I think 13 became an unlucky number for this series of posts. The last post in this series came in October 2009 (That’s long for a series of posts). But I was so determined to post number 13 and interestingly I have chosen a very different movie for Number 13 – Muhammad Bin Tughlaq.
Muhammad Bin Tughlaq (1971)
Can you name a person in Tamil Nadu who can make a brutal, extremely sarcastic and honest political satire movie? I think there is only one person who made it and even got away with flying colours (black and white??!)
Cho Ramaswamy, fondly called as Cho is a political analyst, a Tamil Political Magazine editor and a writer. A lesser-known fact is that he started as a playwright and a stage actor. Even his entry into stage was accidental. He made his foray into movies too, and he was an instant success. His best film and play is Muhammad Bin Tughlaq (1971), which I would consider arguably the best political satire in India.
Muhammad Bin Tughlaq was initially a play written by Cho in 1968 and staged by his troupe Viveka Arts many a time. The same group of people to make the successful play into a movie in 1971.
Rangachari (Rajagopal aka Ambi) is a well-known archaeologist, who is on a mission to find the remains of Muhammad Bin Tughlaq and identify his real cause of death. Once during the mission, he discovers Tughlaq (Cho) and Ibn Battuta (Peeli Sivam) alive. They claim that they were alive because of a secret herb. Tughlaq enters back to the country with fanfare and understands the political scene overnight. Contests in elections, gets elected as the prime minister in his own ridiculous way and makes some innocuous decisions. But the mystery unravels slowly where Cho and Peeli Sivam are college students who wanted to change the way democracy is being misused in the country. They, along with the help of their professor, impersonate as Tughlaq and Battuta to make people understand the real value of democracy. On the day of revelation, the intoxication of power gets into Cho’s head, and he plots the killing of his friend by creating riot against him to stay as prime minister. The cast included Cho, Peeli Sivam, Ambi, Neelu, Manorama, music was scored by MS Viswanathan, produced by Alliance Productions and the story, Cho himself handled dialogues and direction.
Why is Muhammad Bin Tughlaq so special?
1. The movie from start to end never deviates from the sarcastic tone, and it criticised every decision made by the then governments. The choices of Cho as Muhammad Bin Tughlaq have become a reality in later stages of Indian politics – like where he makes all the MPs as deputy PMs – Meghalaya’s 4 CMs? He makes one language for each state as the official language and even suggests Persian as the official language of India. The buying out of MPs, state-sponsored riots and what not. Although we tend to laugh at the movie, after a particular point, we are struck by the reality of the democracy that we live.
2. The sharp dialogues that will make you laugh and think at the same time. If you observe the movie, the best sarcastic one-liners are not delivered by Cho or Peeli Sivam but the supporting cast of Ambi, Neelu and Manorama.
3. The apt cast and most of the actors are from the stage which made them natural. I think Manorama was the only one cast from the cine world and she was brilliant as the “Kolgai Parappu Seyalalar” (PR) of Tughlaq. Casting stage actors made the film more like a stage-play, but it can be overlooked for the brilliance of the movie.
4. For the man by the name “Cho” – the concept and the dialogues – he was just unmatchable. His dialogue delivery and the slight jerk he makes when he walks, lovely. The body of the man delivered the same impact as his dialogues. He never smiles in the movie, and you know how dangerous were his stupid decisions. He is matched every scene by Peeli Sivam as Ibn Battuta – nobody could have done the roles better than them. Cho scores in the final scene when power takes over him and his psychic acting proved that he is a better actor than what for he is remembered.
Why is Muhammad Bin Tughlaq on the list?
1. Arguably the best political satire to make it to the Indian screens and the most honest portrayal.
2. The plot is relevant even today. If you watch it tomorrow, you will relate to the current political situation and have a wry smile at the plight of ordinary people like us.
3. For the sheer brilliance of Cho and Peeli Sivam.
1. The drama troupe of Cho was named as Viveka fine arts because they were all graduated from Vivekananda College in Chennai.
2. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq movie was portrayed as against Muslim community by some political parties, but when they saw the film, they found it is nothing to do with the community. In fact, the title song on Allah rendered by MSV is still revered as one of the best songs written in Tamil on Allah.
3. Due to the success of the movie, Cho named his political magazine as Tughlaq, and it was his another spat with DMK that Thugluq’s circulation went up.
4. Ambi who acts as Rangachari in the movie and the convener of the drama troupe is the brother of Cho.
5. I think the Muhammad Bin Tughlaq play was in production till 2007 (am not sure) but could not continue because of the age factor of Cho. I don’t know whether they do special shows. I do have a DVD of the stage play.
6. His famous stageplays include Judgement Reserved, Sambavami Yuge Yuge, Unmaiye Un Vilai Yenna, Iraivan Iranthuvittana and much more. His book Enge Brahamanan?, one of the definitive literary piece about Brahminism was serialised for Jaya TV recently. The second part is currently running.