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A restless Renaissance Man

The many achievements of Prakash Belawadi
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First Published: Sat, Aug 31 2013. 12 04 AM IST
Belawadi (right) acts in the role of a RAW agent in ‘Madras Cafe’
Belawadi (right) acts in the role of a RAW agent in ‘Madras Cafe’
Prakash Belawadi, praised in reviews for his role of RAW agent Bala in Madras Cafe, is a Renaissance Man in the true sense. A Renaissance Man has wide interests and is an expert in several of them, what is called a polymath. I have known Belawadi for 15 years and think him interesting enough that I should introduce you to him and his achievements. I will list them as they occur to me in no particular order, and I am certain I will have left a few things out.
A few years ago, Belawadi wrote and directed a movie on the new economy, called Stumble. It starred Anant Nag and Suhasini Mani Ratnam. It won the National Award for Best English Film in 2003 (beating Aparna Sen’s Mr and Mrs Iyer). He is currently trying to put together another film project and that is good news because he is a brilliant director. I know this because he has directed me in a play. We worked on Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo, whose lead role he cast me in. I gave up after many rehearsals and readings.
Acting is exhausting, physical work and Belawadi is a rude and demanding director. Even if I had the talent, which I did not, it would not have been easy for me to go through with it. But I was able to observe Belawadi’s penetration of the Brechtian text which, as a writer, I should have been able to also see as transparently but often could not.
His interventions illuminated the words, as I imagine all really good directors can do. Belawadi’s approach is classical. He’s one of the few people you can have a discussion with on the founding text of theatre, Aristotle’s Poetics. And he puts all of this into practice. He has written and adapted 10 plays. He cannot remember how many he has directed, but has done 20 in the last five years alone.
He enjoys theatre. He never complains about how it loses him money and takes up much of his time. When it comes to theatre he’s always switched on.
I was telling him one evening about the idea that Robert Clive and the British were drawn into taking over Bengal by the Oswal Jains, who were funding the Mughal rump in Murshidabad and were tired of their incompetence.
He told me to write it as a play. I began it but left it as a few fragments. Belawadi took it over. He wrote it out fully and directed the play (in Kannada) a few months ago.
He runs the Suchitra Film Society in Bangalore, the best and most active organization of its kind that I know of. It was a moribund place till he took it over. He got U.R. Ananthamurthy to patronize it and now it has regular screenings, debates and an exchange programme with the Gothenberg University in Sweden.
Belawadi is a successful maker of Kannada serials, writing and directing the long-running hit, Garva.
Given his experience of the way the world works, Belawadi should be pessimistic about India but he is not. He engages with society and the state and hopes to introduce some change.
He contested the local elections in Bangalore, and lost. This did not end his desire to be involved. Along with biopharma company Biocon’s chairman and managing director Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and chairman of Manipal Global Education T.V. Mohandas Pai, he is among the founders of the Bangalore Political Action Committee, “established to promote a good quality of life for all citizens of the metropolis”.His concerns are for all: good footpaths, efficient public transport and that sort of thing.
He started and edited a weekly newspaper, Bangalore Bias (it shut down). He has begun so many enterprises, a media school among them, that I have lost count just of those he has been involved in since 2000, and would not be surprised if he has too.
Belawadi began his career as a journalist and worked for Vir Sanghvi’s Sunday. He remains a columnist and a first rate one. He has the best quality a columnist can have and that, according to Graham Greene, is never to be boring.
He is a conversationalist and raconteur. Now this shouldn’t be a category of expertise but it is at the level Belawadi operates. He’s a terrific off-the-cuff public speaker, among the best I have heard, with balance and an economy of words.
Belawadi has a dangerous lack of ideology that makes him an aggressive and unpredictable debater. He can casually assume a position, often contrary to one he held a couple of days ago, and unpack a ferocious argument.
Like all good men, he likes a fight, and like all good men it is promptly forgotten.
He has a quality that is admirable among men. He is restless and tireless, and totally uncaring for the middle-class ambitions that most of us cannot let go of, and few of us ever achieve.
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First Published: Sat, Aug 31 2013. 12 04 AM IST