VIJAYLAKSHMI NADAR | 13 JUNE, 2018
Real Vs The ‘Reel’: Kaala, My Father’s Story
S.Thiravaim Nadar with Varadarajan Mudaliar, the infamous don (Cover Photograph)
A year of stressful waiting and trepidation, to see if Rajnikant starrer Kaala is indeed based on the life and work of my father S. Thiraviam Nadar, and after catching a special screening of the movie in USA, a day before it officially released in India, I can safely say that the movie is based on my father’s life. Of course, a lot more details has been added to the film to juxtapose the past and present day Dharavi, which I feel only weighs down the film, adding no value to it whatsoever.
I personally feel that if the director PA Ranjith had stuck to the “messiah” angle, and set his film in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, he would have had a more powerful film on hand, with enough grit, struggle, pain, and yet a lot of joy as well, to hold the movie on its own.
There are not enough underworld stories, with a heavy dose of compassion, and each time they are told, they are run away hits. This movie was supposed to be Rajnikant’s answer to Kamal Hassan’s Nayakan, but it fails to invoke the same sentiments.
(My dad giving away my hand in marriage)
In his attempt to give a present day overtone to the movie, Ranjith, only shows fleeting images of Dharavi of the 50’s, 60’s and the 70’s when Dharavi transformed from a mosquito infested swamp, to keep the focus in the present where Dharavi has now become a Rs 400 billion worth of prime land.
My father, in the mid-fifties and later was instrumental in filling up these swampy, no man’s land with mud, to help the fleeing thousands from Tirunelveli district, hit by a terrible famine, to settle here in temporary structures. These soon turned into sprawling slums. This is a story by itself.
Ranjith has got so carried away by the Dharavi of today, that he has preferred his central character Rajnikant in the present, rather than fifty plus years before. Those earlier years have been dismissively told in a series of childish sketches, depicting exactly my version of my dad’s story, attributed to Rajnikant’s ‘dad’ in the movie, Vengaiyan !
(Thiraviam Nadar with three of his four children)
The joke here is that Nana Patekar who definitely looks younger than Rajnikant in the film, bumped off Rajnikant’s father in the film and is also shown as Rajnikant’s adversary in the present too! This is where the plot loses itself. Ranjith’s fascination for Rajnikant, to show him in the past and present is where he loses his grip over the film completely. Rajnikant is shown as a 60 year old, with no noticeable achievement credited to him for all those years. No employment has been attributed to him either, all of which would have given away his leanings in the film.
The 100 crore defamation notice filed by my brother Jawahar Nadar, had focused on the fact that my father may be portrayed in poor light. Our fear centered around the fact that since Ranjith being a Dalit himself is always under pressure by his fans to keep the focus on the Dalit community. And true to expectation, Ranjith has literally strewn Dalit symbolisms everywhere, without it having any relevance to the film or the central character.
There are Ambedkar statues, Buddha statues, a Buddhist temple, they reside in Bheemwada, one of the important characters is called Bheem, while Rajnikant’s status is left to interpretation.
(Thiraviam Nadar with his wife Ambika Nadar)
The Nadar community, a prominent business community, was included in the category of the Backward Class by Kamaraj Nadar, in the 70’s, which most from the community do not acknowledge or agree with. A high court petition filed in the Chennai High Court focused on the fact that either my father should be shown as a Nadar or as a secular Tamilian, the way my father actually was and not as a Dalit. Ranjith has very smartly played with this aspect of the film.
Coming to the present, Rajnikant is shown as protecting Dharavi from being converted into a ‘vertical’ slum instead of a ‘horizontal’ one at the moment.
The two major parties Congress with the help of Shiv Sena tried to usurp the sprawling Dharavi, centrally located and tried to banish the slum dwellers to far away areas, in an effort to “clean” up Dharavi and then relented and put them in buildings in the area itself, which is nothing but vertical slums, with a 250-300 square feet apartments, in exchange for their duplex slums!
Though Rajnikant has been shown in present day Dharavi, the character borrows heavily from the past, and most definitely from my father’s life who too fought on several occasions to ensure that Dharavi is not “cleaned” up for vested interests. He wanted the poor to be treated with dignity and given better accommodations than they had at the moment, not far from where they were, otherwise they were quite happy where they were.
Rajnikant wears a safari suit to meet Huma Qureshi, his previous love, something which my dad wore if he felt a need to ever dress up. Who wears one in today’s day and time ?
My father always cut a formidable figure in his white kurta and white dhoti, with a black umbrella always, through the year. Not only did the umbrella help him in his progressing age, he never hesitated to use it as a weapon, something which Rajnikant does too !
My father insisted on education being the only way out of poverty, refusing to take the MP/MLA seat offered to him, because he felt only the educated should enter politics. Similar scene in the movie as well, with Rajnikant insisting on education on multiple occasion.
In several scenes in the film , the police could not get to Rajnikant. Again, that is very close home. The police left my father pretty much alone, dropping in to sometimes seek his help to solve their personal issues as well.
Swords have been shown to be liberally used in present day Dharavi, which is again is so 70’s and the 80’s. My father has taken sword attacks on his arms. But can you imagine a scenario like this today? I do not think so at all. Even the BJP/RSS goons today can only flash rusty swords!
Replicating the present day communal incidences in the film, complete with haram meat thrown amidst praying Muslims, to trigger riots, all weigh down the film and is a poor attempt to hide the fact that the movie is indeed a big slice of my father’s life.
Though we have been accused of cashing in on the actor’s and film maker’s popularity, I would like to state here that it is amazing that they would not mind appropriating a real life story to encash it at the box office, but would shy away from giving credit where it is due.
The very first clue that the story is based on my father’s life came from director PA Ranjith himself, who in several interviews stated that the film is based on the life of a Tamil don/messiah, in Mumbai. who was from Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu.
Rumours soon flew around that the movie could be based on the two famous or infamous Tamil dons, Varadaraja Mudaliar and Haji Mastan. A "Nayakan" has already been made on Vardha bhai, and Mastan bhai has been featured in several Bollywood movies on the underworld. And most importantly neither one of them is from Tirunelveli. But my father is.
While these two "brothers" of his, (united in spirit and common goal of uplifting the Tamil poor) gathered fame and notoriety, besides the wrath of the government of the day, my father escaped the police radar, since he resisted from being swallowed up by a desire for smuggling. He instead used his immense, physical strength and brute force, to not only help himself, but those in the same boat as him.
What distinguishes him from the other two is his total lack of ambition, in garnering wealth through unholy means. His focus was simple, he had seen poverty from up close, pulled himself out of it, and wanted to help others out of it too. In today’s age of an information overload, where every little thing is blown up and highlighted, he too would have hogged the limelight.
In those days when there was only the print media and DD, his story remained hidden, because he did not choose a life of crime, though it was tantalizingly close. A career as a politician would have brought him the necessary fame, but that too he shunned, publicly declining an offer from the congress, to stand as Member of Parliament, stating that he was not an educated man and no uneducated man should hold such a high post. All these factors enabled PA Ranjith claim that his heavily inspired film, was the work of a “creative genius”.