Kannada cinema

An acting debut to die for: Girish Karnad in ‘Samskara’

Pattabhi Rama Reddy’s movie, based on UR Ananthamurthy’s novel, is a bold and blistering attack on the caste system.

A group of Brahmins is furiously debating Naranappa’s cremation. They hated Naranappa for his meat-eating, alcohol-drinking and non-Brahminical ways. He even caught fish in the temple pond and abandoned his Brahmin wife to live with a Dalit woman. Can Naranappa be considered a Brahmin at all – and should he be cremated as one?

Just then, Chandri, Naranappaa’s mistress, enters and hands over all the gold she possesses to pay for the funeral rites. The Brahmins stare at the gold. The discussion changes from who is a good Brahmin to who should get the gold.

UR Ananthamurthy’s 1965 novel Samskara and Pattabhi Rama Reddy’s 1970 film adaptation are both blisteringly bold attacks on the caste system and the moral superiority of Brahmins. Ananthamurthy’s novel provoked one man in particular to turn to filmmaking. When he read Samskara, he was so excited by it that he felt that “here was material that was crying out to be filmed”.

That man was Girish Karnad.

Play
Samskara (1970).

“I talked to a lot of people about the book, suggesting that they make a film of the novel,” Karnad said in an interview to India Today. “I was involved at the time with an amateur theatrical group called the Madras Players, and Pattabhi Rama Reddy, who was also with us, said, ‘OK, I’ll find the money, we’ll make the film…’ Looking back, I realize that I would probably have been drawn to film one way or another, it would have been impossible to ignore the medium altogether, but the accident of reading the book was the spark.”

The film was a team effort by a group of friends. Along with Reddy, there was his wife Snehalata Reddy (as plays Chandri), artist SG Vasudev, Australian filmmaker Tom Cowan and filmmaker and writer Rani Day Burra.

Karnad acted as the protagonist Praneshacharya “against his will”. Praneshacharya, revered Brahmin in the Brahmin quarter known as the agrahara and respected for his high moral standards and adherence to caste rules, has the dirty job of deciding the fate of Naranappa’s body. Praneshacharya’s wife is bed-ridden and we see the devout man dedicating his life in the service of his wife.

Karnad’s screenplay makes us believe that such a man will indeed find a suitable caste-bound solution to Naranappa’s cremation. Days pass and the body rots away. Unable to find an answer, Praneshacharya prays to the god Hanuman for help.

Shame and freedom

However, when Praneshacharya runs into Chandri, she fills him with a desire he has never known. The two have sex in the forest. Spontaneous and fiery, this scene remains startling especially because the film betrays no hint of such a turn of events. Reddy ensures that we see two bodies in contact instead of two flowers touching. A rebellion against film convention, if you will, mirroring the breaking of false ideas of caste purity.

The encounter triggers an enormous tumult within Praneshacharya, who flees the agrahara to run away from what he has just discovered about himself. He meets Putta, a non-Brahmin, who stuns him with his kindness. In Putta, Praneshacharya sees the value of living a life without judgment and in touch with one’s feelings in all honesty. It is a life outside of caste where humanity is all that matters. The film ends with Praneshacharya returning to the agrahara where a plague has caused the villagers to flee. A plague triggered by a rotting body – and the rottenness of the caste system.

Karnad captures the essence of Praneshacharya’s turmoil with remarkable ease and fealty. The transition from a self-assured man to a man cowering in shame at what he has discovered about himself is stark and accurate. The camera too begins to corner him as he runs away from himself, moving from wide angle shots to tight frames that trap Praneshacharya.

Samskara was part of the Indian New Wave that spread across various Indian states in the late 1960s and ’70s. Reddy’s film was banned initially for fear of a backlash from the Brahmin community, and was released shortly later. It went on to win the National Award for Best Film that year.

Ananthamurthy’s novel too had been both popular and controversial. It outraged members of the Brahmin community, but was equally hailed as a landmark in the Navya movement of modernism in Kannada literature.

As much as he loved Samskara in 1970, Karnad shared an uneasy relationship with Ananthamurthy’s other novels, even going to the extent of openly dismissing the late writer’s legacy. On the same occasion, Karnad even called Samskara “baseless” and “shallow”.

But in 1970, the book, the actor and the writer were all on the same page. And Indian cinema is thankful for that.

Girish Karnad in Samskara (1970).
Girish Karnad in Samskara (1970).
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

Harvard Business School’s HBX brings the future of business education to India with online programs

HBX is not only offering courses online, but also connecting students to the power of its network.

The classic design of the physical Harvard Business School (HBS) classroom was once a big innovation – precisely designed teaching amphitheaters laid out for every student to participate from his or her seat with a “pit” in the center of the room from which professors orchestrate discussions analyzing business cases like a symphony lead. When it came to designing the online experience of HBX—the school’s digital learning initiative—HBS faculty worked tirelessly to blend these tenets of the HBS classroom pedagogy with the power of new technology. With real-world problem solving, active learning, and social learning as its foundation, HBX offers immersive and challenging self-paced learning experiences through its interactive online learning platform.

Reimagining digital education, breaking the virtual learning mold

Typically, online courses follow a one-way broadcast mode – lectures are video recorded and reading material is shared – and students learn alone and are individually tested. Moving away from the passive learning model, HBX has developed an online platform that leverages the HBS ‘case-based pedagogy’ and audio-visual and interaction tools to make learning engaging.

HBX courses are rarely taught through theory. Instead, students learn through real-world problem-solving. Students start by grappling with a business problem – with real world data and the complexity in which a business leader would have to make a decision – and learn the theory inductively. Thus even as mathematical theories are applied to business situations, students come away with a greater sense of clarity and perspective, whether it is reading a financial report, understanding why a brand’s approach to a random sample population study may or may not work, or how pricing works.

HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program
HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program

“Learning about concepts through real-life cases was my favorite part of the program. The cases really helped transform abstract concepts into observable situations one could learn from. Furthermore, it really helped me understand how to identify situations in which I could use the tools that HBX equipped me with,” says Anindita Ravikumar, a past HBX participant. India’s premier B-school IIM-Ahmedabad has borrowed the very same pedagogy from Harvard. Learning in this manner is far more engaging, relatable, and memorable.

Most lessons start with a short 2-3 minute video of a manager talking about the business problem at hand. Students are then asked to respond on how they would handle the issue. Questions can be in the form of either a poll or reflections. Everyone’s answers are then visible to the ‘classroom’. In the words of Professor Bharat Anand, Faculty Chair, HBX, “This turns out to be a really important distinction. The answers are being updated in real-time. You can see the distribution of answers, but you can also see what any other individual has answered, which means that you’re not anonymous.” Students have real profiles and get to know their ‘classmates’ and learn from each other.

HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort
HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort

Professor Anand also says, “We have what we call the three-minute rule. Roughly every three minutes, you are doing something different on the platform. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. Anyone could be called on to participate at any time. It’s a very lean forward mode of learning”. Students get ‘cold-called’ – a concept borrowed from the classroom – where every now and then individuals will be unexpectedly prompted to answer a question on the platform and their response will be shared with other members of the cohort. It keeps students engaged and encourages preparedness. While HBX courses are self-paced, participants are encouraged to get through a certain amount of content each week, which helps keep the cohort together and enables the social elements of the learning experience.

More than digital learning

The HBS campus experience is valued by alumni not just for the academic experience but also for the diverse network of peers they meet. HBX programs similarly encourage student interactions and opportunities for in-person networking. All HBXers who successfully complete their programs and are awarded a credential or certificate from HBX and Harvard Business School are invited to the annual on-campus HBX ConneXt event to meet peers from around the world, hear from faculty and business executives, and also experience the HBS campus near Cambridge.

HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand
HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand

Programs offered today

HBX offers a range of programs that appeal to different audiences.

To help college students and recent graduates prepare for the business world, HBX CORe (Credential of Readiness) integrates business essentials such as analytics, economics, and financial accounting. HBX CORe is also great for those interested in an MBA looking to strengthen their application and brush up their skills to be prepared for day one. For working professionals, HBX CORe and additional courses like Disruptive Strategy, Leading with Finance, and Negotiation Mastery, can help deepen understanding of essential business concepts in order to add value to their organizations and advance their careers.

Course durations range from 6 to 17 weeks depending on the program. All interested candidates must submit a free, 10-15 minute application that is reviewed by the HBX admissions team by the deadlines noted on the HBX website.

For more information, please review the HBX website.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HBX and not by the Scroll editorial team.