On ‘The Happiness Road’ with Thota Tharrani

My conversation with National Award-winning Art Director Thota Tharrani for my ‘The Happiness Road’ Series that appears in DT Next every Sunday. Read the conversation on the DT Next page here.  ‘The Happiness Road’ is also my next Book. Photo Credit: Vinodh Velayudhan 

“I am happy when I feel grateful for who I am”

 Life, to Thota Tharrani, is a three-letter word: “A-R-T”! “I don’t do art for building an identity or for fame or money. Art keeps me creatively alive; it flows through me,” he says over tea in his beautiful studio. “But cinema is different,” he clarifies, adding, “It has given me a name that is bigger than I really am. Luckily, I haven’t let it get to me. I always look at those who are more talented than I am and I look at those who are less privileged. I am happy when I feel grateful for who I am and for all my blessings.”

That’s a very modest perspective coming from a man whose body of work spans five decades. His art direction in Nayagan (1987) and Indian (1996) fetched him National Awards. Besides these, he has been feted for his work in many films and his art has always been celebrated by connoisseurs globally. “I am humbled people find my work worthy. I don’t attach too much value to material gains. There’s great joy in creating art of all forms, and there’s greater joy when your art has been able to touch a Life and make a difference,” explains Tharrani. He shares an anecdote about a painting he randomly made and gave away to a casual worker in Kolkata, 20 years ago. Recently, while visiting the city again, when he bumped into the worker, the man thanked him profusely saying he sold the painting and raised money for his daughter’s marriage. “That moment is priceless. I am happiest in such moments. This happiness – no amount of money, no recognition can get you,” he avers.

Thota Tharrani - Option 1 - Photo Credit - Vinodh Velayudhan

Tharrani, Sarada and their daughter with Vaani and AVIS

Tharrani’s wife Sarada pipes in to say that he is always “happy, positive and immersed in his art”, no matter how challenging the circumstances around him are. How does he manage to stay this way? “I work very hard. I enjoy the process of creating art. And I have learnt not to have any expectations from the world – so, I am never disappointed. I believe in my art, in the value I create. And never in the valuation that people place on me or my work,” replies Tharrani.

Tharrani’s unquenchable thirst for creative expression blends beautifully with his remarkable contentment in a material context. This explains why he is so accomplished and so happy!

Thota Tharrani - DT Next - 26.3.17
The story in DT Next’s print edition



On ‘The Happiness Road’ with Shekar Dattatri

My conversation with Wildlife and Conservation filmmaker Shekar Dattatri for my ‘The Happiness Road’ Series that appears in DT Next every Sunday. Read the conversation on the DT Next page here. ‘The Happiness Road’ is also my next Book. Photo Credit: Vinodh Velayudhan

“Virtually everything in Life is a bonus”

Shekar Dattatri is 54 years old. But he looks a decade younger. And the reason, I realize, is that he’s been following his bliss for 41 years now. “From the age of 13, I have never done anything that I have not wanted to do. What makes me happy is doing what I believe in and what I love doing,” he says.

A chance visit with a friend to the Guindy Snake Park in 1976 led to Shekar getting “drawn into the world of nature”. He started off as a student-volunteer back then. But one thing led to another and his Life evolved serendipitously – from his getting an SLR camera from a well-wisher, to him getting to make a National Award winning film on Silent Valley, and later on with the plethora of film opportunities that came his way, many of which went on to win awards and had premium showings on Nat Geo and Discovery. “I am blessed. The Universe has been very good to me – connecting me to the right people, at the right time,” acknowledges Shekar, adding, “And I made sure I invested each waking moment in exploring nature’s every facet. I feel it would have been a waste of my Life if I had done anything else.”

Shekar Dattatri - Option 2 - Photo Credit - Vinodh Velayudhan

Vaani and AVIS – engrossed in conversation with Shekar

Much feted and celebrated, Shekar is very grounded despite his rockstar, cult status in wildlife and conservation filmmaking: “I am still learning to make films. What I have done is just a drop in the ocean.”

From 2000, he has exercised a significant, conscious, choice to shift his focus from making films for TV and instead make films for conservation awareness. He concedes that he makes little or no money this way. But he’s very happy that his work makes a difference to someone, somewhere. “I have chosen to be single. And I live modestly with just enough to support myself. Whatever I do I try to do it well, I have no expectations and what gives me happiness is making a film that I really believe in,” he says.

I want to know if being happy and content can consistently deliver greatness, as is evident from his impressive and vast body of work. Shekar’s answer, while being unpretentious, leaves me with yet another inspiring perspective: “Virtually everything in Life is a bonus. When you accept this fact, you are more happy, and Life is more meaningful.”

Shekar Dattatri - DT Next - 6.8.17
The story in the print edition of DT Next