# 14 Prakash Belawadi: One million stories of a multi-centric India

Theatre, film and TV personality, Prakash Belawadi
is a bold voice in contemporary Indian storytelling. He is # 14 in our list of Bangalore’s
Global Icons. In this free-flowing interview with CSP, he talks about Indian
cinema steering a new course and about the need to write stories which reflect
a new, vibrant India. Here is Prakash Belawadi, in his own words.

On Cinema: ‘The film industry defies
the logic of one India. It is a multi-centric India.’

I think we
should have a script bank and a bank of films and every year you should do an
Indic film festival that actually looks at and interrogates Indian history
reimagined in creative work today. Every year you must do that. Without
showcasing these works, people will not be familiar with our real history and
this must be in all the languages.

There is already a tendency in India now to
look at India’s immediate history. We never had the courage to do this so far.
That is why you had a biopic on the most famous person of the 20th
century to be done by Richard Attenborough. You did that because you did not
have the courage to give it to any Indian. Today such a thing will be
unbelievable. First of all we have moved so far away from that kind of an
India. The Government of India giving money to somebody else to make a film doesn’t
exist. A Kannada film dubbed and released in Bombay – KGF- beat a Shahrukh Khan film released that week in Bombay. This
is a changed India with films like Bahubali,
KGF
.

I acted in Madras
Café
which looks at the assassination of a former Prime Minister. You have Neerja, the heroic tale of an airhostess
saving lives. I acted in Raja Krishna Menon’s Airlift which documents the largest air evacuation in history
carried out by Air India. In Malayalam, I acted in a film called Take Off which talks about the release
of nurses from the ISIS.

In our times we didn’t have this. We had a Garam Hawa, an art film which was like a
lament on beautiful India lost. While doing my latest film with actor Surya, I
told him: ‘If a star of your stature can come and do contemporary history film like
this, it will lift Indian cinema.’ He said ‘it is time we all did this.’” That
sensibility has come. Maybe that stream needs to be strengthened.

I acted in ‘Accidental
Prime Minister’
which was based on Sanjaya Baru book on Manmohan Singh’s
tenure. The film did not have the profundity that you see in a film like The Post
(which depicts
the true story of attempts by journalists to publish the Pentagon Papers) for example. However, you have films
from directors like Shoojit
Sircar (director of Yahaan, Vicky Donor,
Madras Cafe, Piku, and October. He also produced the 2012 film Aparajita Tumi) that are remarkable.

The Tashkent Files, which is such a low
budget film, has such high quality research. And its power lies in the
imagination of the director to frame the story in such a way so as to be able
to investigate the past with such contemporary or modern angst. All this is
very interesting. These narratives have to be strengthened. It is happening
across India.

Once I did the story
of Punyakoti as a puppet show and children were weeping. In Punyakoti, when the
cow tells the tiger, I will feed my calf and return, the tiger asks how can I
believe that you will come back, the cow says, ‘Truth is our community, Truth
is my father, mother. Truth is my everything. If I don’t agree to abide what I
have given in contract, Achuta Srihari will not forgive me.’ The tiger is taken
aback and lets her go. When the calf asks ‘When you go away, who will look
after me,’ the cow pleads with the community, ‘look after this child as your
own.’ When the cow is asked if she will not stay back, she says ‘I will not
break my promise, I will not think bad, and the commitment I have made,
whatever comes, I will meet it.’ What a profound value to give children. The
meaning keeps coming as a refrain - that you are bound to the Truth and the truth
here is Dharma. The cow is conflicted, it wants to live for the child. But it
has given its word. In the conflict of Dharma it is interpreted in a way we
understand.

On Content: “We need
to give people genuine avenues to understand what India was”.

We are dependent on
the media which is compromised by ownership, not just by politics. Owners come
with agendas and that has so grossly interfered with the traditions of media
freedom that you can no longer trust mainstream media alone. There are better
India narratives. Somebody goes to Kashi or Kashmir and writes a blog, you should
be able to fact check it, showcase it, and maybe commission these storytellers
to make small projects, make documentaries, give talks.

It is the casual
patriotism of the Indian people that is in the margins. I don’t use the word ‘nationalism’
as it is a bogus word and has no resonance in India. The Indian intellectual is
a Western intellectual. In India, it is not enough to be an intellectual. You
have to be a ‘viveki’. We should stand
above the intellectual tradition, western educated people are spouting. They don’t
know anything. What they know is what they have been told. I am sympathetic to
the casually patriotic Indian who has not even gone to college. A person who
has not even gone to high-school. You talk to auto-drivers, lift operators,
they are far more concerned about India than all these people. You need to take
the responsibility to reach this to them.

India, I can tell you has not been destroyed. It has seen much. All kind of stuff has happened. We have somehow survived, and this Liberal front that is projected in India is the swan song. This is the last stand. I feel after this we will settle into a sane debate. Where extremists on this side and extremists on that side will become irrelevant. So that we can talk. But for that to be enabled, you, we, can play a catalyst and it is a great role.  

You need to do a sufficient
amount of push messaging before you have a critical mass of aware people, so
that a pull model can operate and they can do it themselves. I am not sure we
need to spend money to do a ‘Shankara TV or Aastha channel’. We don’t need
anyone to teach us bhakti, we need them to teach us viveka. We need to give people genuine avenues to understand what
India was.

On Translation and
vernacular narratives: You need to revalorise people who genuinely did good in
this country

Your history books,
your best books are not translated into Indian languages. You should have a
great translation project and a dubbing project for great works in audio-visual
media. Invest in one radio channel or one frequency across the states and run
an Indic series. Radio is your most powerful medium. Forget print. Second you
should have a translation center, where great works are translated,
digitalised, kept in a library, create an app where people can easily access the
library. Just like the Gita and the Veda are now available easily, we should be
able to access what our great gurus and leaders said. I don’t know what Bankim
said. I would call him the father of the Bengal renaissance, but we Indians don’t
what he said. I don’t know what Madan Mohan Malaviya said. I don’t know what
Krishnaraja Wodeyar said - he was the Vice-Chancellor of Benaras Hindu
University. You need to revalorise people who genuinely did good in this
country and that should reach out not in a pious way but as knowledge, as annotated
notes, you should find ways to do it through a TV channel, a translation
center, and a series of radio channels.

Don’t try to start a
university. This is India, you just give them a little bit of self-awareness
and their self-respect will automatically flower. Indic culture is now a bonsai
culture, it is hidden in the ground, cramped, dormant, terrified, and covered
in mud. If you give them the sunlight of awareness, they will grow big.

There is a movement
around the world where people are saying, ‘human beings need not go and
regenerate nature, just leave it be, don’t go there, nature will heal itself.’
I don’t know if that is true and if we have done too much damage. However,
India, I can tell you has not been destroyed. It has seen much. All kind of
stuff has happened. We have somehow survived, and this Liberal front that is projected
in India is the swan song. This is the last stand. I feel after this we will
settle into a sane debate. Where extremists on this side and extremists on that
side will become irrelevant. So that we can talk. But for that to be enabled,
you, we, can play a catalyst and it is a great role.  

As city dwellers we
know about Indian history because of Amar Chitra Kathas. Even when I was
reading Shakespearean plays, I was still reading ACKs. Because that is all we
had. So if you do quality literature people will be receptive. When Ramayana
and Mahabarata series were running on TV, wedding invitations would come saying
that TV sets had been arranged in wedding halls. The Indian narrative does not
need push. Where it needs a push is access to it.

One way of doing it is
by reviving traditions that we had in magazines like Chandamama, Ananda
Vigadan, Sindhura, Mayura.  Exploit
opportunities where children can be exposed to things more profound rather than
just film songs through shows like Sa Re Ga Ma where their cuteness is
exploited. You can do a classical music event for children. Do a 40-day event
for children during holidays. Plug-in with the Ramotsav of the Ram Seva Mandali
which is going on for 80 years.

Look at the wealth of this country. Now students are doing Panchatantra instead of Aesop’s fables. The idea that we can turn to our own culture has already come into this country. In a population of 1.63 billion, if you can get one 1 million writers, and give them one year to write a story which has the quality of a fable or parable which has an Indic, complex, moral value, we have enough, we have the narrative. We must do a one million story project and promote our own stories.

(As told to Aparna Sridhar)