Over a 40-year career, filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli has made 14 Kannada movies, including the National Film Award-winning Ghatashraddha (1977), Tabarana Kathe (1987), Thaayi Saheba (1997) and Dweepa (2002). Yet, he describes his movies as “imperfect”. The filmmaker told Scroll.in during a recent retrospective of his films in Panaji, which was organised by Entertainment Society of Goa, “It is not the dictionary meaning or your notion of perfect. This imperfect is my perfect.” Excerpts from an interview about Kasarvalli’s journey, his literary sensibility and the dwindling creativity in our lives.
In your long career of 40 years, you have made just 14 films. If this a conscious decision?
I make films only when I am compelled to. For me, the subject of the film should resonate with the current problems of the country. So getting the right kind of theme which has some reflection on contemporary society takes time.
I could have made more films. But my style is different. When I am making a film, even though I have assistants, I will sit with the costume designer, the art director, the casting. And I write my own screenplay and dialogue.
Thirteen of your 14 films are based on short stories or novels. You once said that it is because you can’t write a story.
Cinema is images for me. My narrative base is not words, but visuals. I am not good with writing skills. But I know to construct a story through images.
Also, when I pick up a story I make lot of changes in the narrative structure. For example Gulabi Talkies and Thaayi Saheba do not resemble the original stories at all.
When I am writing a script, I send it to the original writers at various stages and take them in confidence. Luckily, no one objected to my narrative. But, sometimes they dislike it, such as in the case of Dweepa. In the novel, the couple gets killed by a tiger in the end. In the movie, there is no tiger at all. The writer [Norbert D’Souza] kept saying that the novel’s ending would have been better. But I didn’t want a conclusive ending. I made a small change in the end that changed the vision of the film. I wanted to make a comment about the dweepa [island] – is it a geographical space or the man himself?
In most of your movies, women play crucial roles even when the plots are not women-centric.
The women in our society are always treated as second class citizens. I want to talk about women who cannot voice their opinions, who are made to suffer. Another reason is that women can negotiate any situation compared to men. It is adjustability without a confrontational position, which Mahatma Gandhi advocated.
Also in Kannada literature, such strong characters are there mainly in the works of Shivaram Karanth and Kuvempu, and I grew up watching such women.
Is enough value being given to literature in our country?
It is not just cinema, but the role of art itself is being reduced. The kind of importance art played in the 1960s is not the same now. In my home state of Karnataka, if an intellectual made a statement, people listened to him. Today people will make fun of it and will not take it in right spirit.
This is because we are moving towards a materialistic society. We are not harping on idealism but marketability. You read a writer not because of his writing but his popularity. The book is measured not by what the writer is saying, but how much royalty he gets. It is similar with cinema – we watch movies only when they receive awards at the Cannes Film Festival or the Oscars.
During the screening of ‘Ghatashraddha’, which speaks about the caste system, you mentioned that it would have been difficult to make such a movie today. You also gave the example of ‘Samskara’ (1970), which was banned for a year and yet won the national award for the best film. Is this possible today?
In the 1970s and ’80s, one could oppose and hold on to one’s beliefs. In my movie Tabarana Kathe (1987), the protagonist makes a statement, you idiots, you don’t know how to run a country in these 25 years. That time, there was a Congress government, but they passed the film. The then President, R Venkataraman, was unhappy with that dialogue and told me that I should not have used it. So they expressed their displeasure but yet they gave creative freedom.
That is something that is curbed these days. And it is not by a particular political party as all are the same – rigid and intolerant to the criticism.
Is it because we are losing creativity in life?
It is not about creativity, but about honouring the basic values of democracy. One of democracy’s major values is allowing differences of opinion, plurality. We are trying to kill it with one nation, one language, one community, one dress code, one eating habit. It is alarming.
You have always said any work of fiction is political.
Anything that’s a reaction to the system is political. Even advocating a status quo is a political statement. Films made for entertainment are either ideology-driven or market-driven, which is another kind of politics. If I show a weak person as a Dalit, that itself is a political statement. The moment you place a camera or write a line, you are making a political statement. The idiom of the film is its politics.
These days much is being spoken about the role of the Central Board of Film Certification.
It is a certification board, not a censor. The previous chairperson Leela Samson had categorically said that her job was to certify, and that she had no right to cut the film. That’s the correct position.
But the previous chief [Pahlaj Nihalani] was on the wrong side. Also, why censor only films and not television? Some serials are more dangerous than explicit sex. The ideas and ideologies they propagate corrupt the mind.
You were critical of ‘Baahubali’ winning a national award. The sequel ‘Baahubali 2: The Conclusion’ affected the screening of regional films in some places. How you look at the tussle between commercial and regional cinema? Should there be reservation for regional cinema in theatres?
The problem lies with infrastructure here. In Europe and America, there is a separate network for serious cinema where movies from all over the world are shown. We need to have an art cinema circuit, which should be the responsibility of the government. Since this facility is not available, the demand for reservation is valid.
You are the second Indian filmmaker after Satyajit Ray to receive four Golden Lotus Awards at the national awards. How you look at your achievement?
I am happy with my work, but the movies are not of same standard. One thing I can say without hesitation is that I didn’t make any compromises for the sake of market expectations. All the compromises were made after the start of the film, in terms of finance. With my films, I would do whatever I wanted to do.