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Low on budget,high on art

As change sweeps the industry,Girish Kasaravalli goes on with his own kind of meaningful cinema

Written by Saritha Rai |
March 19, 2012 2:52:08 am

As change sweeps the industry,Girish Kasaravalli goes on with his own kind of meaningful cinema

The tag for the kind of movies he makes has changed several times since he came into filmmaking. Parallel cinema,offbeat films,alternative cinema,arthouse films — but Bangalore-based Girish Kasaravalli,61,has stayed true to the style,substance and themes of his kind of moviemaking.

Kasaravalli had a dream debut with Ghatashraddha (The Ritual) in 1977. It was a poignant film about two entwined lives in a cloistered Brahmin community: a small boy who has difficulty in cramming the religious hymns and a young widow who gets pregnant. The film won the Best Film honour at the National Film Awards that year.

Since then,Kasaravalli has pulled it off with remarkable regularity. His work has won Best Film awards in every decade,four so far. It was Tabarana Kathe (Tabara’s story) in 1986,Thaayi Saheba in 1997 and Dweepa (The Island) in 2001. Six of his films have won Best Kannada Feature at the National Film Awards,the latest last week for Kurmavatara.

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Such a rousing track-record suggests that Kasaravalli has buyers,foreign film festival curators and distributors beating a path to his door — but the reality is far from that. In his beautiful five-level home on a crowded street in south Bangalore,unperturbed by the incessant din from the traffic outside,the director makes a passionate analysis — makers of serious films face daunting times in a country consumed by Bollywood.

Kasaravalli’s moviemaking is quite distinctive. His last four films have been backed by a single producer. At a screening of one of his recent films,Gulabi Talkies,the director candidly confessed that he makes films on a no-frills budget. Gulabi Talkies cost less than Rs 35 lakh,about the same as his other films. His producers do not lose money on the films he makes but they don’t make great money either.

Kasaravalli does not cast stars in his films. His most lavish film,in the casting sense,was Mane (The House),the story about a young couple who come to the city in search of privacy and freedom. Their marriage ultimately disintegrates. Made in 1990,that film starred Hindi cinema’s Deepti Naval and Naseeruddin Shah.

India makes the largest number of feature films in the world,some 1,000 each year. Of these,the overwhelming majority are mainstream Bollywood. Barely 25 serious films are made in India’s regional languages each year. With such small numbers,there is a dearth of promoters who market serious regional cinema overseas.

For want of marketing heft,there are few takers for these films in overseas markets. While good cinema from Iran or China thrive in foreign markets,regional Indian films barely make a dent even in the domestic market. Pirated DVDs of Kurasawa and Fellini are available in every street corner these days but not those of Ghatak or Adoor,Kasaravalli points out.

The weak marketing also has to do with financial muscle. Lagaan’s promotion budget at the Oscar Awards in Hollywood was a rumoured Rs 1 crore — two times the entire filmmaking budget of Kasaravalli’s most expensive film,Dweepa,a film about a father,son,daughter-in-law and a youthful outsider. These days,Bollywood films launch at the film festival in Cannes.

On the back of such hype and hoopla,filmgoers of Indian origin overseas flock to Hindi films. At the screening of one of his recent films in the United Arab Emirates,irate Indians in the audience objected to Kasaravalli’s depiction of a fly-ridden fish market. They want to glorify India,they do not want to see the reality they left behind,says Kasaravalli.

As a young boy,Kasaravalli was initiated into the world of cinema by watching Kannada films in the touring cinema tents in his native Shimoga. Things have changed dramatically between then and now. There is an increased blurring of distinctions between meaningful cinema and mainstream cinema. Digitisation and technology changes are making audience access to serious films easier. So maybe all is not lost,says Kasaravalli striking a hopeful note,quite like the ending in some of his films.

His son has begun directing his first film in the commercial genre. His daughter,studying filmmaking in Chennai,wants to make serious cinema like her father. The prolific Kasaravalli himself is nowhere near finished. He hopes to complete yet another film this year. Like his previous films,this too will explore human foibles in the setting of an ever-changing social landscape.

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