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Dreams fuelled by celluloid

Last updated: 31 July, 2010
Prema Nandakumar 18:56 IST

Weaving a psychedelic novel by going in and out of filmy myths and Indian politics has given Vamsee Juluri a handful of lively themes.

What can be more colourful than the Telugu filmdom of ‘40s’ and ‘50s’? In those days Emperor Krishna Deva Raya was vibratingly alive in the celluloid classic, Malliswari. N.T.Rama Rao was equally at home portraying Duryodhana, Karna and Bhishma. Krishna was a loveable presence, whether it was Rama Rao, Kantha Rao or somebody else. Vamsee has certainly stumbled upon a fantastic subject.

There is nothing as tragically sublime as a great man who has to close his life with a whimper. Parashuram’s Gandhian grandfather is one, a pioneer producer of well-known Telugu mythologicals. His last attempt to achieve the great comeback with a life of Krishna portrayed by his grandson is fated to fail utterly. But no matter, he has now an equally challenging part to play in Andhra Pradesh politics. All that Vamsee has had to do is to change names (NTR becomes SLM and so forth) and act out the hero’s self-pity which pours out in bucketfuls indicated by the innumerable paragraphs which begin with the capital “I”. Often it is a grunt, “I Parashuram”. Definitely something new to chew for the readers of English fiction at home and abroad, even if they do not understand what is avakayi and thathaasthu, alaga and ekkada. Perhaps, we should rather blame the editorial department of the publisher for these hiccups. For the rest, the novel runs the usual socio-political race which we had enjoyed in Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel. Ah, the dreams of childhood fuelled by the silver screen! When the idea is mooted that Parashuram could overwhelm the masses as the child Krishna and retrieve the sagging fortunes of the producer-grandfather, the boy hugs the idea tightly.

“One day, I woke up thinking that there was a boy sitting next to me. He was a little older than me, around the same size as one of my cousins, but just a lot nicer. He smelt of all the sweet offerings from the puja room. I couldn't see his face, but he said he was Krishna. I felt happy. Then, I woke up.” Such weaving with the Krishna-idea apart, we have glimpses of other regular scenarios in the Indian clime where the sacred and secular get entangled irretrievably. A drama on Prahlada ends in chaos as the actor portraying Narasimha becomes possessed with the power of that God and has to be calmed down with camphor-wavings, lest he really kill the one who was acting as Hiranyakasipu. But all this pales into insignificance when we turn to politics.

The great SLM who has been equally successful as Rama and Krishna in films, becomes the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, is toppled by a breakaway group in his party, aspires for the Prime Minister’s post by rallying the opposition parties, a Mr Middle Parting of Andhra acts pretty wily and is successful (we don’t need Vamsee to tell us the name, do we?), a Prime Minister is gunned down.Having failed to make it in filmdom (where the make-believe world is astonishingly real) and politics (where actual life is a terrifying make-believe), Parashuram comes to the United States led by the mysterious, hustler AK, a lady whose language brings us the Indian speech-rhythms as Raja Rao did in Kanthapura: “Why you think all boys should become doctor or engineer only are there no talented writers in Telugu people you just see Parashuram navala will come and all the prizes will come for him after all is his grandfather any ordinary person?” There is more to come, accompanied by blobs of Greek mythology. Never a drab moment. But all that is for the reader to go through and judge. Subham!

The Mythologist
Vamsee Juluri
Penguin
2010, pp 269
Rs 299

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