Identity conundrum

Identity conundrum

Bipolar identity: Region, Nation and the Kannada Language Film
M K Raghavendra
2011, pp 264

Popular cinema has always been the favourite whipping horse of critics, derided and demonised as being devoid of aesthetic merits or cinematic value.

However, in a first of its kind definitive study on Kannada cinema — Bipolar Identity: Region, Nation, and the Kannada Language Cinema, critic M K Raghavendra debunks such trivialisation. In his interesting, illuminative, and incisive thesis, he observes that popular cinema does disseminate and reflect the changes happening around its socio-political milieu, succinctly capturing the angst and anxiety of the region’s diaspora.

Tracing the development of Kannada cinema right from 1956, and juxtaposing the thematic choices and concerns they deal with, and making comparisons with other regional and Hindi cinema, Raghavendra’s seminal inquiry posits that Kannada films have not been able to emerge out of their idee fixe with the then princely State of Mysore, much to the exclusion of the other Kannada speaking regions.

In five calibrated chapters, he supports his hypothesis by critically analysing the prominent films of each decade from 1956 to 2008. The scholarly study shows how Kannada films, which have identified Mysore predominantly as a nation within a nation, have not been able to accept and assimilate India as a larger, ubiquitous nation. With the result, Kannada films, he says, are not able to attract larger audiences, unlike Tamil and Telugu films which adopt a much more pan-Indian focus.

The author further states that Kannada cinema, which had its origins in the Princely State of Mysore, is still grappling with the loss of Mysore following the reorganisation of states. According to him, “because there is no significant Kannada language diaspora outside of the State, Kannada cinema is a more local cinema addressing people only within the Karnataka State.”

Arguing how Kannada cinema has been, decade after decade, grappling with Mysorean identity and language, the author, in the course of his exploration of Kannada cinema, also throws light on thespian Rajkumar’s impact on the collective psyche of people — as a larger than life regional icon who stood for the values and traditions of old Mysore.

The author also recounts how Kannada cinema takes a jaundiced look at Bangalore City, the State capital, as antithetical and alien to its very Mysorean nature. Indeed, according to him, Kannada cinema began addressing only the citizens of Princely Mysore whose socio-political milieu had a larger role to play in the understanding of Kannada films.

Bangalore, argues the author, has never been perceived by Kannada cinema as whole-heartedly Kannada, given its cosmopolitan nature where migrants converge to pursue better career prospects. Be it mythologicals, socials, family melodramas, historicals, romances and the like, Kannada cinema always grappled with the aesthetics of identity and adopted a distinct and definite bipolar approach to it, opines the author.

Bipolar Identity turns out to be an enlightening and enriching tome not only for film aficionados, but also for students pursuing film studies. Not to be left out are common movie goers whose reading of the book will help them see Kannada films in a new light.

The book definitely reflects on how Kannada cinema deserves merit and understanding. The book also helps place commercial Kannada cinema in perspective, so that they can be revisited and appreciated in a more holistic manner.

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