On a chilly winter morning, over breakfast, I met Padma Shri filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli. He agreed to do the interview before he headed to the airport to catch his flight.
He gave crisp answers, choosing his words thoughtfully. He laughed like a child at some of the statements he made. At times, he seemed lost in his own thoughts, searching for the right words. In this engaging conversation one thing became clear; this reflects in his films too- his love for simplicity. He used no fancy words. He kept it simple. He spoke about cinema, great filmmakers that have made a lasting impression on him, literature, and about people and life.
A recipient of several national and international awards, Girish Kasaravalli had won the prestigious Golden Lotus Award for his very first film Ghatashraddha, in 1977. Since then he has made nearly 14 films, all critically acclaimed at national and international film festivals. Be it Tabarana Kathe (1986), Thaayi Saheba (1997), Koormavatara (2011), and others, all his films have been thought-provoking, poignant, dealing with real issues, and real people around us. A distinguished filmmaker in the parallel cinema movement, this Kannada director draws inspiration from master filmmakers such as Ozu, Satyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa, and the likes. At the ongoing 8th Asian Film Festival in Pune he was felicitated with the Zenith Asia Award.
Excerpts from an interview with filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli:
Kurosawa asks in all his films ‘why is the world so cruel’. Inspired by directors like him, what had you promised yourself early on as a filmmaker?
A common thread, which run through all my films is about the aspect of ‘othering’. In the name of various things like religion, nationality, language, sometimes ritual, or state order, we ‘other’ some people. This is one of the most cruel things people can inflict on others. After all we are one human race. You can see this in Ghatashraddha, Gulabi Talkies, and majority of my films.
How important is it as a filmmaker to make films that raise questions?
The purpose of art itself is to make you ask questions. And not to blindly accept theories put forward by the dominant, be it state or social organisations. It’s only when we start questioning that we understand the problem better. In our day-to-day affairs we somehow lose the perspective. In real life sometimes we are not in a position to connect things that take place over 20 to 30 years. So, the work of any art is to show how these things are connected. For example, did partition affect us, or did our traditional beliefs affect us? Art gives you a perspective. In art, time and space are spread in such a way that we get some kind of clarity.
Especially in today’s times, when even the politics seems to bring about homogeneity in the country, why does it become necessary to make regional films, dealing with a wide spectrum of society and the related issues?
We need to question this whole notion of homogeneity itself, of mono-culture. We need to respect the fact that each individual is different. However, we try to make everything look similar. Why should everyone speak the same language; dress in a similar way; or eat one kind of food? When we can’t bring any homogeneity in mundane things like these, how can we do it with culture, which is much more complex? We shouldn’t even try that. There is a beauty in heterogeneity.
Being an avid reader, was it a conscious decision to turn to literary works for your films?
I still don’t have the answer as to why I don’t write the stories myself. Maybe some kind of laziness. I can just say that the inspiration starts from literary work. Some people take inspiration from the world around them. Some people take inspiration from the reflection of the world around them. I belong to the latter category. Chekhov says ‘I can’t capture the world the way Tolstoy does because I can’t capture the moon but, at least, let me capture the reflection of the moon in the water (laughs)’.
You have always stressed on not following the European or American cinema but our own Asian cinema.
Again, for the same reason of homogeneity… Why should they dictate terms when it comes to cinema from the rest of the world? If we don’t have that kind of complexities, the world becomes boring. In fact I am slightly critical of the standards set by the international film festivals. They have only two kinds of notion- Hollywood extravaganza or the films which talk about certain issues. We also have certain interpersonal relationship issues which they don’t want. If it’s a film about communal riots or famine they immediately take that. It’s good though that things are slightly changing. But we need to assert saying that we too have other kinds of problems; we too have our own universe. Why to bring in monopoly in art and the thought process of people? That is a kind of cultural colonization I oppose. Cultural colonization is more dangerous than political colonization.
Being in the industry for more than 40 years what do you feel should be the essence of any film?
I would say two things about cinema. Firstly, it should be a part of ongoing social, cultural, political, or philosophical dialogue. Secondly, any cinema should be trying to express itself through cinematic ways. I’m keen to see how cinematic idiom has been used. Any cinema should be either a great humanistic perspective or something experimental.
In India, you don’t see many filmmakers experimenting with content, and other nuances of film-making.
Wherever you have a huge industry you don’t see much experimentation. That’s the case with Hollywood too. In India majority of the filmmakers want to work within a structure, and cater to the market demands. Whereas in small countries, they don’t have a structure so it’s easy for them to experiment. This is a case where the structure itself becomes a kind of a pressure and doesn’t let you have the necessary freedom. In a strong film industry like Telugu, or Bollywood, it’s difficult to break away from the accepted notions. Even in Kannada mainstream they just want some kind of violence or vulgarity.
A message for young filmmakers…
Be true to your feelings. Make films from your heart. Technology alone cannot make films. They (the young) want to know the latest camera, what kind of image you will get, etc. That is a cameraman’s job. Your job is to understand the human nature. Over-dependence on technology is a major problem these days. (P. K. ) Nair saab always used to say ‘cinema is made from the heart, not from the mind’. I would say cinema has to be a good balance of both the heart and the mind. A film which is purely done from the heart is simply emotional. But on an ideation level it doesn’t force you to think or reconsider your opinions. I want films to make me question my own stand. That’s the only way we can avoid fascist tendencies in us.