TULU NADU and CINEMA (Part – 4)

World Cinema


Like a painter or a musician, a filmmaker can also exhibit his creative instincts by selecting presentation, over- or under-emphasis of certain situations, varying the stress on words etc. Consider two famous examples: “The Inspector said the Teacher was a fool.” You can shift the meaning by altering the stress as follows: The Inspector said the teacher was a fool; or, The Inspector said the teacher was a fool. “Raghu was hit by Raju with a broom.” Now listen to its variants depending on intonation: Raghu was hit by Raju with a broom; Raghu was hit by Raju with a broom; Raghu was hit by Raju with a broom; Raghu was hit by Raju with a broom.

Therefore both the style of effective communication and the cut-and-paste technique (plastic surgery) are very powerful tools in the hands of filmmakers. In fact, complex and piquant situations like Arjuna Vishada yoga, Vali vadha, etc., where there is a confluence of so many scenes, actions and dialogues involving human emotions and philosophical issues, can be tellingly employed in the cinema by a creative person. He chooses to highlight something while hiding something else with a clever ploy of innovation.

In this adventure of ideas, he opens out new frontiers of beauty providing the audience with an altogether new experience. His creativity comes to the fore here – in what he shows and in what he hides. As I said earlier in all these sorties to the unknown heights of creativity the producer’s genius has one more important role: to entertain and elevate the audience.

Any form of great art appeals to a connoisseur on four progressive levels: entertainment, elevation, transcendence and supra-transcendence. I have heard a senior film critic remarking that Satyajit Ray’s (1921-92) films belong to the supra-transcendence level. I agree with this assessment.

The process of filmmaking

It comprises roughly seven steps in the initial stage: 1. The Director hits upon an idea. 2. He expands it into a film story. 3. The story is converted into a screenplay with dialogues. 4. It is split into convenient shots or slices. 5. Suitable actors and locations are selected. 6. Separate sets are specially created in tune with the play. 7. Individual shots are exposed. The producer thus obtains a nucleated film when progressive stages are completed.

The nucleated film is now subjected to editing. Here the individual shots or slices are trimmed and pieced together to form the whole story in action so that continuity of the story is ensured. Then sound and music are added to enhance the narrative according to the taste of the maker. Thus filmmaking is a complex exercise involving creativity at every level.

Here is an example of the importance of selecting a proper actor for the right cast. A big name in the Kannada film industry was recently shooting a film with an NRI actor. This actor, though a popular figure in Western theatre, was a total misfit in the Indian context. The nuances of Indian expressions were just beyond his reach. How would you react to a Westerner never exposed to Bharatanatyam suddenly being cast as an ace dancer in a typical South Indian film? It would be a comic scene! The same holds true even if a native Yakshagana artist or a theatre celebrity is suddenly put into a role in the film. Inept action, improper expressions and inelegant grimaces are bound to spring at unwanted places and spoil the aesthetic content of the film.

However, there are instances where such professionals drawn locally from one field when exposed to the intricacies of film-shooting have filled the bill with elegance. Their native templates receive well the training additives put on them. Think of George Bernard Shaw’s Flower Girl metamorphosed into the film My Fair Lady. On many occasions, Kannada films have taken Tulu Nadu expressions like shouting entha maaraayre, pokkade, burnaasu, etc., to import certain comic effects into the film. This miscast might create a momentary giggle. But in a few films where the filmmaker has genuinely cast persons from Tulu Nadu, they have certainly performed well with the added flavour of Tulu culture.

Today film-shooting locations are as important as the actors. In Hindi films, we often see that the producer runs to different countries to find suitable surroundings for every song sequence. But such lavishness may not be economically feasible for a Kannada film. The limited audience or takers here impose severe budgetary constraints. However Malayalam films, in general, prefer their own motherland to a foreign location. Their endeavour is commendable inasmuch as the inspiration the motherland provides is genetically linked with the story, songs and actors.

No doubt a number of Kannada films have used Mangalore as an exotic location. But only a few films have gone to other locations in Tulu Nadu. The landscape, vegetation, climate, natural scenes, heritage buildings, people’s emotional bonds with their surroundings, etc., vary in this Nadu from locality to locality. These can certainly serve as rich backdrops for an enterprising Kannada filmmaker.

Even though every filmmaker is aware of the role played by light and shade in cinema, only a few plan to make effective use of them. We know that natural light varies from place to place and from time to time. This is remarkably pronounced in Tulu Nadu because of its rural setup and undulating landscape. Even then there are not many people in India who are very specific about light.

Of course, our cinematographers do give much attention to lighting up a scene. But such attempts extend either to the maintenance of continuity or to highlight a particular mood. An easily available natural source of light is thus frittered away. Yet there are exceptions. Let us dive into the Kannada film Dweepa. Though its plot is not exactly located in Tulu Nadu, this film should be mentioned for the extraordinary use of light one observes in it. This film takes place largely during the rainy season. Here the cameraman HM Ramachandra has successfully made use of the changing light and shade, especially in the rainy season. It is pertinent to note here that he won the national award for his cinematography in this film. Ultimately in filmmaking, it is the attention one pays to the minutest details that go to make the film a ‘big kill!’ Yes, small is beautiful. In this context, I remember a statement made by Bresson: “It is the small negligible things and moments that make a perfect film and not the major actions.”

Now, let’s talk about sound. Broadly there are two types of sound: the synchronous, and the asynchronous. Loosely put, these are respectively the sounds coming from the screen and off the screen. In the present discussion, let us talk about the sound off-screen (asynchronous sound). As we understand, everything in a film can be artificially made up. So to build up a desired effect asynchronous sound is often grafted to it. Here again, the producer’s sense of creativity is of crucial importance. In the sylvan setup of Tulu Nadu the hiss of a running river, the sepulchral silence of the yonder lofty mountain or the unheard melodies of a thick forest speak volumes about nature. The only condition is that the filmmaker should tune his ears to nature’s frequency.

Cinema and Yakshagana

On a narrow stage of dimension 10X12 square feet, the Yakshagana troupe was enacting a gigantic theme; characters would enter the stage, perform their roles and leave it in the same state for the next shift; the next set would enter equally unceremoniously but create a new wonder on the stage, etc. This interplay and interchange between the mobile (the characters, jangama) and the immobile (the physical makeup of the simple stage with the background ensemble seated high in the centre, sthaavara) in a particular sequence according to the convenience of the roles was very fascinating.

Precisely the same sequence is a beautiful element in the cinema too. Here we speak of a ‘frame’ in the technical sense. According to this concept, the frame is a privileged area (sthaavara). Whatever enters into it is known as the ‘privileged moment’ (jangama). If the director takes a moment into the film, it is called a ‘privileged moment.’ What is astonishing is that the same technique can be seen in the Yakshagana performance as well.
After all, is not the whole universe the interplay between sthaavara and jangama? In the ‘Music of the Spheres’ (metaphorical reference to the movements of the heavenly bodies) the ‘frame’ is the part of the firmament one chooses to observe, the ‘privileged moment’ is the celestial objects that enter the frame, and gravity is the background tune!

Editing a film is an art in which the director decides when to show the character in a long shot, in mid-shot or in close-up. The phase and rhythm of the film are decided while it is edited. Such a process occurs in Yakshagana in two ways.

First, in the strictly traditional Yakshagana performances that use traditional oil lamps, the characters would stand in a particular pose in which they would show their long shot sometimes and mid-shot sometimes. Occasionally even close-ups are also possible. Let us remember that in the early days of cinema for showing a mid-shot, the frame would be composed in a long shot with the unwanted areas masked. This is exactly the technique followed in the traditional Yakshagana also.

Secondly, in the adjustment of light, Yakshagana also creates a flow of attention thus enhancing the mystery element when needed. Films too are all about this –  creating mystery.

There is a second type of editing in Yakshagana. That is done by the Bhagavata who gets direct feedback from the live audience. Carefully and elegantly he edits the show to create phase and rhythm and also controls the run of the performance. He knows exactly at what time, the comedian should enter and when the scene should change. He would be continuously planning both off stage and on stage, as to where and what to elaborate on and what to abridge.

Yakshagana has yet another element in it which is not present in the film. An important character does not enter the stage here all of a sudden. Even as the background artists create the necessary musical frame and raise the mood of the audience the character emanates out of the oblivion, as it were, but covered by a temporary screen. He dances with his back facing the audience. Even as the tempo of the dance and the spectators’ expectations reach the crescendo, the character suddenly casts off the veil and presents himself in full bloom striding across the stage. Here sound is also used effectively. The character shouts loudly a few times from behind the screen as if a demon is on the move. Such a suggestion helps the audience to form visuals in their imagination.

Amazingly this wonder element is one of the major and basic principles in cinema script writing: “Express not straight what you want to convey most but part with it bits each time enhancing the spectators’ expectation.” In other words, weaving a cover of mystery, at first and then breaking it out at the appropriate moment seems to be an underlying thought. Yes, the intensity of fear of the mysterious is always greater. Did not the great Kannada poet Gopalakrishna Adiga (1918-92) sing, “Is life a renunciation of all that you have and a yearning for what you don’t?”

My point in elaborating this point is to show how rich is the heritage of Tulu Nadu. The narrative and craftsmanship in both Yakshagana and filmmaking have such common features that quite a number of men of imagination hailing from this Nadu have taken to the film world with ease and grace and left their imprints on the film canvas. A shining example is that of BV Karanth (1929-2002) who generated a new wave in the Kannada film world.

-Abhaya Simha

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