Bengaluru in a reel

Bengaluru in a reel

From ‘Puta Tirugisi Nodi’ to ‘Katha Sangama’, movies show various faces of Bengaluru

I had noticed a Guttahalli hair-dressing saloon named quite improbably after an Apollo mission whizz past my bus window every day on my way to college, and never thought about it except in that moment.

Then, one Saturday, they played Balu Mahendra’s film ‘Kokila’ on Doordarshan. The saloon turns up once or twice in the film. An impossibly romantic mist immediately shrouded that signboard, the shop, the street, and then a couple of nearby lanes.  My heart would begin pounding harder as we approached, and I spent the next few minutes eagerly drinking in the letters on the signboard, the frosted glass of the saloon when it was open, its vaguely blue metal shutters when it was closed,  and after it went by, the rest of that unremarkable street. Every day my soul became some voracious new being for those few minutes, part-camera, part-raptor. Every day I contemplated the unthinkable. I thought longingly of putting chakkar to college, of eloping with myself into that film-hallowed ground, of gliding up casually to the proprietor, of striking up a conversation, of learning his name, and why he named his business after some American space mission, before eventually asking if he remembered seeing Mohan and Kamalahasan striding up the street past his shop.

I never got around to doing it.

Sometimes I wonder if this was the point at which Bangalore became real to me.

When the wise man Slavoj Zizek described cinema as the art of appearances, he was on his way to making a distinction between appearance and reality, albeit in counterintuitive fashion. Knowing that the things flickering on the screen are not real doesn’t get in the way of our choosing to believe that they might be, and investing our anxiety, which is desire in the rawest form, into the might be. It’s heady stuff, the sort of intoxication that takes a really long time to fade.

It probably will be much more fun if we choose, playfully, to misunderstand his use of the word appearances. When the familiar is filmed, it undergoes a sea-change. It appears on screen, and our new challenge is to account for ourselves. It appears on screen without us, and that moment we are perhaps cast into the anxiety that this separation might cause.  The word familiar goes all the way back to a Latin term meaning ‘of the household’; does filming expand the household available then?

Many claimants clamour for the title of being the Bangalore film. I cannot pretend to be the best judge of that race. What I refer to is the fleeting glimpse of the city on film. Of how, on seeing St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral emerge on screen in some Amitabh film much like the shark in Jaws, I felt that this Bachchan was my neighbour, even though his name was Amit.
These fleeting appearances may sometimes be ghostly without being terrifying. I giggled while watching Anil Kapoor dial 56 people named Prasad as listed in the telephone directory before figuring out which one was Kiran Vairale’s father in the Maniratnam film ‘Pallavi Anupallavi’. I giggled again when Kapoor ran down a corridor in the now erased St. Joseph’s building on Residency Road to pull Vairale out of class. I sighed as I spotted several times  an MG Road sign that read ChitChat.

We could make a small distinction between such backward glances at lost parts of the city which are merely nostalgic, and the living familiar, quickened by film. The ‘Naguva Nayana’ song in ‘Pallavi Anupallavi’ proffers the sight of a guava-man on a bicycle before lighting on a cut fruit. In that moment I got over a lifetime of irritation with the absurd pinkness of some guavas,and began desiring them, and the extra pinkness of the salt-and-chilli-powder that would accompany.

The playground in Suneel Raghavendra’s ‘Puta Tirugisi Nodi’ is another example of the living familiar. In this story of two cricket teams constrained to share the same venue while the gulmohrs are in full bloom,  we encounter both the negotiations around public spaces that define Bangalore in this moment as also a changed city from the days of Pallavi Anupallavi where a man and a woman could hang out in a park without attracting too much comment.

Raghavendra’s film is also careful to continually pick out the multiple sounds of Bangalore  —  dialects of Kannada and the city’s other languages. In some of its memorable scenes, a boy named Bhatta flays the bowling so much that one of the fielders asks the question ‘Inna da sappidra’ (‘What the hell do you eat’ in Tamil) while a useless flower of a character spouts such gems in mock commentary as ‘Wind is came’.

I spent a good part of my youth in various branches of the City Central Library network and never thought to ask why nobody had thought of putting this part of life in Bangalore on the screen. Till I watched Roopa Rao’s ‘Gantumoote.  The CCL may today be a haven for those preparing for various civil service exams, but there are other stories that can be told, and it was good to see one of those stories emerge against shelves that were never so shiny or well-ordered in my memory.

Gantumoote’s great triumph is being able to balance between what I’m calling backward glances and the living familiar. There is the slowness of the era of bus-stop romances, landlines, and PP numbers (particular person, apparently, when only a few had phones and had to share) and no Internet, and the interminable boredom of school and college. Those who have watched this little gem will remember wincing through a pitch-perfect and terrible English lesson featuring Wordsworth and Daffodils which is in effect all English classes distilled into one moment.

I wept while watching the last film in the new ‘Katha Sangama’. Partly because its protagonist Lachavva takes a face that looks like a determined battleship through the tribulations of dealing with Bangalore’s buses on her own, and partly because she gets terribly lost owing to her confusing Banaswadi with Basavangudi. I forgave her through my tears, even though I might not forgive you, dear reader, for such a crime. I wept also because I live In Banaswadi, and we have been cruelly ignored by Kannada cinema for many, many years till this magical moment arrived.

We’ll go back to Zizek Uncle now, and wonder whether we should pay him any attention. His ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema’ offers us the immortal line: “It is only in cinema that we get the crucial dimension which we are not ready to confront in our reality”. We’ll quickly throw another stone at him in disagreement and say instead that the point when cinema remembers finally to address our city is the moment when we can all simultaneously go home and discover that home is just another bus-stop.

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