Friday, 25 November 2011

Kannadigas and their world through cinema

In a pioneering book titled “Bipolar identity – Region, Nation and Kannada language film” noted film critic M. K. Raghavendra has attempted to study social trends in Karnataka through movies. The book, launched by Oxford University Press has been eagerly awaited by film buffs in the state as Mr. Raghavendra is a noted Kannada film critic.

The book studies the experiences of people from the rural areas of the state when they come to Bengaluru to find jobs. Bengaluru finds itself in a strange position where it is the capital of the state but the people of the state still view Mysore as the capital. Mr. Raghavendra’s studies conventions of the people of the erstwhile Mysore princely state because, he says, these were the conventions which continue to influence Kannada cinema even today.

Dr. Raj Kumar, the first superstar of the industry, gets significant coverage as he came to play a crucial role popularising the industry. The choice of films also highlighted the cultural consciousness of the state. Bollywood cinema only spoke of the national aspirations of the people of the country as a whole and this is where regional language cinema became prominent. Their uniqueness was that they were to cater to the audience of the particular states. In doing this they were able to tap markets within their regions which Bollywood could not.

Thus the cinema of any region became concerned with that region alone. In Karnataka this meant that the popular cinema in the state reflected the religious concerns of the state. In this it was following a historical process started by the Bhakti movement poets like Akkamahadevi. He states in the introduction that the non-Brahmin character of Kannada cinema of the pre-independence era is due to the influence of the Bhakti movement. Since the caste of Veerashaivas/Lingayats form a majority in the state their anti-Brahmin orientation is felt in the films.

The author also lays emphasis on the fact that the state of Mysore had reached some level of modernisation during the rule of Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore (1902--1940). As for example the author says Dr. Raj Kumar’s portrayal of James Bond-like roles is due to this modernization as people of the state could understand even such western concepts.

Mythology, Mr. Raghavendra says, is a key motif in Kannada movies not just of the pre-independence but also of those which came after independence. For example, he writes, the ‘Husband-as-lord’ motif is not as pronounced in Hindi films as it is movies like Gunasagari in Kannada. The author attributes this phenomenon to the development of Mysore as a princely state. Mysore, as stated above, had developed more than other states. Mysore state was the first in the country to have its own university. As a result of this the Indian National Congress did not believe in attacking it as Mysore was an example of good administration by Indians. Hindi films at the same time spoke of such concerns as women’s liberation whereas Kannada films reflected the Indian woman as a traditional sacrificing woman whose ‘dharma’ was to stand by her husband.

The main emphasis of the author’s argument is, however, that the popular films have highlighted the dilemma of the people of Karnataka in their allegiance to their nation and their state. In movies like ‘Nagara Haavu’ the photos of Sir M. Visveswaraya adorn the walls of local leaders which the author claims signifies the assertion of Kannada modernity which came much before Indian modernity. The same movie shows the college professor’s office as having a photo of Pt. J. Nehru, signifying Indian modernity as ushered in by him.

Mr. Raghavendra, however, does not read into the rich tradition of ‘Art’ cinema in the state. This, he says, is due to its universality. Art movies in Kannada he says have a pan-Indian appeal which is why they are chosen as the Indian entry for international festivals. He says that apart from movies like Vamshavriksha and Kaadu most of them are not very different from Bengali or Marathi art movies.

Then he comes to recent movies, when he analyses the peculiar phenomenon of the Kannada super hit movie Jogi. The movie started a trend of sorts, of movies which speak about the state capital as the theatre of struggle of rural folk. The movie follows the protagonist, a typical villager who comes to the big city only to be roughed up by the underworld in the city. This, the author says, represents the disillusionment of villagers with the city of Bengaluru. The rural masses see the capital as being hijacked by people from other states. They see the IT boom in the state which does not seem to affect them in a large way. Thus, he concludes that the people of the state have been in a constant dilemma with regard to their allegiance to the state and the country.

The book is very well-researched and displays the scholarship of Mr. Raghavendra who has been writing on the film industry for some time now. It will hopefully pave the way for similar such studies into popular cinema all over the country.

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