Strokes of reel life


S Nanda kumar speaks to renowned Kannada filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli on his passion for movie making and the subjects he likes to bring alive on the cinescreen.

Girish Kasaravalli’s name has become synonymous with National Film Awards. Over the decades, he has emerged as a serious filmmaker and an earnest student of cinema who is constantly exploring ways of interpreting life and its emotions onto celluloid.

It has been a long and momentous journey for Kasaravalli, beginning with Ghatashraddha in 1977, a film he made immediately after completing a course in direction from the FTII in Pune. Now, 35 years later, he continues his journey of telling stories, a voyage that has been liberally peppered with national and international honours.

His latest film, Koormavatara (2011), received the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Kannada. I was curious to know if the fire for filmmaking was still there even after all these years. He laughed it off in his typical gentle fashion, thought for a moment — Kasaravalli is not given to making off-the-cuff remarks — and then said, “I think it is a lifelong passion, a lifelong commitment…I still want to make films about things that really bother me…things that I think need to be told.”

In an era of flashy camera movements and ‘item’ numbers, he has steadfastly stuck to his own restrained style of making films, refusing to make any compromises. “I do not want to make it palatable so that it can be acceptable to the market,” he says.

While he may not have changed his typical style of filmmaking, there has been a discernable shift in the way he approaches a story. He elaborates, “Of course, one can see some changes from what was there when one was much younger — you get a little bit of maturity, the attitude about the establishment changes, perhaps it is replaced by a more contemplative approach.

When you are angry, there cannot be that kind of probing quality.” I wondered aloud if that anger had been replaced by cynicism, whether his thought processes had followed that typical creative curve. He was quick to cut in, “Cynicism is never there in any of my films. I am quite happy about that, because after some time one does tend to become like that — but I have not got into that kind of approach.

I don’t think I will ever do. Anger has been replaced by a contemplative change, an attempt to look for the gray shades of life, rather than just black and white. I try to look for the values that sustain us, to see what is it that keeps us going in life.”

Cinematic spectrum

It is this delving deep into human emotions that marks a Kasaravalli film. Like the nightmarish bureaucratic tangles that Tabara, a simple villager retired from government service, is caught up in while getting his pension, even as his wife lies seriously ill, played brilliantly by Charu Hasan in Tabarana Kathe (1987). Kraurya (1996) examines the cruelty in human relationships and loneliness, while Dweepa (2002) depicts the inner strength and optimism of a woman while her hamlet is being submerged because of a dam being constructed, and as her husband is struggling with his own emotional turmoil of resigning to fate.

Or of the protagonist, an actor playing the role of Gandhi, who has the Mahatma’s ideals thrust upon him, in Koormavatara (2011), and finds the burden too much to bear.
While his earlier films reached the audiences in theatres, his recent films were not so easily available for the filmgoer. Neither was there a buzz about these kinds of films and their filmmakers, the way it was in the 1970s.

The public had excitedly discussed films during this era, when Chomana Dudi, Phaniyamma, Hamsageethe, Vamsavruksha, Ondanondu Kaladalli, Accident and Kasaravalli’s own Tabarana Kathe, to name a few, were released. As Kasaravalli explained, the centralised distribution system that was prevalent in the 1960s and ‘70s, with the support of some distributors, ensured that these films could travel the length and breadth of Karnataka. He also points out that the media used to play a big role in promoting these new-wave films. “The media helped by creating an atmosphere where it was thought to be very intellectually correct if you saw these films.

People were able to get a taste of these films. Now the media is no longer playing that kind of role. This is also a part of societal changes, a shift to consumerism, not just in Karnataka, but the world over,” he says wistfully. While many of Kasaravalli’s films might not be reaching the traditional screening venues, he points out that the digital era has made it extremely easy to reach out to a wide range of smaller groups all across the country: “Earlier, one had to depend on a film print and a projector, and you needed at least a small theatre.

Showing films now is much easier. Interested groups like colleges or corporates almost always have digital projection systems and halls. Many of them invite me to come and screen my films, and there is always a very intensive interactive session afterwards — so I am able to get much better feedback. Once, a screening was held in a temple hall, where traditionally homas and havanas are held! And the people who turned up here watched so sincerely, and the questions they raised later were so fascinating.

Actually, I sometimes wish this digital technology had arrived when I was much younger. This method of showing one’s films to these smaller groups has so many advantages. I think people should make a mental shift away from thinking that theatres are the only places to see films.” His excitement over the wide possibilities of exploiting digital technology for showing films is palpable.

While Kasaravalli has made a dozen films, he takes huge breaks between projects. “I think this is because I am very lazy! Once a film is over, I catch up with everything that has happened during that period, because when I am making a film, I completely turn off the outside world —  no newspapers or television. If all these political changes in Karnataka had happened while I was making a film, I would never have known about it. I take a long time to prepare a script, or develop an idea.”

Kasaravalli is a B.Pharm graduate — he gave up going down that line in order to pursue his deep interest in cinema. Could he imagine any other career? He thinks for a bit, and says, “I think I would have loved to have been an architect.”

He misses his wife, Vaishali, an award-winning actor, theatre and TV serial director, who died in 2010 after an illness. “I miss her especially when I am thinking of new ideas or when I have a script ready — she was the first person I turned to, and she was always very direct and gave me her honest opinion.”

But the journey in films is not over yet for this keen filmmaker from Kesalur village in the Shimoga district of Karnataka. “Fortunately for me, my producers are always ready to support me. It is I who spend so much time deciding on a subject — it has to be something that really bothers me,” he said, even as a producer of his films was busy watching some videos in an adjoining room. The fire that this student of films had back in 1977, when he made his debut with Ghatashraddha, is clearly far from extinguished. If anything, it is burning with a steadier, deeper flame.

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