shade dull in ‘Kannu Teredu Nodu’.
As Karnataka continues to lose celebrated names each month, we seriously need to pause and ponder over how we can contain, nurture and care for the talent that sits rotting in the back alleys of our mediocre-heavy industry. What possible stage can we give to talent pools like Ramesh Bhat, Avinash, Sihi Kahi Chandru, Mukhya Mantri Chandru, Umasri, Tara and Anant Nag so that they can help the future generations become better artists, better performers and more than anything else – better thinkers.
Rest in peace, dear Ashwath sir. You deserved more than you eventually got but you are certainly in a much better place now.
Posted by : Shashi Krishna