Girish Kasaravalli: Restoration of classic films is the need of the hour

Eminent Kannada filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli talks about his book ‘Bimba Bimbana’and the restoration of his film ‘Ghatashraddha’ by India’s Film Heritage Foundation and Martin Scorsese-funded World Cinema Project

Updated - April 03, 2024 04:13 pm IST

Published - April 03, 2024 03:52 pm IST

Girish Kasaravalli.

Girish Kasaravalli. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Girish Kasaravalli, the doyen of Indian parallel cinema, has co-authored the book Bimba Bimbana (Image and Reflections) with Gopalakrishna Pai. The book, published by Veeraloka and released on March 24, is full of conversations on Kasaravalli’s classics and provides deeper insights into his works, which includes 15 feature films.

Recently, the eminent Kannada filmmaker’s debut movie, Ghatashraddha (1977)was picked up for restoration by India’s Film Heritage Foundation, in association with Martin Scorsese-founded World Cinema Project and American filmmaker George Lucas and wife Mellody Hobson’s Hobson Lucas Family Foundation.

Kasaravalli, the winner of several National Awards, spoke to The Hindu about writing the book, the importance of film appreciation, the challenges of restoration, and more.

Excerpts from the conversation:

How long did it take to finish the book? Who do you intend as your target audience?

We started work on the book in June, 2023. We watched our films again and again and recorded our observations; then, we began writing them down. It also took some time to get permission for stills of my movies. The book is for filmmakers and cineastes, and aimed at those who love to understand the aesthetics and language of cinema. We haven’t just spoken about my films. We have also discussed the socio-political situations during the release of a particular movie, and how and why I arrived at certain conclusions in a movie.

Do you agree that there are fewer discussions and debates on Kannada cinema? 

On YouTube, you find serious conversations on several Hindi classics. Unfortunately, such discussions aren’t happening about Kannada cinema. We don’t see anybody talking about the pacing of a movie or the socio-political impact of a particular film. How did a popular director embrace a particular style of filmmaking? What makes Samskara (1970) an important movie? What are the differences between directors N Lakshmi Narayan and Puttanna Kanagal? One had a restrained style of filmmaking while the other was an exhibitionist. Such decoding helps upcoming filmmakers.

The situation was different in the 1970s when I entered the film industry. Film appreciation courses would be held regularly in Bengaluru. I had conducted them myself for four years. Of course, we initially stressed more on international classics. Later on, through a program called Janaspandana, important Kannada movies, and classics of Satyajit Ray and Akira Kurosawa movies were screened in small towns of Karnataka, and people loved them.

Did your perspective change on some of your movies while you re-watched them to write this book? 

When you revisit a movie, you look at it from the point of view of socio-political changes and technical advancements that happened over the years. When I made Mane in 1989, people felt I was overreacting about the Dunkel Draft movement. They didn’t see the globalisation aspect in the movie. A few years later, the economy opened up, and a decade later, what I had anticipated in 1989, became true in the early 2000s. Values changed with the consumerist society, the idea of right and wrong changed and moral questions were absent. Similarly, people speak about how some challenging shots were pulled off in Ghatashraddha. Today, such scenes can be shot at the drop of a hat by using a drone.

The cover image of ‘Bimba Bimbana’, written by Girish Kasaravalli and Gopalakrishna Pai.

The cover image of ‘Bimba Bimbana’, written by Girish Kasaravalli and Gopalakrishna Pai. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

How did Martin Scorsese and George Lucas come forward to restore Ghatashraddha?

Shivendra Singh, the founder director of the Film Heritage Foundation, initiated the project. Ghatashraddha is one of his favourite films. He had already restored Malayalam’s Thampu (1978), and the Manipuri movie Ishanou (1990). Shivendra Singh pitched it to Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project and the Hobson Lucas Family Foundation founded by George Lucas and Mellody Hobson. They pick up films from across the world for restoration. They liked Ghatashraddha. They will now have the copyright of the restored version, and they can screen it at festivals. The entire initiative is for the love for the medium, and not a money-making process. The estimated cost of the project is Rs 50 lakh. The foundations will work frame by frame, and it could take around eight months to complete the restoration.

Talking about archiving films, why did filmmakers object when the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) was merged with the National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC)?

NFDC is a private body, and it has to be self-sustaining. It can can sell photographs and footage and nobody can question it. The National Film Archive of India would get grants from the government, and use them to restore movies. With the merger, chances are that the restoration process could stagnate. Secondly, archiving is a matter of preserving our heritage. We have footage right from the Indian independence movement. We need to preserve it. Also, the NFDC is producing only those films that will make money. Earlier they would finance artistically brilliant movies. In such a scenario, naturally, the body will not concentrate on archiving, producing children’s films, and documenting important film events.

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How important is it to set up a professional body at the state level to archive films?

Archiving is an expensive and challenging process. It’s just not about storing films in a room. In Kerala, there is a separate body that takes care of restoration for 365 days. Last year, Shivendra Singh conducted a workshop in Bengaluru on archiving films. Restoring a movie is a scientific procedure, and you need a 10-member team. You need to hire specialists and train them. The Karnataka Chalanachitra Academy had set up a body to archive Kannada movies in 2020. Not much progress has happened since then.

Bimba Bimbana is priced at Rs 350.

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