One of the best movies that I have seen till date is M.T.Vasudevan Nair’s “Panchagni”. It was released in 1986, and I was a school student then.
If you google for the best screenplays, lots of Oscar winning film scripts become available online for the reader. I have enjoyed Fargo, China Town, Out of Africa, All about Eve and lots more in this manner. However, we lack a database of similar scripts in English, for classic movies made in other human languages, all across the world.
It struck me forcefully, when I was trying to explain the Malayalam conversations in Panchagni, to a non Keralite film aficionado. It was not possible for my friend to relish the classic movie- so dignified and gracious-because the beauty of the language and the depths of meaning got lost due to lack of subtitles.
There are so many of us, decently well versed in multiple tongues, who pursue careers having nothing to do with literature; but with an abiding love for movies. If a few of us make an effort, can we not easily make available a treasure house of such scripts for the non native speaker? If I get to read a screenplay of a classic Telugu movie in English, I’d be able to relish the scenes to a reasonable degree, without any subtitle.
The catch in the script is that M.T.’s screenplay has been changed drastically in the final scenes of the movie. They changed the victim to suit the sensibilities of a 1980 audience.
Panchagni ( The Five Fires)
Total scenes 68
Scene 1 ( Day)
Women inmates sentenced to life time imprisonment, are seen engaged in various works. The female wardens are supervising them.
Different types of prisoners. Those who have travelled through life’s darkest alleys.
From somewhere in the background, the toll of a bell is heard. The women stop working and queue up for food.
Scene 2 ( Day)
A warden walks to a locked cell. She stands there.
If you gaze through the bars, one cannot completely see the lady prisoner who sits in a corner of the room.
The warden opens the door and steps inside.
Indira, totally exhausted , sits leaning against the wall.
She is not inclined to look at the warden.
Warden: Are you not tired of starving yourself?
Indira lifts her head and looks at her. Though her body is fatigued, her eyes have a spark in them; they are rebellious.
Warden: Get up now, and lick up what is given!
Indira , unaffected.
Warden is non-plussed for a few moments.
Then, softly mutters : Fasting! Break her bones- that is what is needed…
She goes outside.
Warden locks the cell.
Jail. The area where prisoners eat their food.
The female prisoners are eating. Three inmates are talking.
First One: Her mother is very sick. She wrote that she wanted to see her daughter, but the parole has not been issued.
The second one(relishing the food): Those who strike by denying themselves food, must be totally nuts!Nowadays the food in the jails is so good! No one can find fault with it. Twice a week, mutton!
Third One:Go ahead, pitch camp here forever then!
Second One: What’s wrong over here, I ask you! If one acts a bit humble, there is no issue at all!
First One: That is true for those who suck up to the wardens.
Second One( flaring up): You …..don’t you dare to play with me! Did you not murder a child to grab a mere half sovereign worth gold chain?
(She tries to find an ally in the third one.) There won’t be any one else among us, who must have committed that sort of dastardly crime, eh?
First One: Oh, as if you were specially invited by the Government, to come and reside here! Let me not start!
Second One: I did what any red blooded woman would do! Hacked them both! Trusting that son of a bitch, I had left everyone at home…and ditching me, he dared to take up with that bloody whore…!
The Supervising Warden: Silence! Who the hell is raising her voice?
The one who had started narrating the tale of slashing her husband becomes silent.
Outside the cell, a warden who resembles a man more than a woman, and two lady orderlies, are in a dilemma over whether to force feed Indira or not.
One can see Indira lying on the ground of the cell.
She looks at them, standing just beyond the bars, and then closes her eyes.
Lady Warden: If you two can hold her, I will show you the way to make the food go down!
One orderly: Two? To hold her, one of us is enough!
They salute as the Jail Superintendent and the Assistant Jailor walks through the courtyard.
The Supdt takes a look.
Lady Warden: Shall I force feed her, sir?
Supdt: Thinking..then negating the suggestion…Hmm
As he walks away, the orderly peeks inside the cell.
Indira, apparently in a serene sleep.