“The concept of one nation, one language, one religion, is not for us”: In conversation with Girish Kasaravalli
On the side-lines of the Manipal International Literary and Arts Platform (MILAP), where Padmashri award winner and renowned film maker Girish Kasaravalli addressed the gathering following the screening of his film Thaayi Saheba, The Manipal Journal caught up with the director to gauge his thoughts on his films, censorship, the Netflix debate, and more.
Thaayi Saheba is viewed as a narration of social conditions of women during the period of Gandhi’s death to Nehru’s death. Had the film been made under different circumstances, how would Thaayi Saheba be portrayed in the period of, say, Indira Gandhi’s time to the modern day?
Thaayi Saheba was set in a time when nationalist ideologies were prevalent, and people started becoming more opportunistic and manipulative. In the last scene of the movie, the lawyer says, “we can manipulate the law and get justice”. That is actually the practice in the post-Nehruvian era. I can’t imagine placing this film in any other time, because of these reasons. Through this period, I was aiming to talk about larger issues, for example what one means by independence, sacrifice and the like. It’s not basically about that period, it’s also a notion of freedom which Gandhi taught us. Till then, politics was thought to be a field where one could conquer the other using force. Gandhi showed us that one can conquer by love. Thaayi Saheba shows that. In that way, the film isn’t about the Nehruvian era per se, but it also talks about these kinds of aspects.
Characters of Adivasi persons, or persons from rural and lower income groups are regularly victims of stereotypical or severely confined roles. You have continually worked with characters from such backgrounds. How did you make sure such characters stayed prominent and complex in your films?
In my works, they are victims, but there is no self-pity. If I say they are not victimised, then I’m lying. Adivasis, Dalits, they’re all victims of the situation. If I try to picture them as helpless and weak though, then I am again lying. They’re not helpless. It is the existing structures of the society which makes them weak. None of the characters from my films, be it Yamunakka of Ghatashraddha or Nagi of Dweepa, crumble under the system. They have the desire for life still burning in them, but they’re not given the kind of space they crave for. So, it’s not a stereotypical situation in that sense. They’re victims, but not helpless victims. They have some sort of self-assertion, but the society is not giving them enough space.
There has recently been a change of guard at the Central Board of Film Certification (CFBC), with Prasoon Joshi taking over the reins. Their recent recommendations of 10 cuts for the Bollywood movie Simran suggests nothing may have changed in terms of censorship. What do you think?
An earlier chief of the CBFC, Leela Samson was very clear in her statement. She said her job wasn’t to censor films, but to certify. The job of the certification board is to classify films so as to make sure the film caters to the right audience. The fact that the board is now trying to meddle with the product that is given to them, that is unacceptable. They can always classify the films as being suitable for children or adults, but why do they want to meddle? Films are creative expressions of certain persons. I am yet to see Prasoon Joshi’s work and style of functioning, so let us see.
According to a report in The Hindu, you were a co-petitioner alongside Ananthamurthy and Gauri Lankesh, among others, over the retention of religious harmony at Bababudangiri. Why do you think it was important to join the legal battle over the shrine?
Just to clarify, I was not a co-petitioner, Girish Karnad was a co-petitioner. But I agreed with the petitioners. I grew up in a village near Bababudangiri. There was always a kind of harmony between Hindus and Muslims. The Hindus used to offer pujas there at some days and on the others, it used to be a Muslim shrine. When things were moving slowly, why do we disturb it? Is it now possible to co-exist? It isn’t a place of worship in that sense, but people who had belief into the sect, they performed rituals there. Why politicise it? That was my argument.
The State Government has now constituted a panel to look into the dispute, which the BJP opposes. What are your thoughts on the pace of progress?
Let us wait for the report to come out. But I personally know, it is a way of differing things, not solving them. I’m of the firm opinion that if beliefs are being practised, let us keep politics out of it. I may not practise, but I am not against people practising what they want to. But you cannot claim that your religious beliefs are superior to the other ones.
There have been claims of targeted attempts to silence rationalists and dissenters once again after the recent murder of Gauri Lankesh. What is your take on these claims and on where we stand as a society?
It is very unfortunate that such people are targeted. Nobody has the right to eliminate just because they speak on behalf of certain people. The kind of democracy which we believed in was centred on arguments and counter-arguments, where no one can sort issues out by force. This kind of system would make the society stronger. That is the kind of spirit which we all believed in for ages.
One of my films, Hasina, was targeted by right-wing groups. That’s when Gauri offered her support to us. It’s very unfortunate that people try to curb this creative process and expression. It is my fear that society is becoming more intolerant. Why do we become intolerant? Is it because we think our existence is going to be questioned? I am very certain that society has lived for thousands of years amongst all kinds of pressure, and they never succumbed. Any society which is open cannot be suppressed. We have co-existed for centuries and that should continue. The concept of one nation, one language, one religion, is not for us.
A couple of years ago, you talked about how the internet was increasingly influencing the world of films. Today, platforms like Netflix are releasing their films online directly, without them having to go through theatres. Hollywood director Christopher Nolan led the chorus of revolt against this method, criticising digital distribution. Where do you stand on this issue?
I would welcome this new move (of distribution), because this is a boon for small filmmakers with minimal budgets. I always believed that this new technology and the new way of distribution is a boon. Platforms such as Netflix can now facilitate distribution of films that are unconventional, films that do not subscribe to Hollywood way of making films. Real cinema is not always made in Hollywood, it is made in Asia, Europe or Latin America. Those kinds of films never got any forum. I wouldn’t say Netflix alone, but digital platforms as a whole would give great opportunity. I’m definite that very soon, the complexion of cinema is going to change, not only the process of making it but distributing it as well.
Featured image courtesy: Harleen Kaur
Edited by: Pravin C