What makes Malgudi days special?
Yes, all episodes of Malgudi days are now available on YouTube. So what?
Why should I watch an old TV series half of whose actors are either dead or about to die? Why should I spend my precious time on Malgudi days when there are so many TV shows to watch ? Why should I care about a TV series which does not use computer graphics, loud background music or is not aired everyday of my living life?
I am not calling Malgudi days as is the greatest show on earth. I am sure there are several shows which are awesome. But Malgudi days matters to India, it holds a huge lesson to the directors and viewers of today’s soaps.
Malgudi days oozes with art. The immersing nature of the series makes Malgudi days a hybrid between a book and theatre. Just take a look at the first episode. So much effort has been put in to create a sense of space and time. The camera does not always focus on the face but zooms out and pans to show how people dressed, how the buildings looked, and how people interacted with the surroundings. Malgudi days makes us enter new worlds and minds. It is a visual treat.
Today’s TV shows are replete with background music. A loud background music stifles the voice of the artists. Dialogue is what should drive a scene, facial expressions are what should convey the mood of the characters, not some loud music. The screenplay is what makes the delivery powerful and not the constant flashing of lights or crooked camera angles. Sadly, the plots are recycled with a filling of cliches.
Today’s soaps are made by lazy directors for lazy viewers. Setting the drama as contemporary is convenient. Not much attention has to be paid to the details – No need to build a new set, no necessity to think about what should stay in the frame and what should not. All artistes, wearing a thick makeup that makes their skin look smooth, fair, and soft, appear far from real characters in life. Where is the stained teeth, weather-beaten skin or the shadow of other imperfections that are the reflection of a struggle called life? When characters seem real, they connect better with the viewers.
The last aspect I want to highlight is that of light and sound. Every face is brightly lit and there is always a background music trying to mute the sounds surrounding the characters. The shadows, the darkness, the sound of that river flowing, that bird chirping, or that spinning of the washing machine is what brings the drama closer to the viewers life.
Just seeing someone making coffee with a loud background noise makes the scene look fake and coffee unpalatable. The irregular lighting in the kitchen, that ticking of the lighter that does not light the gas on the first stroke, the that clinking of the steel pot placed on the burner, that sizzling of the milk, that crackle of pouring the coffee into the steel cup, and that cup brimming with coffee of brownish white froth.
Directors, just as writers, should focus on showing and not telling or killing with sound, for that matter.
I am grateful for the works of RK Narayan, the author, and Shankar Nag, the director of Malgudi days.