International Film Festival of India 2016

This is not a Kasaravalli film

Débutante director Ananya Kasaravalli, hailing from a family steeped in cinema, talks to BHUMIKA K. about the films she watched growing up, and the kind of cinema she wants to make

With an internationally-renowned and respected filmmaker for a father, a versatile actor/director for a mother, and a brother who is also joining the same stream, it is not easy making a directorial debut. For all that kind of pressure, Ananya Kasaravalli, daughter of Girish and Vaishali Kasaravalli, is clear she wants to hold her own.

She has already juggled roles as as TV serial and film actor, assistant director, costume designer and schooled herself at the L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy. She tried quietly burying her debut feature film, Harikatha Prasanga, made in 2015, when her friends didn’t respond too warmly to it.

But film festivals across the country did, and now the film has been shortlisted for the Centenary Award for Best Debut Feature of a Director at the 47th International Film Festival of India.

The film narrates the story of a Yakshagana artist who plays female roles and delves into a complex world of identities.

Did you have a pre-conceived notion of what your debut film would be? Considering all eyes would be on you?

Yes I did. Not in terms of the subject. But how I'm going to be dealing with it. When your parents have achieved something, like you rightly said, all eyes are on you and there is no room for mistakes. When I was launching my film, someone told me people have to give their 100 percent to their debut. But you will have to give your 200 per cent to be recognised. I was aware of that and I knew whatever subject I take up, this is the amount of seriousness I’ll have to approach it with.

Your film deals with gender, identity, sexuality. What made you pick this story?

Films should always react to what is happening around you. That is what I believe and that is what I have been taught. The seed of this started in L.V. Prasad Academy where I was doing my student documentary on a transgender sex worker in Chennai. My curiosity developed.

I met more people, tried to understand them while working with them. At the same time, writer Gopalakrishna Pai contacted me and said he is writing something similar, “so come over and we will discuss the story” he said. That is how it started. Then, I realised this is the story I wanted to do.

You have worked with your father as costume designer and actor. But Harikatha Prasanga was the first time you were co-scripting with him while you were directing. How different was it?

Very difficult and interesting at same time. Because I was a director and film student at the same time. I had the privilege of two masters working on the film - Sahitya Academy winner and national award winner Mr. Pai and appa (who co-scripted the film).

There were moments when they would argue about a scene and I would listen, and learn. Having said that, it was very difficult for me as a director to come out and oppose their ideas. I wouldn’t talk about it initially. Then finally one day Mr. Pai sat me down and said “you can't do this. You are the director; you have to put your foot down and tell us what you want”. It was easiest though, working with my father as costume designer (laughs).

As an actor it was very taxing. It is difficult to understand a director. All said and done, two people think very differently.

Your family has always been steeped in cinema. What have been the learnings on cinema from them?

I think everything. From dad I have learnt dedication to cinema. Nothing on earth can distract him from films. And it is films in the purest form. By that I mean it doesn’t matter whose film it is, he watches a newcomer’s film with the same kind of attention. He sees every film an opportunity to learn. That shocks me. At the age of 70, for someone who has made it, he says he can learn from a newcomer.

Any films that you plan to make with your dad and brother ?

It is interesting but I don't think so. There would be a war in the house (laughs). Although all of us are into films we believe in different kinds of films. My brother is making a commercial film. It will be interesting to collaborate...

Do you see yourself making an out-and-out masala film?

As of now I don't, but you never know what the future holds for you! And I say this because it is not my kind of sensibility. I don’t think like that. It is extremely difficult for me to conceive a script like that. It would be a challenge, though.

What kind of cinema has influenced you?

We were exposed to a lot of (Satyajit) Ray. My father religiously studies Ray. I remember seeing a lot of Ray films in childhood with my father. Also Indian masters such as Adoor, Ghatak and Mrinal Sen. International masters as well. There was always an emphasis on serious cinema in the house. Anything frivolous was not encouraged. So me and anna have this idea that we will not make no-minder films. The word entertainment is very differently designed for us. Not mindless. It is sensible entertainment.

Have you watched and liked any of the the new breed of Kannada cinema?

Yes, I watched Ulidavaru Kandante and liked it. I even had a meeting with (director) Rakshit Shetty and told him that I enjoyed his film. I am happy the way things are happening in Kannada cinema now. Also, the audience are more encouraging of films like this. There is enthusiasm to watch good cinema.

What next?

I am working on a film in 2018; I’ve started working on the script. Now, I want to concentrate on the release of Harikatha Prasanga. By February it should be in theatres. In 2017 my father is probably making a film. I am keeping my fingers crossed that he will do it, and that I will get to assist him. That is an opportunity I don't want to lose.

Your film is doing the festival rounds. Your dad’s films also take that route. What does a festival do to a film?

Festivals are very important. That is where your film gets recognised. I finished my film in December and showed it to my friends and got a cold reaction. So I just buried my film. Four months later, I sent it to another friend. She called me immediately and yelled at me for shelving it, saying it is a good film. She encouraged me to send it to festivals. After Busan (International Film Festival) I thought ‘Oh maybe I’ve made a good film!’. That gave me a lot of self confidence. And these are people who are cinema literate. Getting appreciation from them means a big deal for a filmaker. People take your film seriously. My father told me my film has international potential, he liked the style in which I’d made the film. It is serious cinema. But it is not a “Kasaravalli film,”someone in the MAMI audience told me that and I was so happy!

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