TULU NADU and CINEMA (Part – 2)

Kannada Films with Tulu backdrop

I have seen several Kannada films effectively employing some of the dance forms of Tulu Nadu (yakshagana dance-drama). One example is that of the familiar huli vesha (men wearing tiger masks, painting their bare bodies with stripes etc that masquerade a real tiger). Here the ‘tiger’ dances in the open to powerful drumbeats. They are mostly used as metaphors for fear, darkness, impending disasters etc.

I was watching a film where huli vesha was a replacement of a real tiger. It might be a matter of convenience or a matter of artistic look. In Samskara, which heralded a new wave in modern Kannada cinemas, a yakshagana scene was tellingly employed to highlight the suppressed sexual desire of an orthodox person. It was the climactic point in this film when the lead role, an honest and orthodox Brahmin, is tempted to make sexual advances to a woman from the lower class. In this serious film, it is dhwani, which subtly suggests to the viewer that in the confrontation between suppressed sex and orthodoxy, it is the former that wins!

However, this scene is an inter-cut with the Yakshagana performance. When the scene ends, we see both the characters sitting aside as if nothing had happened to them. The symbolism is just lost here. This is an editing miss, indeed an example for indiscrete use of a powerful metaphor. However one sees here the effect of Tulu Nadu on the cinema medium.

A well-known aphorism says that whenever a new idea, style, fashion or innovation is grafted to an existing and familiar one, generally it is rejected by its contemporary practitioners, but a new set of people grow with it and in due course it becomes part of the system. This is true of every human activity: an innate inertial resistance against change and a final acceptance of the same.

Kannada films, to which Tulu symbols were grafted in the 1970s by some daring innovators, though looked down then as unwanted intrusions or unacceptable irritants, are now accepted without reservation. However, the time has come now to judge their aesthetic values and appropriateness.

Use of a number of percussive instruments of Tulu Nadu has influenced Kannada and few other film industries also. For example, Hari Haran’s national award winning film in Malayalam starring Mammutti Oru Odakaran Veeragatha has a loud presence of chande and maddale, two prominent percussive instruments of Tulu Nadu and Kerala. However, their indiscriminate use in this film makes it rather monotonous to watch and jarring to hear.

This is a film based on a folk tale of Kerala. Here we find a reference to Tulu Nadu, to which place earlier Kalari Payatt artists would go for practice. The film also mentions about the gurus of those times in Tulu Nadu. In several Kannada films, we can see today people using traditionally Tulu instruments such as chande, dudi etc for various purposes. Because of the quality of their sound, they are used in action sequences, or to show anger, fear etc.

Aesthetic appropriateness

A swimmer in a wild current will not know which stroke when and where should be applied to his advantage. So is the case with a painter. The colour, depth, shade and such other details are decided intuitively by his creative genius. This is equally true of a filmmaker. Here his overall aesthetic sense and the grammar of the cinema medium control the free flow of his creative ideas. In fact every artistic production bears the signature of its creator.

However there is a marked difference between live performances and film shows. In the former there is lot of space for improvisation. In the latter, which looks very concrete due to images and sounds, we generally tend to believe that there is no scope for improvisation. Further we assume it is more mechanical than artistic. Actually it is not so! In fact, no human activity without the magic touch of creativity can sustain for long. The art of cinema production since its innovation around the 1890s has been registering an exponential growth. This shows that cinematography is also a creative medium of communication.

Just because filmmaking involves more technology than live performing arts, it does not follow that it is less creative. It can be rightly termed as a byproduct of the industrial era. When started the inventors themselves had felt it was a medium without future. They saw it just as a documenting tool. That was precisely the way in which cinematography developed in its formative stages. It continued so until the invention known as ‘imaginative collation of the shots’ – it means putting together several apparently discrete shots to make a coherent whole. It is in this process that creativity looms large. This has brought into filmmaking an element of art.

Soon everyone took to this challenging creative task akin to solving a jigsaw puzzle. That was how modern filmmaking made its debut. In the ultimate analysis, every form of art and science is sewing together several bits of apparently unconnected items into a homogeneous unit. Here trees make the wood. The filmmaker ensures that the viewer does not miss the wood for the trees!

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