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Fighting the formula

Kavita Lankesh's second film, Alemaari, is caught in the red tape. But the young director refuses to be cowed down, and is busy with two new projects.The new films, in her characteristic style, do not fit into any frame.

KAVITA LANKESH ko gussa kyon aata hai? Well, more than anger, it is frustration, since her second feature film, after the multi-awards winning Deveeri, is caught in the red tape of the Films Division.

Alemaari, shot in the arid acres of the North Karnataka district of Bijapur, is ready for release. It has been since December. "I understand the Films Division takes time to release a film, but I want people to see it as soon as possible," says Kavita.

And why not? After the overwhelming success of Deveeri, which drew comparisons with the great cinema of contemporary Iran, made by Abbas Kiarostami and Co., Kavita would like to prove to the world that she is not a one-film wonder. By all accounts, Alemaari should not disappoint. The story follows the journey of Pallavi to her native Arakere, a remote village, to conduct a survey for water. North Karnataka's parched landscape often stares at us from the pages of the newspapers and it is a fact that even after 54 years of Independence, drinking water is a luxury there.

As Pallavi plunges into the rural cauldron, she faces all the evils undoing our country — caste, religion, corrupt politicians... The list is endless. The harsh terrain finds a mirror in her personal life. She sorts out the mess as she comes of age in her birthplace.

The film has Bhavana and Prakash Rai on cast, and since it is a fictionalised story of a real-life problem, it fuses documentary and fictional narrative styles. Kavita teamed up with renowned cinematographer S. Ramachandra for a second time. With the Films Division taking its own sweet time with the release, Kavita is already on to two other projects. Work should begin in April. One is an English film, based on a real-life incident in Australia. "We will shoot this in Melbourne." The other is a Kannada film.

Though she is unwilling to elaborate on her forthcoming projects, she cannot hide the fact that she is excited about both ventures, especially the Kannada film which tells a story about child artistes and their loss of innocence.

Kavita loves a good story and is always in search of one. If she is not going through her journalist-writer father, the late P. Lankesh's ouvre (Deveeri was based on his novella, Akka), she is writing her own. For instance, Alemaari is her own story, propped up by some extensive research on the region.

Prior to Deveeri, Kavita did a series of interesting documentaries, including a public awareness film on the Bannerghatta National Park, a film on the Siddhi tribe (of African origin) in Karnataka and a 45-minute film on Ninasam, one of the greatest experiments in rural theatre in Karnataka, pioneered by Magsaysay Award winner K.V. Subbanna.

Kavita will never do the formula film (god bless her!). "I like to break the mould. I like to do something different every time I go behind the camera. Otherwise, I get bored." As she unwinds between films, she tries to relax as much as possible and enjoy Bangalore, her favourite city, of course. "I can't stay away for more than 20 days from India. I feel restless. I travelled to many countries and did the festival circuit with Deveeri, and I missed home."

At home, she loves to tend her garden, take her dog out for a walk and watch films. All kinds. From Krzysztof Kieslowskis Decalogue to Satyajit Ray's classics (Apur Sansar) and pure commercial movies. "I want to see what pulls the masses to the movies."

Prod her a little about why a distinction is made between art and popular cinema, and she bursts out: "I still don't know the difference between art and commercial cinema. Good cinema is what appeals to me and good cinema always stands the test of time. So, has she found it difficult to find producers? Not really. But it does take time to sell a good story. Alemaari may not have been released yet, but Kavita has already bagged an off-screen award. When the villagers of Arakere realised that she was shooting a film which reflected their lives — they still had to walk many miles for a drop of water — they asked her to do a favour. The Village Council requested her to take their case to the Deputy Commissioner. The film crew's efforts met with success, and on September 11 (it was not a day only of bad news), the village elders called Kavita to say that they had got water supply right up to their village. Life imitating art?


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