Master Manjunath’s short but treasured moments with R.K. Narayan
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Master Manjunath’s short but treasured moments with R.K. Narayan

March 1, 2023

Thanana thana na na na… the  signature music of ‘Malgudi Days’ scored by Music Director L. Vaidyanathan, is suffice to transport one back to mid-80s. The 39-episode popular TV serial by name ‘Malgudi Days’ which was a screen adaptation of a trilogy of stories penned by the acclaimed writer R.K. Narayan and directed by actor-director Shankar Nag (late) was aired on Doordarshan in three seasons from 1986 to 1988. It still arouses one’s curiosity, for the combination of the duo (R.K. Narayan and Shankar Nag), who were  stalwarts in their respective fields.

Among very few who were a part of ‘Malgudi Days’ and still reminisce the moments related to those days, is Manjunath Nayaker, better known as Master Manjunath, once a leading child actor of Sandalwood. Though in his late 40s, Manjunath is okay with the prefix ‘Master’ without which he feels incomplete.

Master Manjunath was barely a 10-year-old boy when he played the role of ‘Swami’ in ‘Swami and Friends’ in ‘Malgudi Days.’ Who else can be a better choice than Manjunath to unveil the statuary by the same name and characters, moulded in statues, installed at Joy Factory Circle, Yadavagiri, in city recently. It was the locality (Yadavagiri) where R.K. Narayan lived (with his house now turned into a museum, located in a stone’s throw distance from the statues) on Vivekananda Road.  Even as the statues were thrown open to public (on Feb. 26), the signature tune of ‘Malgudi…’ was played in the background, making it a nostalgic moment for a while.

In an exclusive interview with Star of Mysore, Master Manjunath went down memory lane, baring his heart about ‘Malgudi Days,’ short but treasured moments with R.K. Narayan, his tryst with filmdom and many more. Excerpts:

By B. Sreekantswamy

Star of Mysore (SOM): What can you pat recall about Malgudi?

Master Manjunath: As we all know, Malgudi, the village was created for the TV series by erecting sets at Agumbe village in Shivamogga district. If my memory serves right, a fountain was built, so also a school and several statues were installed to give a village look. Most of those structures still exist, as a testimony to the popularity of the TV series.

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SOM: But, still many are not aware that ‘Malgudi’ was a fictional village and a film set?

Master Manjunath: The belief is precisely why, the mere mentioning of Malgudi still kindles interest. The set in Agumbe  can be maintained and promoted for theme-based tourism. The area around the set which is rural can be developed to remind people of Malgudi by converting the good old houses into home stays, besides utilising the indigenous resources, so that ecological conservation also gets a boost.

SOM: About Shankar Nag the Director of Malgudi Days…

Master Manjunath: He was a visionary. Apart from cinema related ideas, Shankar Nag had mooted the concept of Metro Rail like intra-city transport facility and building of pre-cast houses in those times itself. Those were the days when Kannada filmdom was looking at Chennai for most of the post-production works, that acted as a spur for Shankar Nag to start Sanket Recording Studio (which ceases to exist) in Bengaluru. He (Shankar Nag) remains an inspiration for all.

It was his vision that turned me, the boy who grew up in a tin-sheet house in Yeshwanthpur (of Bengaluru) into a popular child actor.

SOM: Did you ever meet R.K. Narayan?

Master Manjunath:  Yes I have. I still have vivid memories of R.K. Narayan visiting the sets of Malgudi, while shooting in Agumbe. To be frank, I had confused him for his brother R.K. Laxman, the famed cartoonist, who was known by his sketch ‘Common Man’, about whom I had read about in a newspaper. The second time I met R. K. Narayan was during the success party of ‘Malgudi Days’ hosted in Woodlands Hotel, Bengaluru.

There was a stage near the lawn in the rear side of the hotel, where Shankar Nag and R.K. Narayan were in conversation. Shankar Nag called me and asked, ‘Do you know him?’ I said, “R.K. Laxman?”. To this,  R. K. Narayan smiled  and replied, “You are exactly how I imagined Swami to be.”

 To be honest, I understood the values of these words much later while studying literature in my under-graduation days.

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SOM: Were you aware about the statuary (of Swami and Friends) installed in Mysuru?

Master Manjunath: No, not until I received an invite to inaugurate the statues a few days ago.

I am glad that ‘Swami and Friends’ continue to live in the minds and hearts of people and this statuary is  a second reminiscence of that wonderful  work of both R. K. Narayan and Shankar Nag, of course Arasalu in Shivamogga where iconic Malgudi Days Museum is built, is the other.

SOM: ‘Crazy Star’ Ravichandran is another actor in whose films you were regular. Nowadays, there seems to be no takers for his style of film-making?

Master Manjunath: One cannot easily undermine the enormous contributions of Ravichandran, who is known for bringing in a new style of film-making in Kannada cinema.

To put it in a proper perspective, there seems to be something missing now and we all, who were an integral part of his cinemas earlier, should join hands, to revive Ravichandran’s magic touch in film-making.

SOM: You found success in cinema at a very young age and very fast, but you also quit soon after. Any plans to make a comeback?

Master Manjunath: Yes, I was lucky. By the time I called it quits at the age of 19, I had acted in 68 films. What more could I have asked for as I had shared screen space with the biggies then itself.

SOM: The Film City still remains on papers and Mysuru has been already selected to execute the project?

Master Manjunath: The Film City should be a reality, but if it has to happen, those involved should keep their ego and politics aside.

SOM: When you look back, which are the finest of memories that keep you motivated?

Master Manjunath: The international award received for ‘Malgudi Days,’ followed by                          National Award received from the hands of the then President R. Venkataraman. Even 37 years after ‘Malgudi…’ was screened, it is still talked about that gives me joy.

2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Master Manjunath’s short but treasured moments with R.K. Narayan”

  1. Gautam says:

    Of course, This Manjunath can boast, when there is no Shankar Nag to support his story of meeting RK Narayan at Agumbe, a rainy area.
    Those who knew RK Narayan, would say, he would unlikely to have travelled to Agumbe, as he was known to keep himself with cities like Mysore, Bangalore and Chennai.
    This Manjunath did not say, in what language RK Narayan spoke to him-must have been in Kannada , which he rarely spoke, as aside from English which RK Narayan’s family’s first language, the conversations were in Tamil in his household.
    Th e sets of this Malgudi days were in mid-1980s, by which time, R K Narayan was moving to Chennai to live with his daughter.
    Me, who watched the TV programme South Bank Show hosted by Melwyn Bragg, of the ITV company, in London in 1979 about an interview with RK Narayan, explained in my earlier post that this South Bank Show TV crew met RK Narayan in Mysore in 1970s, and he took them to the Chamundipuram Raliway station to show that his Malgudi was that place-Chamundipuram in 1930s, when he wrote ‘Swami and Friends; then was an idyllic place, remained so until 1960s. It was clear Shankar Nag, was not aware of the above TV interview, not many in Indian diaspora in the West watched it though.

  2. Jogekal Lingappa says:

    Cannot understand the obsession of ?RK Narayan, who did nothing to Mysore, who spoke no Kannada and whose heart was in Tamil Nadu. I wondered whether he read any of the poems by Kuvempu, novels by Triveni and Tarasu, all quintessential Mysoreans, very gifted in their own ways. He could claim very few Mysoreans as his friends Thanks to the heavy lobbying by people like Ramachadra Guha, a Tamilian and a historian who approached the then Governor Hansraj Bhardwaj, who ordered the MCC to buy the crumbling house of RK Narayan at the market price , and the cash went to RK Narayan/s relatives..
    Although RK Narayan built this house in 1960s, I never saw him gardening or showed signs of living there. Most of the year, he travelled around the globe, taking assignments like teaching his novels in US colleges, which paid him in USD- he never bothered to give talks to schools and colleges in Mysore. During late 1980s, he simply abandoned this house, moved to Tamil Nadu.
    I too am very sceptical of this RK Narayan , visiting Agumbe, a remote part of Karnataka, a state ,which he hardly knew, even living in a city in that stat called Mysore. The only time, I saw him was at the Srinivasa Stores in the KR Circle, to which he visited to buy his areca nuts, speeding through the 100 feet road in his silver Mercedes. Much was talked about ny his nephew, Krishnaswamy , the cricket commentator and an undistinguished student in the engineering college Mysore, who also did not speak Kannada, about his uncle RK Narayan days in KLM Puram in his bother’s house.

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