Friday, August 07, 2009

'Bharat' Murali and the aesthetic experience!

Bharat Murali, the gifted Malaylam cine actor and stage personality died last night. He left us at his prime , 55 years, and rightly had many more years to live . He was Chairman of Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi at the time of his death. In 2002, his acting in the film 'Neyythukaran' won him the National Award for the best actor in India. My last meeting with Murali was in the Senate Hall in Trivandrum when we were there to pay our last respects to the writer Kamala Das. Little did I imagine that my next visit to Senate Hall will be to pay my last respects to him. Some months ago, while chatting on a cosy evening ,he made me recite Macbeth:
To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale,
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
The theatre actor in him loved Shakespeare and these lines moved him. Murali was deeply touched when I told him of my mother's remarks about an article he had written. On every occassion we met after that, he would inquire of her and ask me what she was reading .
Murali was not merely an actor who gave his best performance. He went beyond the performance to unveil the basics of the aesthetic experience that makes art so appealing to the human mind. This led him to the Kashmiri thinkers who lived and thought over this many centuries ago. He was astounded at how they could reach such solid conclusions and was always inquiring about the processes that enabled them. Abhinavagupta was, according to him, the most prominent of the lot. He read them seriously and often would ask me to spend time to read and understand their works.
The recent advances in neurosciences which led to path-breaking research on the neural basis of aesthetics attracted his attention. Murali would affirm this research was only a confirmation of what these great Kashmiri thinkers on aesthetics intuited centuries ago. 'Phantoms in the Brain' the wonderful book by Dr.Vilayannur Ramachandran, the famous Indian neuroscientst who lives and works in the United States influenced him deeply. He was confident that neuroscience would soon read out to us the workings of the human mind as it appreciated all forms of art. Murali drew parallels between the writings of the great Kashmiri thinkers on aesthetics and Dr.Ramachandran. He felt it was the continuance of a great Indian tradition. This led him to invite Dr.Ramachandran to visit Trivandrum and deliver a talk on the subject. The picture of Murali, on the podium, welcoming the great neuroscientist and explaining to a rapt audience on how and why the human mind gets drawn to all forms of art is deeply etched in my memory. Not even his greatest characters on stage or screen can surpass that image!