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The star of Malgudi Days

The `Swami' of Malgudi Days talks to K. Satyamurty about the making of the television series and his role.



`I did not know Hindi and the series was to be made both in English and Hindi. I learned my dialogues by rote'

AT THE age of 11, he was a veteran of 32 movies when a role in a memorable series telecast by Doordarshan shot him into national fame. Yes, we are talking about "Master Manjunath" who played the role of Swami in Malgudi Days, based on the works of R.K. Narayan.

The television series was shot during 1985-86 and first telecast in 1987. Before Swami, there was a brief role in an episode titled Hero.

When the role of Swami came up, Manjunath was at some disadvantage. "I did not know any Hindi and the series were to be made both in English and Hindi... I was like a typical South Indian movie star," he says. Ideal for the character though not for the series. After all, Malgudi was an imaginary amalgam created by R.K. Narayan. Between the producer T.S. Narasimhan and the late actor Shankar Nag, they decided Manjunath was the choice, Hindi or not. "Eighty per cent of the crew did not know Hindi either but eventually we managed. I learned my dialogues by rote," he says.

His English wasn't all that great then either, Manjunath admits. "But Mr. Narasimhan and Mr. Shankar Nag did not make it seem like hard work. They made me enjoy my part," he says.

Some years later, R.K. Narayan was to tell him at a party: "You are exactly what I imagined Swami to be 50 years ago." Not a small compliment coming from an author whose memories about another of his books made into a Hindi film were anything but pleasant.

The 13 episodes of the first Malgudi Days series was shot almost constantly and, for Manjunath, it fortunately coincided with his school vacation. "The locations had to be carefully scouted and anything which indicated today rather than 50 years ago, had to be avoided." This meant removing cigarette butts, plastic wrappers and avoiding telephone poles.

The locals were bound to their agricultural occupations and finding enough people for a "crowd scene" was often difficult, he remembers. "We had to tell people to at least be seen walking on the streets in the background."

After Swami, there were what he calls, roles in "absolutely commercial films." One he likes to remember is that in Agnipath with Amitabh Bachchan. Others were with the likes of Anil Kapoor and Sunny Deol. By the age of 20, he was ready to say goodbye to movies and get down to studies.

In the middle of all this came love, in the form of athlete Swarnarekha, a sprinter and long jump champion. They are happily married now, and Manjunath works for Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises.

Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

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