Girish Kasaravalli’s first feature, Ghatashraddha (The Ritual) marked the new wave in Kannada films. In 2002, it was chosen for the cinema hundred anniversary celebrations of the Film Archive of Paris as one of the best – and only Indian -- 100 films of world cinema. The veteran director and Padma Shri awardee talks of films then and now.
What were the major concerns of Kannada cinema?
In 1970, Sanskara (a film on Brahmism), the first major landmark Kannada film was released. A generation of artistes were influenced by the works of socialist writers like UR Ananthamurthy, Lankesh, Tejaswini who were critical of the caste structure and its hierarches. Till about 20 years this concern remained.
‘Ghatashraddha’ was made in the 70s, the time of the rise of the angry young man idea in mainsteam cinema. In your films, however, it’s all very muted.
Our films were also a reaction to the mainstream which was explicit. We wanted that the acting styles should be restrained and that the story be revealed layer by layer. We didn’t get into drama straight away.
What do you look for in your actors?
When I cast children I see their eyes. If a child has good eyes and is mischievous, I cast him. Meena, who starred in Ghatashraddha, was Ananthmurthy’s student. She had the face needed for the role. Umashree who has acted in two of my films could get the nuances of her characters instantly. I usually change my artistes, if I visualise them in one character, I cannot visualise them in another.
Who have been your influences?
I admired Ray’s humanism, care for details, the way he would pack in a lot of issues. My films have been very different from those I liked. I liked Kurosawa, some said I made films like Bresson. In Rashomon, Kurosawa I believe, pointed to a lion and told the actor Toshiro Mifune who was playing a bandit that a lion is what he must try to be. He didn’t say be like this or that actor…
Is mainstream cinema a threat to regional cinema?
It depends upon your conditioning. If you see more and more of a certain kind of film, you’ll ask me, as many people have ‘why are there no songs in your film?’ Why must they?