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March 13, 2011


  Girish Kasaravalli: Beyond the Mundane

To aficionados of good cinema, Girish Kasaravalli needs no introduction. As a film maker he has hardly been prolific: a mere eight films in a career of more than 25 years. And yet he is the only director to have the distinction of winning the Swarnakamal or the Golden-lotus award four times. A product of the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, Kasaravalli's films may lack 'mass appeal' but as serious works that focus on the social and political ethos and the forces that make an individual behave in a particular manner, they are in a class all their own. Rather than telling the story of an individual, his cinematic attempts have been to set the stories of individuals against a larger political and social canvas caught in transition in various points in Indian history. Kasaravalli pens his own scripts, firmly believes in sparse dialogues and plans his films to the minutest detail.

In an extended conversation with viggy.com, Kasaravalli shares his thoughts on his films, and his career as a film maker. Excerpts:

You have been in the film industry for 20-25 years. What have been the up and downs in your career as a film maker? Girish Kasaravalli with Roopa Hegde
Till date I have made eight films and one tele-film, Bannada Vesha, and that was for Doordarshan. I retrospect, I think, that should have been made as a film. That way I would perhaps have done greater justice to the subject, and the film would have had a better finish, technically speaking. Still, it was okay.

As a film-maker, my journey, from my first film Ghatashraddha to my latest, Dweepa, has been a continuum. I have always believed a film should reflect some facet of life, the reality around us. Take Ghatashraddha. It is based on a short story by U. R. Ananthamurthy, which I had read while I was in high school. The story left a deep impression on me, more so because it mirrored life in a particular social milieu, and the trials and tribulations of an individual caught in that milieu. When I made Ghatashraddha. in the seventies, I was already a product of the Pune Film Institute. Interestingly, even while I was in my final year (1975) , I had assisted B.V. Karanth with the making of Chomandudi. Ghatashraddha. was an attempt to look at life from the point of view of a person whose struggles were largely because she - a widow -- happened to belong to a lower caste in a society which was highly caste conscious. Incidentally, both Ananthamurthy and myself are from Thirthalli; to be more precise, I am from a village close of Thirthalli.

In the eighties, came Moorudarigalu and Akramana. I must confess I did Akramana not so much out of choice as to help out a friend, R. Nagesh (currently head of the Nataka Academy). I was the film's art director. Moorudarigalu, which followed, was based on Yashwanth Chittal's novel. I am afraid I failed to do justice to it. The structure of the novel was so complex, so fascinating, a kind of flash-back within a flash-back within a flash-back. Unfortunately it so happened that, lots of material had to be destroyed in the processing lab due to some technical problem. Unlike today's digital technology, manual editing has to be done very carefully. We literally lost several shots. What emerged at the end of it all was a linear narrative, the kind that the audience could understand but one that did no justice to that magnificent novel.

Girish KasaravalliLooking back, I think I made a big mistake by not being hands-on while the film was being edited. You see I had taken up a job in an institute soon after Ghatashraddha. Consequently, both Moorudarigalu and Akramana suffered. In those days, when there was no digital technology, you had to be very careful in editing. There was no way you could recover frames that got snipped off by mistake. After this rather unhappy experience with these two films, I decided that I should either concentrate on the job I had taken up or do films full-time. I chose the former. It turned to be an extended break -- 7-8 years.

When I turned to film making again, it was as a full-timer. I had quit my job. The project I took up was Tabarana Kathe, based on a short story by Poornachandra Tejasvi. I started working on the script at the behest of the original producer who eventually backed out. Then NFDC entered the picture, liked my script and gave me the go-ahead. It was a smooth relationship. Unlike Ghatashraddha, we portrayed Tabara not in the manner of an outsider who looked at him and his situation with a critical eye but from Tabara's own perspective. He was a creature of his time, a man who admired bureaucracy and yet was suppressed by it.

What was your experience working with Charu Hassan?
Charu Hassan was just a supporting actor when I made Tabarana Kathe. I picked him because he seemed just right for the role: lean, tall, rangy with a face that suited the character he was to play. I got in touch with Charu, who was based in Chennai, though my cameraman, Madhu Om Bhat. I met him only when I got word from Madhu that he was willing to do the role. He was so enthusiastic ! Only later, I discovered how great an actor he was. His was a fine performance - one of the finest, I should say -- in my films.

Initially, I was a bit unsure as to how to initiate Charu, an urbane man who also happens to be a criminal lawyer, into the role of Tabara, a rustic. So I called him over Mudgere to stay with us, a week in advance of the shooting. Writer Tejaswi (on whose story Tabarana Kathe is based), had once pointed out a lowly postal employee - a local -- to me, and said the character of Tabara was modeled on him. So it was natural that I should ask Charu to observe him (the postal employee) for a few days. Charu, though, seemed somewhat reluctant. Not only that: he even declined to mug up the Kannada dialogues, saying he can do without it! I now was convinced that I had made a mistake, afraid it was going to be flop show ! Imagine my surprise then, when on the first day of the shoot who should I espy but Charu standing by my side - a Charu whom I failed to recognize for a minute. Gone was the sophisticate, the suave criminal lawyer. In his place, was a tall man, slightly hunched, clad in a frayed postman's uniform, a cloth bag slug on his shoulder. I was dumbfounded: Tabara had just come to life - and how ! And he did the dialogues in a style all his own. He would not listen when I asked him to repeat dialogues after me, so that there was no long pauses between lines. Instead, when the shot was ready, he would simply deliver the first line of dialogue even while listening to the second. It was simply amazing ! There were no pauses at all.

When Dweepa will be released?
I really do not know. The question is better addressed to the producer. Once my job as director is done, the ball is firmly in the producer's court. The producer's job is not easy: he has to find the right theater, distributors, find money for publicity… Sometimes the producer keeps me in the picture, sometimes not. I think Dweepa will be released shortly.

Do you consider a non- Kannadiga audience as well while making a film? Are yours films made in English simultaneously?
Girish KasaravalliWhile all my films have English subtitles, making English versions is a different matter. The sharp differences in syntax between these two languages makes it difficult. It's not so in the case of south Indian languages such as Telugu and Tamil . There are lots of commonalities between the south Indian languages. The other option, of course, is to shoot in two languages, which is what we did in the case of Dweepa. That was an experiment. We shot in Kannada and English simultaneously. The English version is not ready though.

How important, in your view, are 'Technical Qualifications' in this field?
Like in any art, qualifications matter in cinema too, but basically you need to be a creative person. Technical background and training does help, but it's not all. If that were the case, the 300-odd people who passed out of the Pune Film Institute over the last three decades and set themselves up as directors should all have become famous. To be a successful director you need great powers of observation, thorough understanding of the subject. You learn from watching a lot of films, the works of other directors; you need to do your home work well. In my case, the effort that goes in is all the more because I work on very tight budgets.

Have you ever felt that your films haven't got the response they deserve?
Well, the infrastructure here (in Karnataka) is not all that good. Also, exhibitors, distributors, etc. don't seem too keen on the kind of films I choose to make. So it's somewhat difficult to judge how well - or poorly - my films have gone down with the public. If a film does not even get released, how can one blame the director.

You have won four 'Swarna Kamal' awards, you are close to breaking Satyajit Ray's record of six 'Swarna Kamals'….
Well, I might well equal Satyajit Ray's record one day in terms of Swarna Kamals but I can never claim to be his equal in stature. Some directors are of a class all their own. Take the Italian director Michaelangelo Antonioni. He made very few films, but his very first was so different that it stood out. He was his own man: indifferent to bouquets and brickbats. And yet his films came in for high acclaim, and amongst the many awards that came his way was an Oscar - for life-time achievement. My point is, there are many talented people around. Some come to be recognized, some not.

How was it work with B.V. Karanth ?
What I admired in him most, learn a lot from him, was that enormous capacity of his to get the most out of actors. He was not a snob. Success did not turn his head. He was always open to criticism, to different points of a view. A good listener, and a very nice person.

People feel that your TV serial `Gruha Bhanga' has deviated quite a bit from the novel on which it is based…
Well, I have tried to tone down the character of Nagi, made her speak in a language more appropriate to that kind of character. I have tried to give her character a deeper feel, wanted viewers to appreciate her point of view, empathize with her, a woman who is widowed while quite young. I wanted to show the various shades of her character, not present just a black-and-white picture. I did not want it to be reduced to the familiar evil mother-in-law and the suffering daughter-in-law kind of situation. My attempt, in portraying these two characters, was to strike a sort of balance.

How do you manage your personal life?
No problem, really. May be because both I and my wife are from the same field, we understand what it takes. Basically, we understand each other. Give each other a lot of space, when work demand it.

Interviewed by Roopa Hegde
Special thanks to Mr. Raghavan N for helping us stylize this exclusive interview.

This interview in Kannada

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