INTERVIEW

Girish Kasaravalli interview: ‘We are trying to kill democracy with a one-nation message’

The acclaimed director on growing intolerance, political cinema, and adapting literature for the screen.

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?

Play
Dweepa (2002).

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.

Play
Kanasemba Kudureyaneri (2010).

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.

Play
Gulabi Talkies (2008).

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.

Play
Life in Metaphors, a documentary by OP Srivastava.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

Watch Billions Now

2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

Watch Westworld Now

3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

Watch American Horror Story Now

6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

Watch Empire Now

7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

Watch Modern Family Now

8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

Watch The Deuce Now

9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

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