Theodore Baskaran

  • Film Historian is not an occupation we hear often. It is as interesting as it sounds. With extensive research and neverending curiosity, Theodore Baskaran became a legend of curating the history of cinema. His books – History through the lens : Perspectives on South Indian cinema, The eye of the serpent – have found their way into the favourites list of Tamilians.

  • His expertise is not limited to just films & film history; it also extends toward Cultural research. But most of his reports are against the flow and highly unorthodox. For example, let us take the issue of town names. It is a usually agreed upon fact that a town’s name should be in the respective region language.

  • But Theorore opines against this. The town names are a piece of history. They are evidence of the place’s cultural history. A fine example would be the renaming of ‘Ootacamund’ to ‘Udagamandalam’ to suit the regional language. Changing these names to the regional language is equal to erasing history. 

  • The phrase Theodore uses often in interviews is ‘Ask new questions…’ He believes that asking new questions is the only way one can analyse history from different perspectives and uncover new angles.

  • He never fails to emphasise the importance of thinking outside the box. A society’s functioning requires such lateral thinkers. One of his famous speeches explains why this is important. ‘The history we learn is the one we have memorised, not analysed. We can recite the inscriptions, but we haven’t had the initiative to analyse them. Why has it never occurred to us to analyse history from various angles and in various contexts? Thomas Strackman, an American scholar has researched on Arthashastra from a different take and found that Arthashastra was not written by just 1 person, but by 4 people. Why can’t we reanalyse Thirukkural from a different point and discover new facts like that?’ This was an eye-opening speech on why multilateral thinking is important to history.

  • Another complaint he places on inscriptions is that most of them speak merely of the deeds of the rulers, and not of the layman nor the struggles and developments of that respective era. Though they have brought fame and name to our country, they do not show the entire picture. This is where art forms such as folk songs, dramas and movies show their worth. They hold the potential to portray the entire picture of the society.

  • Theodore can also be considered as one of the pioneers of environmental conservation in Tamil Nadu. There have been many notable environmentalists before him too. But Theodore did not stop at presenting facts. The way Theodore spread the message created an emotional impact on the people of Tamil Nadu. Along with the facts, he described the beauty of nature and made us realise what the future generations would miss if we failed to act now. Inspired by him, many youngsters have taken the step to conserve nature.

  • His book ‘Innum Pirakkaadha Thalaimuraikkaga’ is a must-read for every nature lover. The book title simply means ‘For the generations that are yet to be born’. He says that Tamil Nadu had a rich wildlife with animals like peacock and cheetah. But today the numbers of cheetahs and peacocks in our forests is close to zero. By portraying the depressing condition of wildlife in Tamil Nadu, Theodore inspires us to do our part in preserving nature and its resources.

  • Pet breeding is a fastly-growing and flourishing business in today’s scenario. In such a time of crowds chasing foreign breeds, Theodore shattered this fancy picture with his ‘Indiavin Naai Inangal’ – a book that shows how skilled our native breeds are.

  • There are times when teachers become students too. Theodore has also proved his mettle in acting. His role in ‘Aval Peyar Thamizharasi’ was applauded by critics – “A mistimed rain, but nonetheless, a beautiful rain”.

  • ‘Most of the problems we face today have their roots in our history. Without analysing them we cannot step toward the resolution of such problems’ – Theodore says staunchly!