SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Minimalist filmmaker

IN CONVERSATION

A harmonious blend of various elements in "Dweepa".

A harmonious blend of various elements in "Dweepa".  

WHENEVER I meet Kasaravalli, I am struck by how down-to-earth and modest he is. For a film director, who's notched up four Swarna Kamals — for only nine movies made so far — besides numerous regional awards, and a few international awards, it is indeed a remarkable trait.

He's returned from Slovenia recently: where "Dweepa" was screened to rave reviews. So, it is natural to ask him about his forthcoming film. After all it's been nearly two years since he completed "Dweepa". And given the critical acclaim and many awards that it won, connoisseurs are eagerly awaiting his next offering. But no, he says, not yet. "After "Dweepa", I have been looking for the right story," he explains.

"You mean a good story," you ask. "No, the right story," he repeats. Not all "good" stories make good films and not all great films are necessarily based on great stories. "Certain stories lend themselves well to cinematic expression, while some don't, so it's not just the competence of the director that matters in a successful book-to-screen adaptation."

On what does he base his films? "I make films based on images: I need to get the right kind of images. Suddenly one strikes me as right and I build a scene around the image. And that could be a sound, a movement or even a disturbing thought. Or even a smell. Take `Thayi Saheba'. I asked my wife (who's from the region the movie was set in) if there was something distinctive about the culture of those feudal families and she said `attar'. So I used attar to characterise them and, in fact, it gradually evolved to become a strong, parallel thread in the movie."

"Also," he adds, "I look not just for a plot but the insights the story offers; and how I can bring in my concerns into the story."

If there's one person who passionately believes in the principle of one thing at a time, it is Kasaravalli.

Anyway, isn't a single-minded focus the mark of any achiever, you ask? "I would rather say `it is my problem.' Some successful directors manage many things simultaneously. Ray, for instance, made films but was also writing, illustrating, running a magazine," Kasaravalli says, admiration in his tone. "I was with Buddhadev Dasgupta in Colombo recently: he was talking to us and all the while typing on a laptop — his script, he said! Now, I can't imagine working like that."

Kasaravalli is known to write the scripts himself, work on the various elements of his movie with great patience and a perfectionist attitude. Which film does he rate as his best? "That's like asking a parent which child he likes most," he says. But press him and he says he likes each of his films (or almost each) for one reason.

"`Dweepa' had an ensemble quality. The music, the visuals, the sounds, even the theme all blended so harmoniously. I recall one scene when they show a rush of water: one viewer actually lifted up his feet. `Thayi Saheba's' script turned out so well. `Ghatashraddha' was satisfying, aesthetically. `Tabarana Kathe' for its social message. And the quality of pathos. But I regret making `Aakramana' and `Mooru Darigalu'. I consider them disasters. I could see the film deteriorating before my eyes. With my other job (as principal of a film institute) I could not give them the hands-on attention they deserved."

Satyajit, Ray, Mrinal Sen, all the big directors ventured into other languages. So one is tempted to ask Kasaravalli why he's stuck to Kannada in his 25-year career. "One reason is that Kannada is the only language I am comfortable with. Especially in a creative medium like this. And since I like to write the scripts myself, obviously I wouldn't or couldn't want to work in another language. Also, a comfort-level with a language and all its nuances is essential during the entire process of filmmaking, I believe."

Though he makes critically acclaimed films, he is yet to find that important measure of success: mass appeal. Some of his films have not even been released in Karnataka. Does he make films only for awards and film-festival crowds? "No," he protests. "It is not that I don't care for the masses or their appreciation. I respect the masses: they are also an audience. But it is just that I make films the way I want to or the only way I can. If they don't click with the masses, it is a pity. But this is the way I am. This is the way my work is."

Single-minded focus on his films .... Kasaravalli.

Single-minded focus on his films .... Kasaravalli.  

So, considering that his movies don't enjoy large-scale commercial releases, he is grateful for the proliferation of TV channels: now there is more choice when you need to sell a film to television. "More potential buyers means less financial worries," he says with an almost audible sigh of relief.

Who were the major influences on his work? "Before I joined FTII (I studied there), I had hardly seen any films. All of a sudden, I was exposed to the best in world cinema. One day we were watching Kurosawa, another day Ozu, then Fellini, followed by Antonioni..."

So, who is his favourite? "The Japanese filmmaker, Ozu is the one I admire the most. And his `Autumn Afternoon', ranks as my all-time favourite. He is also a true minimalist, there is nothing excess or overdone in any frame: he makes do with the least elements. Actually it is easy, yet not so easy, to appreciate him. It is a cultivated taste. But if you get used to his films you admire and enjoy them for offering an amazing perspective on human persona."

With sparse dialogue, he has been sometimes accused of making clinical films. "No. I just want things to remain unsaid. I don't like the loud and obvious, there must be restraint and subtlety,"

And becoming a little reflective: "Regrettably, this quality is gradually diminishing in cinema, both Indian or worldwide. Or so I feel. There is less and less of minimalist — the art of saying more with less. There is less of the meditative quality or leaving things to the imagination that I admire and try to achieve in my own work. Nowadays, films the world over, appear to be more explicit and less restrained. They want to mesmerise the viewers."