`It is disheartening, not to be able to take risks'
In his bid to find a new expression, for `Hasina' Girish Kasaravalli focuses on plotline and emotion.
Photo: K. V. Srinivasan
Master craftsman: But Girish Kasaravalli is a `poor marketing man.'
A lake at the back, a snare in front
Can there be peace, tell me.
Still water behind, full stream ahead,
What's the way out, tell me.
After 25 years of making perfectly crafted, pristine structures, filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli quotes this verse from the 12th century Kannada poet Akka Mahadevi in his "Dweepa" (2002). The film interprets a modern crisis people abandoning ancestral homes as a new dam threatens to submerge their island.
The question echoes into Kasaravalli's life. How does a serious filmmaker survive in the present milieu of sheer apathy? Find funds for his projects? Distribution networks? Get feedback to spur fresh efforts?
In Kasaravalli's case, despite every one of his ten films winning plaudits and awards (including four Golden Lotuses for Best Film), his works are probably the least seen even in the national art house circuit. ``In my own State, they can't be seen in small towns or villages," he says. Nor is he a significant presence in international film festivals.
``I ask myself why I can't push my films into the big festivals abroad. Either I'm not there when these people come, or my film is not ready when they want them in Cannes, Venice and Berlin. Don't know how to be a marketing man." It was a rare opportunity to be able to see his freshly minted "Hasina," even before it was subtitled, at a special screening in Chennai's Satyam Theatre complex. The filmmaker himself translated the dialogue into English.
``My most direct film so far," said Kasaravalli, known for implication, indirection and understatement.
"Nowadays fiction and cinema are going in for simpler, more immediate narratives. I've been trying to find a different kind of expression, concentrating more on plotline and emotion."
Is "Hasina" less layered because he is little acquainted with the Muslim community?
``I read not only the story on which `Hasina' is based, but the whole oeuvre of its author Banu Mushtaq, an important contemporary woman writer in Kannada.A writer's concerns are not expressed in a single story, they evolve and refract themselves over a period of time, through several works. When I identify those recurrent motifs, I get insights for detailing and layering. Since this is true of all artistes, including himself, analysis will have to take the entire oeuvre into consideration."
A man from the majority community making a film on a minority group? But Kasaravalli asserts his right to be as concerned with a Yamunakka as with a Hasina.
The film was shown to a mixed audience of conservatives, liberals and experts in shariat law. "All approved," smiles Kasaravalli. ``One viewer said that usually such films were either patronising or extremely critical. Hasina was neither, it showed the insider's view."
Photo: K. V. Srinivasan
"Dweepa" interprets a modern crisis.
Despite the interesting form, Hasina is too simple and straightforward a document to be vintage Kasaravalli. Thin layering, especially in the `villains,' and neither situation nor acting expands into the ambiguities of the master auteur.
From `Pather Panchali' to `Piravi,' serious films in India are made on shoestring budgets. ``My films are made on mainstream budgets for a single song interlude. No bar to quality work, but sometimes disheartening not to be able to take risks, or rectify mistakes. What a shock when the negatives of my `Mooridarigalu' got fogged. It was the last black and white film in Kannada, getting stock and distribution became difficult. Couldn't do justice to the wonderful novel," he shakes his head.
You sense his dissatisfaction with "Akramana" too, his most successful film with 50 days in eight theatres.
How does Kasaravalli rate himself? ``Take world cinema and I'm nowhere. But in Indian cinema I think I'm with Adoor (Gopalakrsihnan) whom I admire for his consistency, and Buddhadev (Dasgupta), some of whose films I find interesting."
Women dominate "Thayi Saheba," "Dweepa" and "Hasina." ``In our society Dalits are most oppressed, but women are silenced in every caste and creed. Yet they have dhaarana shakti the ability to bear everything and remain steady, keep their integrity."
He talks about Thayi Saheba, her instinctive understanding of right and wrong, justice, social welfare and liberalism, more effective than the husband's political ideologies.
The woman in ``Dweepa" remains dauntless. Hasina is broken, but a survivor. ``A viewer in Rome said that through the women in my films, he could see the changing face of Indian women from the past to the present. I hadn't thought of it like that, no..."
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Woman's fight for justice
`Hasina' ... surprisingly straightforward
Hasina is a small town Muslim wife with three girls and a fourth on its way. Her auto driver husband abandons her because she `cannot' produce a male child. Finding employment as housemaid, and counsel about shariat laws from her educated employer Zuleikha, she demands justice. She doesn't want the husband back, only her meher, to fund the operation to restore sight to her blind daughter. The muthavalli who heads the jamaat is misled into seeing her plea as an attempt to unseat him from power. Hasina fights local politics by launching a `satyagraha' at the mosque, with her children, refusing to leave until she gets a hearing. Fantasy lights up the denouement. The woman wins her case but loses the reason for fighting.
The subject was not sparked by topical discussions of nikah and talaq laws but in Kasaravalli's the process of shaping a triptych. Mushtaq's story was so impactive that he dropped the other two. He changed the title and the protagonist's name. "Hasina" implies beauty and joy, at once ironic and idealistic.
The structure corresponds to the five namaz times, each pushing the plot ahead, winning sympathy for Hasina from different sections - elders, maulvi, children, women and muthavalli (chief of the jamaat). ``I was terribly scared, I was so ignorant about the cultural milieu of my characters. Forget the big concepts, I had to learn about their ways of eating, praying working." Banu Mushtaq's sister guided the project, and peppered the dialogues with Urdu. Using non-professionals from the community as actors added naturalness. The biggest challenge was using the blind child, ``She had to play by instinct, couldn't show her anything."
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