The nostalgia inducing ‘Malgudi Days’: When Swami was my friend too

Amazon Prime Video is streaming all episodes of the old TV series, which was adapted from a few stories from RK Narayan’s book of the same name.
The nostalgia inducing ‘Malgudi Days’: When Swami was my friend too
The nostalgia inducing ‘Malgudi Days’: When Swami was my friend too
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There are some things from our childhood we never forget. A familiar taste, a place we call home, the games we played, the music we heard and our old friends. Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s in Bombay (now Mumbai), most of my time was spent playing and creating a ruckus around the house or spending all my pent up energy in engaging in some destructive activity. But there was one tune that would make me run and sit in front of our Bush TV set and hum along with the title track – Malgudi Days. For the next 25 odd minutes I would be transported to the world of Malgudi and lose myself in the escapades of Swami and his motley crew.

Malgudi Days, written by RK Narayan, was first published in 1943 and the TV show was made using a few stories from this book in 1986 by Shankar Nag, a Kannada film and theatre stalwart. The show featured many famous celebrities from the Kannada film world of those days – Girish Karnad, Vishnuvardhan, Ananth Nag, Arundhati Nag and Vaishali Kasaravalli, to name a few.

Great news for those who missed watching it earlier and for those who want to watch it again – Amazon Prime Video is currently streaming all episodes of Malgudi Days.

The town, its characters and the setting was nothing like I had ever encountered in Bombay, yet I could relate to Swami and all his predicaments. His constant struggle with school, his view of adults around him in general and his friends with whom he plays cricket and chases paper boats.

Swami became my friend too and I imagined myself being a part of all his adventures.

Most parts of the show about this fictional town was created and shot in Agumbe in the Shimoga district of Karnataka. What is interesting was the fact that this show was shot in south India with a Kannada speaking crew and starred predominantly south Indian actors, but the dialogues were entirely in Hindi. The boy who played Swami, Master Manjunath, was a Kannada child actor of repute but did not know a word of Hindi. He used to memorise all his dialogues before shooting and deliver them. The end result was still quite satisfying, so much so that even the Hindi speaking audience lauded his performance and fell in love with the character. The fact that this show remains, till date, a favourite among audiences across India is testament to the fact that language is not a barrier if the story that is being told is simple and relatable.

The series was telecast on Doordarshan and was my first peek into Malgudi and the world of RK Narayan. The show was also technically very sound and what stood out is the fantastic detailing in terms of locations and sets. The cinematography is creative. The way the camera floats over the Sarayu river, on the banks of which Malgudi is located, and unobtrusively captures the conversations of Swami and his friends (Mani, Somu, Sankar, Pea and Rajam) as they while away time is exquisite.

The stories surrounding the exploits of Swami and his friends are set in the pre-Independence era. Boys running around in dhotis, caps and jackets amongst Austin and Hindustan cars, the donkeys and elephants made the town come alive on screen.

The plot of each episode was simple and usually involved the little problems that crop up in their little town or the relationship between the boys themselves – small fights, jealousies and misunderstandings. From a stolen necklace to a tough day at school, all the little tales always had a happy ending.

I happened to read the short stories much later in life and I was thoroughly impressed by the way the television series stayed sincere to the stories and recreated Malgudi. Narayan had a way of creating simple, relatable characters that one could easily fall in love with, and his ability to vividly create the world of Malgudi in our minds was nothing short of genius.

I loved his threadbare prose and the simplicity of his writing – something that he has been criticised for. But I believe he was able to capture the intricacies of the society and the times he lived in quite effectively without resorting to complex language or excessively flowery prose. The way he depicted the everyday ordinariness in a detached but authentic manner is what made him an exemplary writer for me. His stories were full of delicate gems of wisdom that made his writing profound.

Personally, his style of writing has inspired me and has been a guide to the kind of stories I write. I used to shy away from displaying my ‘Indianness’ while writing in English but going back and reading the works of the great author gave me the confidence to play to my strengths and not shirk away from creating worlds and characters that define me, that I am familiar with.

I revisited the TV show recently and was instantly taken back to my childhood. The stories were old but they still resonated with me. Probably it was just my sense of nostalgia or maybe it was the faithful portrayal of Narayan’s stories, but even after so many years the show strikes a chord. The stories are not complex nor do they jump between timelines or pan out like fast-paced thrillers but what they do have is a lot of heart.

Years have gone by since I was first introduced to Swami and his friends and with each passing year they get pushed into the recesses of my mind but even today when I hear the title track of the show I think fondly of my dear old friend Swami and our adventures together.

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