It must be made clear at the outset, that the author of this article was a kid, who wore two shirts (one tucked in, the other tucked out with buttons open) and danced to the tunes of “Naan autokaaran autokaaran…” every Friday at 7.30PM (Oliyum Oliyum). He prepared for his board exams listening to this song from Annamalai everyday and visualizing that angry pair of eyes in his heart. So kanna, you get the picture.
I remember in an Orkut film community, someone had written a post saying Anbe Sivam and Baba are similar in some ways. The poor fellow got trolled. Everyone holds a film close to his or her heart for some reason. For me it’s Baba and I want to tell you why.
Watching the film was a magical experience for me. I distinctly remember purchasing two wheel chips packets and some biscuits before going in to watch the movie. And when my dad, my brother and I walked out of the theatre, we realized we had completely forgotten about the snacks. Now, any honest movie-goer, who loves munching stuff, while watching a film knows this is something very rare!
Recently, when reading a book titled ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’, I was surprised to find the kite scene in it. Paramahansa Yogananda, the book’s author, writes in the first chapter (Do a Ctrl + F for ‘kite’) that he demonstrated his yogic power to his sister by procuring a particular kite that she asked for. And he did it by merely focusing his thought on it. In the book, Yogananda’s sister doubts his powers. In the film, Baba doubts the Mahavatar Babaji’s powers. This is no coincidence. I see Superstar holding ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ in his hands and I think, “What could have gone through his mind?” Was he impressed and wanted to share his excitement that a Yogi could do stuff like this, if he focused his mind on it? Does that imply the magical seven wishes granted to Baba were simply the magic that faith and sustained concentration can create?
Perhaps, all that Rajini wanted to do through his screenplay was to share his spiritual message with the world. He’s a man, who simply loves to renounce things, wear simple robes and do a solo walk away from the camera. We’ve seen it in Muthu. We’ve seen it in Valli. We’ve seen it in Sivaji. (And he kind of does it in Endhiran too!) But then, I feel his spiritual message in Baba was overshadowed by his fans (including Suresh Krishna, who directed Baba). They wanted to spend more time placing the spotlight on him, the Superstar. After all, it was his comeback film after Padayappa. The thirst of his fans had to be quenched.
So what is Baba really about? Is it about Mahavatar Babaji, the Himalayas and the seven wishes? I think it is about the transformation of a non-believer and the love of a mother. The ‘Rajyama Illai Imayama’ song beautifully underlines the key moments in the film and the story. First, it shows the free and reckless life of Baba. Second, it highlights his mother’s love for him by showing her distress when he sweats. Third, it underlines his transformation into a believer in God. And fourth (the most impactful for me), it highlights the tragic situation when his mother dies in front of his eyes and he’s helpless. His situation of not having any more ties with the world is aptly conveyed by the lyrics. (Interestingly, mother’s death is what pushes Paramahansa Yogananda to embark on his spiritual journey. Chapter 2. An additional point to note is that Anbe Sivam too has a theme song that highlights the key points of the film.)
In some ways, Baba also reminds me of the life of Buddha. Buddha’s birth is said to have been followed by a prophecy that the baby will grow up to be a great king or a great saint. In Baba, it is his Jaadhagam that makes a similar prophecy. And Buddha’s father is similar to Baba’s mother in not wanting his son to become a saint. So what has Rajini tried to do here? I conjecture that his aim in Baba was to depict the trajectory that a saint’s life typically follows. And for this depiction, he has drawn inspiration from the lives of philosophers and saints he’s been influenced by. A miracle birth, an unaware childhood / adulthood, a realization / transformation and spreading the message of realization – that’s typically the life of a saint. (Do not confuse saints with gods. The life of Gods do not follow this trajectory. Gods are born awesome, like Krishna or Rama or any of our typical Tamil film heroes.)
Probably the problem with Baba was that it was a film seen by the uninitiated. Just like the audience of Hey Ram. In both cases, few people got the point that the film is about the internal transformation of the protagonist from a non-believer to a believer. Saaket Ram believed Gandhi was wrong and that eye for an eye was the way to go. Baba felt even Puratchi Thalaivar had been duped to believe in miracles. But, both characters transform following a set of circumstances they face. Now, the problem is that for the uninitiated, there is nothing special about this transformation. And so both films end up bombing at the box office.
When I re-watched Baba some years later, I was keen on closely observing the encounter Baba has with Mahavatar Babaji (just as I re-watched Saaket Ram’s conversations with Gandhi in Hey Ram). As Rajini remarks that Babaji must be God, Babaji replies that every person is indeed God. They only have to realize it. Nalla Sivam kind of believes the same. All those who love are God. The point here is that both Rajini and Kamal attempt to summarize their philosophies and beliefs through their films. Rajini adopts a direct question-answer approach to convey his point (especially during his second encounter with Babaji). Kamal conveys his philosophy a bit more subtly. But, both films have a guru and a disciple in their story.
Baba is a film that keeps sparking my thoughts in lots of directions. And that’s simply why I love to revisit this film, despite its many imperfections. To me, the film seems like the disciple to whom Babaji refuses ‘Deeksha’ because he is tempted by meat, wine and women. Likewise, Baba the film is tempted by many things and meanders and falters. But understanding where it’s headed, I don’t mind giving it a second chance.