Right from his first film Ghatashraddha, FTII alumnus Girish Kasaravalli has shown that he is a conscience-keeper of our time. His films are not just for arts’ sake — for him, cinema is a powerful tool for social change. Through the years, many issues have haunted Kasaravalli, and we have seen them reflected on his film canvas. If in Tabarana Kathe, he highlights the plight of an earnest government worker who struggles to get his pension money, in Dweepa he focuses on displacement that huge projects like dams brings about on ordinary people and the conflict between man and nature. But first, Kasaravalli is interested in stories. A voracious reader, he is always on the lookout for a good story he can bring alive on screen. His first chilling film Ghatashraddha was based on a novella by eminent Kannada writer UR Ananthamurthy; Naayi Neralu or Shadow of the Dog was based on a novel by SL Bhyrappa and his latest film Gulabi Talkies is based on a story by famous Kannada writer Vaidehi. His films are also about personal-public relationships, man-woman-society ties and internal-external rifts. He has made only 11 films in three decades, but all have won national, international and Karnataka state awards. In Kolkata to screen Gulabi Talkies at the film festival, Kasaravalli is unwilling to believe that there’s no audience for serious cinema but tells Sudipta Datta there are fewer avenues. Excerpts:
What’s haunting Girish Kasaravalli at the moment? Bangalore itself has undergone a huge change, does that bother you?
I am not against change, but there are a whole lot of issues that reforms have ushered in in India. The changes that have happened in India post 1990 is going to have huge repercussions on the Indian psyche. I am distressed at the impact of globalisation, the Babri Masjid issue, lack of morals in political ideology, but most of all, I am disturbed at the deepening communal divide which is threatening the fabric of our secular society.
You exploit this theme in Gulabi Talkies?
Yes, it’s based on Vaidehi’s excellent story but I made a lot of changes. The story was about a Brahmin community, I changed that to a fishing community. There’s the Kargil war in the backdrop and this little village far away from Kargil is simmering in communal tensions because it gets to watch the war “live” on TV. I tell the story from the perspective of Gulabi, a popular midwife, who is forced to acknowledge issues of religion and communal harmony, but the whole society gets affected too… Gulabi’s story is also their story.
You do initiate a lot of changes in the stories you base your films on?
Yes, Ghatashraddha is true to the original story, but for all my other films, I have made a lot of changes. When something in a story strikes me, I start finding elements in the story that can reciprocate contemporary situations and I work out a new story from there.
In Gulabi Talkies, the TV is a powerful — and in some ways, a destructive — tool. Does it reflect your opinion on TV as a medium?
I am haunted by the politics of representation. People who watch TV or read the newspaper often take the information they are given as “factual” data — they don’t realise that the news they are watching or reading has also reached them through a filter. We seem to believe what we see on TV as news — we are never willing to believe that it’s manipulated. When Saddam was caught, the first impression really worried me. I knew we couldn’t trust that image because that was manipulated — the Americans wanted us to see Saddam in that light and beamed that image again and again. This trend is really worrisome.
In the age of the multiplex, Gulabi Talkies hasn’t seen a universal release. Do you think the audience for serious cinema is shrinking?
No, the audience isn’t shrinking but there are fewer avenues. What serious films lack is an infrastructural back-up. How did serious cinema survive in Europe? It is because of the small theatres. But things are changing. With the digitalisation of cinema, we can reach out to a larger audience. Shyam Benegal’s Welcome to Sajjanpur was released in 116 theatres and that’s unprecedented and very good news for serious film-makers.