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An experiment with peace


Shanti, the State-award winning Kannada film, has just one actor

Kannada cinema is challenging itself. At least in a few nervous attempts. At least once in a long while. Bollywood's gigantic experimental cinema wave may be too distant to hit sandalwood shores. But the recent Kannada film Shanti, that even made it to the Guinness Book of World Records, is hoping to change audience attitudes to `alternate' films.

Quite an ambitious thought when you make a metaphorical film on the extensive concept of peace and with only one actor on screen! It has entered the Guinness Book for in the category `Fewest actors in a narrative film'. It was adjudged the second best film for the State award.

Writer and director Baraguru Ramachandrappa, the noted Kannada litterateur, is known for defying accepted filmi logic to make his own impression on any subject. His earlier film Kotey (Fort) had no dialogues; all conversation was through songs! "Such experiments are a way of inviting a creative challenge," says Baraguru. " Only then will my own creativity grow."

DEFYING LOGIC Baraguru Ramachandrappa (far right): `Such experiments are a way of inviting a creative challenge.'

Making a film for oneself and to test one's skills is fine. But where is the audience? Baraguru found an answer in a Bangalore-Belgaum jaatha. The film travelled on a route between the two places, to be screened in smaller towns along the highway, accompanied by discussions. "People have paid to see this film in the Shanti Chitra Yaatre that travelled for 30 days. In Davanagere and Chitradurga we had to turn people away because the theatre was full. In that sense, I feel that despite being categorised as an `art film', my film reached an audience." Apparently, over 50,000 people have already seen the film. Audiences in Bangalore can see it in August as it travels to smaller theatres in extension areas.

Baraguru echoes the fact that even an award-winning film doesn't run beyond six days in large theatres. "In our current film industry scenario, there are too many obstacles to release such films. Theatres like Puttanna Chitramandira have become police stations, and large theatres cost a lot. You need distributors for such films." So the jaatha was an alternate way of showing films as against the established way. "Good cinema cultivates good taste and an atmosphere for appreciation of such films. Our film society movement is not strong, compared to Kerala's. But then we so-called intellectuals alone can't see and enjoy these films... we can't negate the common man," he emphasises.

Holding audience attention for two hours with one actor on screen is no mean effort. While actress Bhavana as Shanti (peace) was faced with the challenge of holding fort on her own, the other characters in the film were only represented by symbols and voices. A dove symbolises peace, guns represent the face of terrorism. A character called `Samara' (War) is a voice over the telephone. "Curiosity is sustained through the script, though audiences said the first 10 minutes were difficult to understand," Baraguru comprehends from feedback.

Baraguru at the end of his film does not offer a moral, something that the Indian audience expect from such movies. "I am only examining established values and hope to start off a discussion," offers Baraguru. Towards the end of the film, Shanti is seen holding a dove in one hand and a pistol in another. "This is a symbol of our present contradiction. Reality is full of contradictions and paradoxes, and overcoming them is our life's struggle."

No fears

Actress Bhavana, who plays the lead role of Shanti, says her thoughts instantly fell back on Tom Hank's Castaway when Baraguru told her about the film. Hanks played a Robinson Crusoe-like character who gets stranded on an island and carries most of the movie on his lone shoulders. "I was excited, but was wondering if it was too much for me. Should I be doing this? I was also unsure if I would be able to do it. But then decided that I must feel honoured that when there are plenty of big actresses, the director asked me! " She had earlier established a bond with the director when she starred in his film Kshaama. It also amused Bhavana to be dressed like Gandhi and Buddha, the ambassadors of peace. "It was so funny because I hadn't done that even in school or college for fancy dress!" Bhavana recalls how the entire team would together discuss and shoot out suggestions about the film over dinner after every day's shoot. "I wasn't apprehensive because I knew Baraguru sir's working style is different."

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