A woman who deserts her husband and two little daughters and goes with a man whom she loves, a man who strives to come out of his wife’s shadow and establish an identity of his own, an elderly couple who fight over trivial matters, the elder swamiji who silently protests the Math’s takeover by the foreign-educated junior swamiji, innocent people getting caught in a murder case, CET issue, Dowry Law Misuse (IPC – 498A): through these characters TN Seetharam brings out the complexities of human relations.
Trials and tribulations of a middle-class family, commercialisation and politicisation of religious institutions, a multi-national mining company that grabs land from farmers, debt-ridden farmers committing suicide, an honest woman IPS officer who takes on the politicians, a powerful minister who controls the Chief Minister, kidnapping a child and killing a mother-in-law for property, made the serial a true pot-boiler.
Everything and everyone found a place in Muktha.
Muktha was distinctly different from other Kannada serials. It took up major issues like Naxalism, capitation fees, organic farming and godmen with grace and panache. This mega-serial is all set to finish shortly, in fact today…. (When we met TNS a couple of months ago, he said it will end on July 28th, 2006. But there are a lot of loose ends to fix and doubt whether it will end today, even after the SMS drama!).
T N Seetharam has become a household name in Karnataka. He has written and directed television serials – Sphota, Maya Mruga, Manvanthara, Maley Billu and Muktha – that have catapulted him to fame and fortune. His courtroom drama, Muktha, has viewers sitting rivetted to their TV sets, and as an actor, he has become a familiar figure, battling it out in court.
Ironically, the black-coated lawyer who always fights for the underdog was something that Seetharam had wanted to be in real life. “I studied law, but I am more successful playing a lawyer on screen. Now, after every episode, most of the calls I get are from viewers who are lawyers and judges!” he exclaimed in an exclusive chat.
Was this the fulfilment of his personal ambition of wanting to become a successful lawyer? “Definitely, yes! I used to dream of this – me standing in court arguing an important case, with all those people watching.”
So, all those legal angles were accurate, everything technically correct. Every bit and everything was carefully researched by his team. And it showed in the serial, specially the court scenes. So much so that ETV Kannada channel banned anyone else except TNS to shoot court scenes in their serials.
Seetharam was jolted into looking at the harsh realities of life when his sister died tragically. He was 15 years old at that time. “I won’t say that I became a serious person, but this incident definitely made me look at life from a very serious angle,” he said with a hint of sadness in his eyes.
This incident had a deep impact on him, and this is why his TV serials have such a strong woman factor. “I haven’t specifically written about this incident at all. But I began to see the helplessness of a woman in a middle-class set-up – how the husband is not a person, but an establishment. There are a lot of such woman characters in my serials.”
Seetharam was 20 years old when he wrote his first play, prompted by another tragic incident – the passing away of his father. Only later did Seetharam begin to think that he might have played a part in his father’s early demise.
“My father was a Shanubhoga — a village accountant — and wanted me to come and look after his ten acres of land. I was then studying law, and along with people like P Lankesh, was a committed socialist opposed to owning landed property. I wrote a letter to my father saying that I did not want to come, and that I was not interested in his land. He had acquired this piece of property through sheer hard work.
“I learnt much later from my mother that he had taken my refusal to heart. He was suffering from some ailment, and after my letter reached him, he was so upset that he stopped taking his medicine.
“This affected me deeply, and I wrote my first play, Baduka Mannisu Prabhuve. I entered the play in a competition organised by Prajavani, and got the first prize. Dr Ramachandra Sharma, the renowned playwright and poet, was one of the judges. This was how I wrote my first play.”
Prior to writing his first play, Seetharam was already an established Kannada theatre actor. One-act plays were popular then, and P Lankesh, after seeing one of his performances, told him that he had to play a role in every play that he wrote. “In most of Lankesh’s one-act plays I played the lead role.”
Seetharam’s entry into films was after his play, Asphota, written in 1977 on the Emergency, became a runaway hit. The celebrated Kannada director Puttana Kanagal watched the 100th show of the play, staged in Madras. Puttanna was so impressed that he asked Seetharam to write the screenplay and dialogue for his next film, Manasa Sarovara. This 1982 film went on to become an award-winning hit.
Anybody would think that after such a start, Seetharam had finally signalled his arrival into the world of television and films. But yet another jolt awaited him. He had signed as guarantor for a huge loan for one of his acquaintances, who had closed his factory and “run away.” A summons was served on Seetharam on the day of his marriage. On the night of his wedding, Seetharam went to Shimoga in search of his acquaintance. The man he was searching for escaped by jumping over the rear wall when Seetharam knocked at his door. “That’s why my serials always has somebody innocent who cannot pay back their loans, summons are issued, and there is a battle against such a case!” He laughed at the memory.
But it was no laughing matter then. For a period of ten years – from 1982 to 1992 – Seetharam took over the automotive battery-manufacturing unit and sought to pay back the loan. Even the sale of his property could not have covered the debt.
In 1990, Seetharam directed the TV serial Sphota, based on his theatre hit, Aasphota. This was telecast on Doordarshan. It took another two years for Seetharam to finish paying back the huge loan of Rs.11 lakhs. After his entry into the world of television serials, there was no looking back. “I think it was goodbye to all those hard days. All my serials since then have been successful.”
All of Seetharam’s television productions have been mega-serials. Where does he get the inspiration? “It began as a necessity. I needed the money. Now it has become a way of life. Sometimes I feel fatigued, but otherwise it has become my work.”
Does he not tire of this exercise and long for a serial to get over? “Oh, I’ve felt like that so many times! I have been asking ETV to allow me to conclude Muktha for the past one year. But they did not want to! Also, it’s not so easy: nearly 70 people directly depend on me for their livelihood. I would not call this creative work – it becomes creative only incidentally. ”
Seetharam has written the story and screenplay for the film Kraurya. It is about the travails of an old lady in a traditional middle class family and the complex relations between individuals, spanning generations. He has acted in Dharanimandala Madhyadolage and directed Matadaana which secured the ‘Best Regional Film’ award at the 47th Indian National Film Awards. He has written plays like Nammolagobba Naajukayya, Baduka Mannisu Prabhuve and the much aclaimed Asphota. He has directed serials like Mayamruga, Mukhamukhi, Manvanthara, Maley Billu, Muktha and Colleju Ranga. Mayamruga had the Karnataka population glued to their TV sets for 2 years. It captured the successes and struggles of three middle class girls who attempt to balance their personal and professional life.
As it is so obvious, all of Seetharam’s serials since 1992 have had titles beginning with the letter ‘M.’ Seetharam hastens to point out that it was nothing to do with luck or any such thing. “When I conceived Maya Mruga, I could identify with the title. I was chasing a mirage in the form of this bank guarantee and see what happened”, he says, adding, “Matadaana was based on Byrappa’s novel of the same name. After that the channel insisted on titles beginning with ‘M’. I can give you hundreds of such titles. It has nothing to do with my personal choice or luck.”
This brought us to his experience with the making of the film Matadaana (starring Anant Nag, Tara, Mukhyamantri Chandru and others). Byrappa’s novel dealt with the political situation in 1954, with the erosion of Gandhian moral values. Seetharam set his film in 1971, the era of Indira Gandhi and Devaraj Urs. “I wanted to portray how administration and corruption began to combine. That is not there in the novel. Also, I wanted to show what happens when an educated man wants to stand for elections.”
Seetharam is on the final lap of his mega serial, Muktha. He wants to take a break after the serial, and is planning on a feature film, Mrs. Mukhyamantri, produced by journalist friend Ravi Belagere. And Malavika has been roped in to play the lead role. But TNS told the film neither has a ‘Mrs.’ nor a ‘Mukhyamantri’. I hate suspense.