With the release of his latest film Hasina, Girish Kasaravalli, the noted film maker from Karnataka, (India), presents his third film in succession after Thayi Saheba (1997) and Dweepa, (2002), presenting us with a serious study of the plight of women in a male dominated environment, as the subject in all of them. I am not sure whether it was intended by him to be so. But to me, as one who has closely followed his works, it makes sense to call it a trilogy on this theme. These three films together make a significant contribution to the Kannada cinema by a deeply committed filmmaker who stands like a rock amidst ruins. For us, he and a very few others spring like oasis in the otherwise barren desert. A review of the three films with a focus on the wholesome impact they make on the discerning audience is made here.
(Kannada /1997 / Col /120 mins)
Direction & Screenplay: Girish Kasaravalli. Cast: Jayamala, Suresh Heblikar, Shivaram, Sudha Belvadi, Harish Raju.Cinematographer:H.M. Ramachandra, Editor : M.N.Swamy,
Music : Issac Thomas Kottukka Pally.
Thayi Saheba, means a highly respected woman from the erstwhile zamindari (land lord) system which was in vogue in the early part of the last century in Karnataka. The story that takes place belongs to the period when India was at the threshold of attaining freedom. Appa Saheba the landlord and the husband of Narmada Bai, the Thayi Saheba, is a person deeply involved in the freedom movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. He feels it a great honor to be in jail for the cause of country’s liberation from the foreign rule. The film tries to analyze the meaning of freedom at different levels.
There are three women in the life of Appa Saheb. The first wife who is childless, finds happiness in total renunciation, and lives in a temple, totally immersed in her devotion to the god. She keeps herself totally insulated from the worldly affairs. The second one is Thayi Saheba who heads the household affairs. There is another woman Chandri, who is the mistress and has a daughter Manjari. Traditionally Thayi Saheba is not expected to stir out of the house, and symbolically there are number of doors, one after the other in succession to the house which is almost like a fortress. Appa Saheba, when he gets release from the jail for a day to visit his family, goes straight to Chandri his mistress to see the newborn child and the mother. It is here that we get a clear glimpse of the nobility of Thayi Saheba. She waits till her husband comes to her and never shows her disappointment; instead she tries to comfort him as a true traditional wife. She even accepts magnanimously the proposal of adoption of Nanu, who is the first wife’s brother Venkoba Rao’s son. She learns this through the first wife. Even then she never gets upset, but takes the child in her arms and gives all the comforts that a real mother could give. The situation becomes complicated when Nanu the hair apparent to the family property falls in love with Manjari who now becomes his sister after his adoption. Venkoba Rao who manages the property tries to get Nanu his real son married to some other girl so that he could enjoy the property. In the absence of Appa Saheba, who is again lodged in jail because of his participation in a struggle to protect the rights of the farmers, Thayi Saheba again shows her magnanimity in trying to overcome the legal hurdles to bring Nanu and Manjari together.
The film makes a sincere attempt to find the meaning of freedom. Appa Saheb, spent his life in jail to get freedom for the country. On the day of attaining freedom, Appa Saheb is released and he organizes a function to celebrate the independence at midnight in the village. The astrologer obeys the order to fix an auspicious time. Thayi Saheba and the family simply do whatever Appa saheba instructs them to do with out knowing why they are doing it at midnight. The villagers assemble, become mute spectators to the flag hoisting with out realizing the significance of the victory. The freedom to the nation does not bring any reprieve to Appa Saheba; he again languishes in jail, this time for his progressive outlook towards farmers. All these, happen at one level. On the domestic front, Thayi Saheba as a faithful wife, looks after Chandri with dignity, tries to liberate her foster son Nanu from the artificial clutches of law to enable him marry Manjari. She now moves freely, going places against the family tradition, in search of her husband. When Chandri is afraid that Thayi Saheba may have to go to jail if she signs some documents, she does not bother, instead she smilingly obliges. She quotes what her husband Appa Saheb used to tell, “One must go to jail to get freedom,” now she says “ I will go to jail to liberate Nanu.” The film generates a thought process in our mind, What is freedom and what is jail? . Jayamala as Tahyi Saheba has given a dignified performance in a role that is complex in nature.
The film deservedly won the Swarna Kamal for best film, and Shivaram as Venkoba Rao won the best supporting actor award at the national level .The film also won critical acclaim at various film festivals.
(Kannada / 2002 / Col /120 mins)
Direction & Screenplay: Girish Kasaravally. Cast: Soundarya, Vasudeva Rao, Avinash, Harish Raj. Cinematographer: H.M.Ramachandra, Editor: M.N.Swamy, Music :Issac Thomas Kottukapalluy.
Dweepa is Girish’s next film which also won the best film award, Swarna Kamal. This film actually continues to probe the woman’s dilemma and her miserable plight in a situation dominated by the two other male characters, her husband and her father in law, who are plagued by the shackles of their dogged mindset. The synopsis of the film as published is rather misleading. The subject of the film is not the problem of displaced people whose lands are submerged when dams are built. It is actually the sacrifice, grit and determination of Nagi, the only woman in the family who sacrificed her all to save the family from destruction. She stood like a rock amidst ruins, disasters and humiliations.
Duggajja, the head of the family, the father in law of Nagi, belongs to the older generation. He is so dogmatic in his approach, he never agrees to leave the place even when it becomes clear that it is only a matter of days before the entire village is submerged. Ganappa, the husband, is a typical coward who just goes by what his father says. He lives in his own world, and is driven by circumstances, and never makes a decision on his own. He is unable to understand the needs of a woman, but he becomes jealous when Krishna is able to bring some life in to the otherwise dull environment. Nagi for the first time smiles, smiles happily, in Krishna’s company time moves fast for her. It is a season of spring in her life, but it ends abruptly. After realizing that her proximity to Krishna was the cause of annoyance for Ganappa, she decides to get rid of him. Here again it is her bold decision that puts an end to Krishna’s sojourn in this uninhabited island. Poor fellow this is his second disappointment after his misadventure in Mumbai. She did it purely to save the family. Duggajja succumbs to his dogged mindset by drowning himself in the submerged temple. The film reaches a climax, when rain starts pouring incessantly, amidst threat of tiger. Ganappa true to his nature does not know what to do, he sleeps under his blanket. It is again Nagi who excels in her courage, she puts fire around the house to keep the tiger away, sleeplessly toils to save the house and the cattle from the deluge of water.
The concluding portion gives a clear idea about the objective of the entire film. The excess water in the dam overflows through the gates, Nagi realizes that they are saved from drowning, she becomes elated, runs to fetch her husband to see the delightful sight. Ganappa comes out of his hibernation, emerges out of the covered blanket, and beams a proud smile, as though he has won a great battle.
Poor Nagi! she asks, “Is it not I, who saved the family from breaking, is it not I, who kept the tiger away? ” The ungrateful husband replies, “ No, definitely not, yours was only a dummy presence, but it was the Spirit, the will of god that saved us. We must be grateful to god who saved us. ” It is here, at this crucial juncture, the film makes its important point, that a woman who yearned for some recognition for the role she played, at least from her husband, feels totally let down. Soundarya as Nagi lives the role with all the sincerity.
(Kannada /2005 / col 120 mins)
Direction & Screenplay: Girish Kasaravalli. Cast: Tara, Chandrahasa Ullal, Purushotham Talavata, Chitra Shenoy, Baby Bodhini Bhargavi, Rutu. Cinematography: S.Ramachandra Aithal, Music: Isaac Thomas Kottukapally, Story: Bhanu Mushtaq, Editor: M.N.Swamy, Costumes: Ishrat Nissar, M.N.Swamy
Girish continues his quest in his third film of this genre, this time in Hasina the milieu shifts to a different set up, but it again deals with the plight of a woman caught in a web from which she desperately tries to come out, but in vain. The film is based on a story by Bhanu Mushtaq, a lawyer by profession. Hasina, a Muslim woman is married to one Yakoob, an auto rickshaw driver who faithfully follows the dictum of religion as for as attending the daily prayers is concerned. They have already three children, all females, the first one has lost her eyesight, and they are now anxiously waiting for the fourth one which they hope would be a male child. Not able to remain patient till delivery, Yakoob opts to know the sex of the growing child in the womb itself by resorting to illegal scanning through bribe. Unfortunately, the result is negative and it is again female .The film now takes a totally new direction, Yakoob suddenly becomes inhumanly hostile towards his wife Hasina. Encou-raged by his mother, he treats his pregnant wife and the three children with sheer contempt. He deserts the family and stops coming to the house leaving them in the lurch. Coming to know that Yakoob is getting married to another woman, Hasina gradually reconciles to her fate, but she now hopes to earn money to get her daughter Munni operated for recovering her eyesight. She and her children all work day and night making incense sticks (agatrbathis). She takes up the job of a housemaid, the owner Julekha, a very rich woman, is a divorcee who is well versed in Muslim personal law. On her advice, Hasina takes up the case of getting compensation from her husband.
The film now enters a new phase, unfolding layer by layer the inbuilt cruelty that is heaped on muslim women in the name of religion. She makes a written complaint to the muthavalli the elected religious head, to get justice for her. In the process she gets acquaintance with his wife who is also a victim of shariat law. Physically, her health is deteriorating day by day since she is producing children every year like a machine, with out a break. She wants to get operated to put a halt to it, but her husband being the leader of the community does not permit it, afraid of losing his position of power. The film penetrates further into the existing religious set up of this community, when Hanif a rival of Muthavalli offers Hasina to take up her case to get her justice. This is a political move of the other group and in the process Hasina gets pushed from pillar to post. Eventually, the pregnant Hasina decides to sit at the masjid with her children on protest till she gets justice. She does not bother if her husband leaves her, but her only hope in life now is to get some compensation so she can get Munni operated. The film depicts brutality at its peak, when she is booted mercilessly by Yakoob, in the very presence of Moulvis and other religious leaders, that too in front of the masjid. The end is pathetic, Munni receives the booting instead of Hasina and dies on the spot.
Perhaps Munni’s death is fate’s kind gesture, in the sense, it provides relief to Hasina’s endless misery! But ironically, the prayers at the masjid continue without fail. Yakoob’s cruelty is beyond imagination, fortunately we are spared from these ghastly visuals, the actions are hidden away from the camera, communicated only through sounds and titles. There is again a very stringent ironical perspective to the whole episode. Every cruel event is followed by the prayer at the masjid. The film starts with Fazr, the morning prayer, then Jehr, the noon prayer, followed by ASR, the evening prayer ,Magrib – prayer of sunset and ends with Isham the night prayer. All the religious leaders, and even Yakoob participate in the prayer without fail. But there is not an iota of kindness or humanity in their behavior towards this woman. It is a very harsh commentary on the opportunism and cruelty that is perpetrated in the name of religion on the poor, innocent women. The only hope that she nurtured now stands shattered with the death of Munni. In the melee that takes place in the last sequence, the papers containing legal points, scribbled by Julekha are thrown to the winds, they reach hundreds of Hasinas who read and react, some opening and some closing their burkhas ( veils), a symbolic presentation of trying to create an awareness among them to stand up against the opportunistic hawks. Even Amina rebels against muthavali, her husband .
For her excellent performance in the title role, Tara the noted Kannada actress, won the best actress award, and the film was adjudged as the best film on family welfare at the national level. Bodhini Bhargavi has won laurels for her brilliant performance as Munni. It is a surprise that it missed the highest award Swarna Kamal.
Girish starts his essay with Thayi Saheba, Narmada Bai the main character in the film belongs to a wealthy family, there is no dearth for day today needs, but the problem here is of freedom, while her husband participates in the struggle to get freedom for the country, his wife is a woman caged in her palatial cell struggling to be liberated. In his second episode, Dweepa, the woman again suffers, suffers silently with the hope that her sacrifice to serve the needs of the family will receive due recognition, but in vain. In his third film Hasina, Girish dares to take the bull by the horn by taking up a contemporary issue of ethnic fundamentalism, which is playing havoc with the lives of millions of women all over the world. All the three women in the films are like candles burning themselves to give light to the world. In all the three films it is the lady characters who play the stellar roles, interestingly the three actresses are the producers of their respective films also.
Kasaravalli’s views :
When I suggested to Girish that the three films could be considered a trilogy, he browsed over for a while and remarked: “It is a good insight ”. His reaction is given below:
I recollect one of the articles on Gandhiji by Ashish Nandi, which describes how he changed the direction of political struggle from that of conflict and violence to nonviolence, truth, and peaceful reconciliation. This new dimension, he propounded went beyond politics and became panacea for modern living also. In all my three films this forms the basic tenor.
In Thayi Saheba, Appa Saheba became a faithful follower of Gandhi, but did not exhibit the will and resolve that was required to take decision when it came to face difficult situations like domestic affairs or tenancy act. He becomes a mute spectator, where as Thayi Saheba, despite all odds against her, offers solace to farmers, and brings Nanu and Manjari together, keeping aside the barriers of caste and class. All this, she achieves not by power or force but by her love and affection.
In Dweepa, Nagi follows the same principle. People in villages shift to a safer place when threatened by submergence. But Nagi’s family decides to stay back. Nagi the lone woman is in the midst of, Duggajja, the old man, a traditionalist, has more faith in the past, Krishna an outsider, a dreamer who is afraid of water, Ganappa the husband a blind follower of his father, feels threatened by the Ghost in Krishna, a very timid person, unable to take decisions. When it becomes inevitable that they have to stay back, Nagi who believes more in the present, reconciles to live with nature, with animals and with the people. And she becomes successful.
In the case of Hasina, she faces the threat in the form of male world and the world of religion, through patience, peace and nonviolence. Her husband becomes an embodiment of brutality. Hers is a journey, which passes through various phases culminating in the end, when she faces physical assault from her husband Yakoob. On the contrary Yahoo’s journey of violence ends up with the death of Munni. Hasina suffers violence, but becomes successful in creating awareness in the society.
Thayi Saheba, Nagi, and Hasina, all the three face defeat individually, but they are successful in touching the subconscious of the society .
A film critic and a noted veteran in the film society movement. He is a member of FIPRESCI and the Vice President of Federation of Film Societies of India. Based in Bangalore, India.