KANNADA FILMMAKER GIRISH KASARVALLI: Prefers authentic over synthetic! As a filmmaker who truly admires women, his films mirror society and how it evolves over time due to changes in the economic and political environment

The films of Girish Kasaravalli appeal as much to the mind as the senses!

THIS country’s films continue to educate and make me grow up some more, my dears, and entertain in the right sense of the word. Karnataka’s most exquisite dream-maker of a filmmaker, Girish Kasaravalli, says “As far as I am concerned there are authentic films and there are synthetic films!’ He likes to make his films as close to ground realities as he can…presuming that authentic films make for an authentic society and civilization, while synthetic films make for a synthetic society and civilization!?

(Sigh) I regret I wasn’t able to see all the Girish Kasarvalli films screened at the recently over Girish Kasarvalli National Award-winning Film Festival hosted by the Entertainment Society of Goa at the Maquinez Palace from Aug 18 to 20. But two films I managed to see were Ghatashraddha (The Ritual) and Gulabi Talkies and they’ve made me thirsty enough to want to see all his other films before it’s time to say goodbye cruel world!

Comparisons are odious, and unlike some critics, I won’t even compare him to the renowned Satyajit Ray of West Bengal and India. Girish Kasarvalli is far, far more substantial and understatedly sublime! The gross and sublime come together perfectly in his films.  Ray’s films appeal to the soul with their lyricism and portrayal of what I call mother earth films. Kasarvalli’s films are also mother earth films but they appeal to one’s mind and shatter the soul!

He was here for the screening of his selected films and after each screening there was a Q & A session with him with ESG’s resident film critic Sachin Chatte running interference, contributing tidbits of information about the filmmaker and his films before and after the screening. Kararvalli is sensitive, perceptive, and a passionate observer of life as reflected all around in his native Karnataka — this is reflected in the stories he details with disquieting honesty and a bias towards women if I may say so.

It takes a little while for his films to sink in and long afterwards they keep unravelling in the mind the more one thinks about them. Take Ghatashraddha, his first black and white feature film, based on a novella by Jnanapeeth award-winning writer U R Ananthamurthy. The film is about the anguish of a little boy student Naani (Ajith Kumar) brought by his father to study at the Brahmin Vedic school attached to a temple. Naani boards at the schoolmaster’s home.

The elderly schoolmaster goes away seeking funds to keep the school running. Naani finds it tough to fit into the unruly, undisciplined lifestyle of other students coming to terms with the fact that their teacher’s daughter, Yamuna, is a young widow having an affair with a “ghost who knocks on her door at night” and is pregnant. Remember this is old-world conservative, closeted society steeped in piously tyrannical Brahmanical rites and rituals.  An “outsider” neighbour of another caste (converted Christian) woman earns extra income by performing secret abortions on the sly and these of a questionable kind……

Anyway, the word spreads about the pregnant young widow and whispers reach Yamuna’s ears, she tries to protect her young protégée Nanni from the rumours but fails, gets anxious, yet she doesn’t want to abort the child in womb. She pleads with her lover in vain. So an abortion is arranged and it takes place as Naani watches from the sidelines. She is ostracized by the temple community in a rite called “ghatashraddha” and with her head shaved she is thrown out of the village to fend for herself in the forest wilderness.

Naani’s father arrives to take his son away from the scandal and while leaving Naani gets to see the ravaged face of his precious Yamuna in a terrible new situation, he wants to comfort her but has to go. Funny and ironic how young, innocent Naani feels compassion (for reasons he doesn’t even understand fully) while the pious worthies of society feel not an ounce of it for a young widow who dared to dream!

I MISSED the other films titled Riding the Stallion of a Dream, Dweepa  and Hasina, but mercifully made it to Gulabi Talkies. Here is a powerful, politically evocative film which comes alive courtesy the first wife of a Muslim fisherman — meet Gulabi, a midwife much in demand in her fishing village. Her two weaknesses are she must see a film every week and she dotes on her husband’s son through his second wife!

The village women have a soft corner for the separated-from-her-husband and lonely Gulabi. When she is gifted a colour television set and her home turns into Gulabi Talkies the women run away from travails of their mundane chores to congregate at her home to watch films and a bold serial (where daughter-in-law tells  mother-in-law that she was a daughter-in-law too once upon a time and could wash the clothes occasionally). We are privy to some fascinating private talk between women and their secret dreaming… I never realized the importance of keeping one’s dreams alive until I saw Gulabi Talkies. I mean these women were  staying alive on wishful dreaming.

Their “comfy” life is shattered when the fishermen’s community is torn between humble traditional fishing and more profitable trawler fishing permitted by the government by “outsider” money or so to speak — soon communal overtones besiege the villagers and the fallout is Gulabi is physically chased out of her home by a group of toughs (some she has delivered as babies!) who want Muslims out of their village (she is still the first wife of a wealthy philandering fisherman).

In the boat she tells the boys wherever they drop her off — far from her beloved home, friends and television set — she will continue to live as long as women get pregnant and need her services as a midwife! The gross and sublime come together with refreshing exhilaration in Kasarvalli’s films. To queries from the audience he confessed his admiration for women and the resilience and dignity with which they handle whatever miserable situations life throws at them; but all his films are different in theme and speak for themselves, they do not qualify for any kind of pre-determined “propaganda” in mind. So don’t dub them as propaganda films, please!

As a filmmaker all he wants to do is sincerely mirror society and how a changing economic and political environment impacts it into evolving for better or worse. Of course, in his eyes women are superior when compared to the shallow predilections of men. Make time to see the Girish Kasarvalli films, my dears, you cannot regret it. These are films which wake one up anew to where we are coming from and where we may be going vis-à-vis the human condition, as it lulls and sedates us in a perennial vicious cycle of contentment and callousness.

I’m truly sorry if Girish Kasaravalli’s films have not got the audiences which say Satyajit Ray films have got nationally and internationally, or won the kind of fame and fortune he deserves. But then making films (or anything for that matter) with a conscience is a tough calling, when wittingly or unwittingly you don’t want to “fix” commercial blockbusters! This is to say I could see the Kasaravalli films several times over to better understand them. He is a film director who demands as much from his audience as the trouble he takes to make a film speak  with eloquent understatement and brutal truth.  

IF I’m so desperate, says a friend, I may see all his other films on VCD/Youtube/smart phone. No, thank you, some films I want to respect enough to see in a proper auditorium, on a big screen, with other like-minded folk who are mostly senior citizens! Young folk today prefer to fiddle with their smart phones and computers and are distracted by half-a-dozen stressful things simultaneously. If you’re asking me it’s no way to live and that’s not lifestyle, okay. The ESG and Goa Kannad Samaj folk in Goa felicitated the filmmaker and I hope he returns at IFFI!

On that note thank-you Girish Kasarvalli and Entertainment Society of Goa for this retrospective of  films from Karnataka, can we have them once more with more films, please? Till then it is avjo, poite verem, selamat datang, au revoir arriverdecci and vachun yeta here for now.

— Mme Butterfly


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