The magic that makes an attractive painting out of individual colours is the concentrated attention the painter applies to it so that the different hues put together artistically produce the desired effect in the minds of the viewers. In a similar manner, the filmmaker holds the spectators’ attention and controls their emotions. For example, look at this video. Please observe the changing emotions on the man’s face under different setups. The same shot is repeated here under different setups such as food, mother, baby etc. See how the varying background scenes create different moods in you. We call this mode as ‘movement of attention.’
‘Movement of attention’ is a born gift and a great boon to the filmmaker. It is an index to his mental disposition (instinct or swabhav). Suppose you observe certain objects everyday on your routine march – for example fixed mile stone and the mobile vehicular traffic. Gradually they may bring out the pictures of lovelorn person waiting for his beloved in this mad world – a la Kalidasa! In the imagination of another person they may stand for mass (immobile) and energy – a la Einstein! How one looks at the same things and forms images depends upon his swabhav or psyche. When the spectator’s psyche matches with that of the filmmaker, the spectator derives the maximum joy out of the film. Hence it becomes important to know what kind of disposition a Tulu culture breeds.
In Tulu Nadu festivals galore occur throughout the year, especially during nights. Allegorically we say that Tulu Nadu never sleeps in the night! No sooner than the sun vanishes under the Arabian Sea there one hears the invigorating beats of chande (drum) inviting people’s attention to different types of folk shows. The Western Ghats reverberate these calls. A jatra (folk-meet), yakshagana (folk-theatre) or some other cultural show keeps them busy the whole night.
In the literature of Tulu Nadu, one reads plenty of references to several forms of festivals. Naturally, festival mood is part of the local people’s psyche. Here evening means attending a festival! Nature has blessed this land with plenty of riches – evergreen forests, rivers and ponds, hills and dales, undulating countryside, vast stretches of paddy fields and plantations, etc. The people are hard-working and they want to celebrate festivals as a sort of expressing their gratitude to nature. Temples, maths. Jaina basadis, churches, mosques etc dot the land throughout. Together all these have bequeathed Tulu Nadu a rich and varied cultural heritage.
The films made by local men naturally reflect this mindset. The celebrated theatre person and cinema director BV Karanth tells his biographer that people have often been telling him that all his plays are celebrations. Even the saddest of the plays he has directed depicts just one or other celebration. His explanation is that it is probably his psyche forged in the Tulu crucible. It is therefore important to discuss the role of local culture in the Kannada films made in Tulu Nadu.
Contribution of culture to the film medium
Can a society contribute anything to the film medium? If so in what ways? Few months ago I was shooting a film in the northeastern state of Tripura. There I learnt that the actual name of the legendary RD Burman of the film world was R Debarma! He hails from a small tribal village in Tripura. To suit the modern film industry he had found it proper to change his name. Nevertheless critics who have studied the music scored by Burman have observed the unmistakable impress of several charming folk tunes in them. Do we consider it as the contribution of his society? My answer is an emphatic yes. Society does contribute to the cinema art.
Linguists say that there is an unbreakable symbiotic bond between culture and language. Culture is the reservoir of values that evolves in a living civilization. Language is its expression. A stream of ideas continuously flow from and into it. And the source of this stream is the very culture of the people concerned. Here language includes all modes of expression – spoken, written, gestures, painting, sculpture, music etc.
The Tulu Nadu culture, and so language, have a distinct and recognizable characteristic of their own. To understand their influence on the celluloid medium, consider this 8-minute shot Yakshottama. You may not understand the spoken medium. But the body language, the varying feelings on the faces of characters, the changing background etc, have their own message to you: the reveries of a bygone dynamic artist in the evening of his life. Here is a universal theme with a local expression that communicates and bears the stamp of Tulu culture.
In fact any piece of art in any medium is born with a culture pack or baggage out of which it grows depending upon the inputs people feed it with. These inputs are directly proportional to the initiative and creativity present in them. In making Yakshottama the influence of Tulu culture is very much there. If I were born elsewhere such a mode of expression would never struck me. Let me therefore repeat emphatically that ideas are genes of the land of their origin whereas expressions are local – that is the environment where the individual works. See how the Blacks (from Africa settled) in the US have infused a new vigour to the western music.
Film and other art forms
When a musician, a painter or a sculptor asserts that his art is independent of other forms of art his arrogance, though not true, is understandable. A filmmaker, even theoretically, cannot put forth such a claim. For, it derives inspiration from every other form of art and evolves its own synthesis. This medium has the strength what the biologists term as hybrid vigour. Does it mean that film has no individual identity? If by removing each of the ingredients out of it – music, dance, painting etc – can one reduce film to zero? No! In such a case the effect on the audience may be considerably less but till film as a medium of expression will survive. I have heard an earlier generation belonging to the 1930s saying that the movies (soundless) of those days were far more effective in communicating human emotions than the talkies (with all the masalas) that have usurped the tinsel world.
Let me now exhibit the movie Watch Out made by me. The theme is simple and within the reach of everyone. Could I have improved its artistic appeal by adding conversations to it? That would depend upon the appropriateness of such an additive, which in turn would be an index to my creative instincts. Thus even though the film is not an independent art form it serves as a necessary and useful template for other forms of art to present their different facets. In this process both the media – the film and art forms – mutually benefit. Here is the symbiosis of two apparently disparate forms of communication flourishing in harmony. Success or failure of any additive to the cinema template is eventually an indication to the filmmaker’s creative instincts.
As an illustration I consider here a talkie produced by Shivarama Karanth (1902-97), one of the father figures of modern Kannada literature and a product of Tulu Nadu. A very successful novelist, Karanth’s multifaceted activities included Yakshagana, literature, research, global tours, travelogue etc. He tried his hands in filmmaking as far back as 1978 and brought out Maleya Makkalu. It was based on his very successful Kannada novel Kudiyara Kusu. No doubt it was a daring venture. But what was the opinion of the viewers? “The characters spoke like those in a live Yakshagana field drama but the vigour and dynamism were absent. And the punch inherent in the novel was totally missing in the film.” Thus Maleya Makkalu can just be considered as a documentary on Yakshagana. Such an assessment is indicative of the producer’s deficiency and also a pointer to the possibilities inherent in the film medium.