Banker-turned-filmmaker OP Srivastava first met Kannada filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli in November 2012 in Goa at a workshop organised by the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. The masterclass was followed by a screening of Kasaravalli’s film Dweepa, based on Na D’Souza’s novel about the displacement of tribals. An amateur cinephile at the time, the experience left a lasting impact on Srivastava, who was inspired by the magic of Kasaravalli’s parallel cinema. In no time, Kasaravalli became Srivastava’s role model.
Two years later, Srivastava made his debut film on the filmmaker he adored. Titled Life in Metaphors: A Portrait of Girish Kasaravalli, the film was Srivastava’s attempt to unravel the intricate undercurrents of his mentor’s films and interpret their subtle metaphors. “It was an attempt to see the world through the eyes of the great filmmaker and delve deeper into his conscious and subconscious mind,” says Srivastava. The film went on to receive the National Award for Best Biopic for 2015.
Three years later, Srivastava felt there was more to Kasaravalli than what he had captured. So, he decided to put together a book, a collection of 24 ‘portraits’ sketched by Kasaravalli’s colleagues, friends, family and film critics. Each of these essays explores various layers and nuances of his films and their metaphors. Kasaravalli’s colleagues applaud the fact that he had the courage to make films on his own terms and never succumb to commercial pressures.
Kasaravalli is hailed as one of the pioneers of the New Wave Movement in Kannada cinema. His diploma film at FTII Pune, Avashesh, won the President’s Silver Lotus Award for Best Experimental Short Film of the year. In 1977, he made his directorial debut with the heart-wrenching Ghatashraddha based on a novel by the Jnanpith Award-winning author UR Ananthamurthy. The film won the Golden Lotus for the Best Film of the Year at the National Awards, and was also the only Indian film selected by the National Archives of Paris to highlight the centenary of cinema.
Over a period of four decades, Kasaravalli went on to make a total of 14 feature films, a few documentaries, one television serial and a telefilm. His films have so far won 25 national awards, 45 state awards and 21 international awards. Kasaravalli went on to win the President’s Lotus award a record 17 times. In 2011, he was awarded the Padma Shri. Further, the Rotterdam, Rome, Colombo and Dhaka film festivals have all held retrospectives of his work in the past.
Renowned film director and screenwriter Shyam Benegal believes that Kasaravalli’s work emerges from the culture to which he belongs, with an appeal that is universal even as it retains its local character and idiom. “He is one of the crusaders of art house cinema who has continued to follow the parallel track,” he adds. Internationally acclaimed Malayalam film director and screenwriter Adoor Gopalakrishnan—a fellow alumnus of FTII Pune on whom Kasaravalli made a documentary film called Images/Reflections in 2015—refers to Kasaravalli as his favourite filmmaker. According to Gopalakrishnan, Kasaravalli’s Naayi Neralu is one of India’s finest films.
Actor, writer, director and poet Deepti Naval, who starred in Kasaravalli’s 1990 film Mane, recalls the visual aesthetics that Kasaravalli applied in his films. “You could see the intense passion that he felt for his work, his film, the characters and the social message that he communicates,” she reminisces. Eminent cinematographer Jehangir Chaudhary, who worked with Kasaravalli in Avashesh, describes his friend as a quiet, gentle soul who is “very, very understated. When an artist is doing any work in his field, very often it’s not simply his point of view that reflects, but a summation of his entire life that is translated into his work”.
In an age where cinema has become synonymous with entertainment, Kasaravalli’s works provide some quintessential food for thought, and is a necessary reminder of life’s finer things. In all, the book is a treat for all film buffs, or simply anyone who is a keen observer of life.