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An artist in conflict

In the film Harikatha Prasanga, which is competing for the Centenary Award at IFFI, debutante director Ananya Kasaravalli raises questions about an artist’s gender identity.

Written by Alaka Sahani |
November 23, 2016 12:22:05 am
Kannada feature film, Yakshagana, Harikatha Prasanga, Ananya Kasaravalli, Vaishali Kasaravalli, Girish Kasaravalli, kannada films, kannada art and culture Still from the film.

AM I a man playing a woman or a woman playing a man?” This question haunts Harischandra aka Hari, a popular Yakshagana artist who essays female characters. Ananya Kasaravalli’s debut feature film Harikatha Prasanga (Chronicles of Hari) is an exploration of the internal conflict that forces Hari on a journey of self-discovery — bringing him closer to himself while at the same time, distancing him from the world.

This story was narrated to Ananya — the daughter of renowned Kannada filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli — by award-winning Kannada author Gopalakrishna Pai, who had written it for the Diwali edition of a local magazine, two years ago. Eventually, she developed the story into the script of Harikatha Prasanga, which is the only Indian film competing at the Indian Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa, for the Centenary Award for best Debut Feature of a Director, in collaboration with her father and Pai.

“When you grow up in a family of filmmakers, joining the world of cinema becomes an obvious career choice,” says Ananya, whose late mother Vaishali Kasaravalli was a writer-director and her brother Apoorva is an actor-director. However, like any other teenager, Ananya was initially drawn to acting. “Yet, every time I worked with my mother, she kept telling me: ‘I see a director in you. You should give direction a thought.’ Somewhere, I started believing in that,” recalls Ananya.

Kannada feature film, Yakshagana, Harikatha Prasanga, Ananya Kasaravalli, Vaishali Kasaravalli, Girish Kasaravalli, kannada films, kannada art and culture Ananya Kasaravalli.

Her movie, set in a coastal village in Karnataka, unfolds through different perspectives captured in three episodes across four audio-visual interviews conducted by two young filmmakers, who are interested in finding out Hari’s whereabouts as he has gone missing.

Ananya was 16 when she made her acting debut as Padmini with the stage production of Girish Karnad’s Hayavadana, one of the landmark modern Indian plays. This was one of the last plays that BV Karanth, a Bangalore-based prominent theatre personality, directed. “I played the role of Padmini for nearly three years, at regular intervals. I would discover a new meaning and layer in the play each time I revisited it,” says Ananya.

Alongside theatre, she started acting in television shows, and later in Kannada movies such as Parole (2010), Kaada Beladingalu (2007) and Nayi Neralu (2007). “I did quite a lot of work in television as the shows are on air for a while. Television has its own grammar. I am glad that as an actor, I was a part of everything,” says Ananya, who took a break from acting in 2014 to study direction at LV Prasad Film and Television Academy, Chennai.

Kannada feature film, Yakshagana, Harikatha Prasanga, Ananya Kasaravalli, Vaishali Kasaravalli, Girish Kasaravalli, kannada films, kannada art and culture Still from the film.

Since Pai was a family friend, it was easier for Ananya to have in-depth conversations with him and understand the way he had conceived the character of Hari. However, she was acutely aware of the fact that she is not well-versed with the tradition of Yakshagana, a form of folk theatre in Karnataka. “I did not want the film to look like an outsider’s perspective. I had to research a lot on Yakshagana — its tradition and practice. I also studied the gender conflict that the artists go through.” So, her brief to cinematographer Udith Khurana was also that it should look like an insider is narrating the story.

The character of Hari is played by Bangalore-based theatre actor Shrunga Vasudevan. Ananya says one of the toughest parts of her directorial debut was to find an actor who could do justice to the role of Hari. Initially, we wanted to cast someone who is familiar with Yakshagana. However, she was convinced that Shrunga was the right choice in spite of his masculine appearance.

“Mr Pai was shocked with my selection and said that the role requires someone feminine. My reason for choosing him was that behind the facade of being a rugged and masculine boy, he has tender eyes. Though everyone said one can’t be so theoretical about life and casting, I was confident that this would work,” she says.

Initially, the urge to tell a moving story made her take up direction. However, with Harikatha Prasanga travelling to various international and Indian festivals, Ananya has grown more confident. She has already started working on her next directorial venture, whose script she is writing.

However, she has no plans of quitting acting yet. “Since I love acting too, I am hoping to find a
balance,” she says. The other films competing for the Centenary Award include One Week & A Day (Israel), Rara by Pepa (Chile), Tramontane (Lebanon) and Two Birds (Algeria-France).

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