Crowdfunding, tech help indie Kannada films push the envelope
A new breed of filmmakers are experimenting with new formats in a film industry typified by melodramatic scripts full of plot twists and punchy dialogue, zooming close-ups and 'reaction shots'.regional movies Updated: Sep 09, 2015 11:44 IST
A bleating goat, the crowing of a rooster and the tinny ringing of a bicycle bell help tell the tale in Thithi (2015), a film about life in a remote village in Karnataka. Gaali Beeja (Wind Seed, 2015) is an ode to the road that follows the adventures of an engineer, a seller of pirated DVDs and a woman biker.
Attihannu Mattu Kanaja (Fig Fruit and the Wasps, 2014) explores a documentary filmmaker's journey through familiar and unfamiliar experiences.
All three are Kannada films made by first-time filmmakers from unconventional backgrounds - Raam Reddy, 26, an Economics graduate who studied filmmaking in Prague; Babu Eshwar Prasad, 46, a painter; and MS Prakash Babu, 46, a visual artist, respectively.
The three are part of a new breed experimenting with new formats in a film industry typified by melodramatic scripts full of plot twists and punchy dialogue, zooming close-ups and 'reaction shots'.
And their films are emerging as a result of the opportunities presented by crowdsourcing and new technology, combined with a passion for telling tales in new ways.
A scene from Attihannu Mattu Kanaja
"Usually, interesting cinema often comes out of film schools, where students have watched world cinema and this makes them transcend commercial formulae and market obligations. But in Bangalore, films such as Fig Fruit and the Wasps and Gaali Beeja are coming out of an avid film society culture where people are interested in watching good cinema and then pursuing filmmaking as an art form," says film curator Deepti D'Cunha, who specialises in contemporary Indian cinema.
Prominent film appreciation clubs such as the Suchitra Film Society, Bangalore Film Society, Pedestrian Pictures and Vikalp play an important role. Visual artists Babu Eshwar Prasad and MS Prakash Babu both joined the Bangalore Film Society in 1993.
"I joined BFS because that was the only way to watch qualitative films. It fuelled my desire to make a film, a desire I had felt ever since I graduated as an artist," says Prasad. "Watching retrospectives of masters such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Robert Bresson, Wong kar Wai and Ritwik Ghatak helped me crystallise my ideas of how I wanted to tell the stories I wanted to tell."
Not aiming for widespread distribution, this new crop of independent films caters to film buffs like the filmmakers themselves. And, in doing so, they are attracting awards and accolades from around the world. Thithi (the Kannada term for the 11th-day Hindu mourning ritual), won top honours at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. Fig Fruit and the Wasps was screened at the Beijing International Film Festival this year. Curators say the trend can be traced back to Lucia (2013), a crowdfunded psychological thriller by young filmmaker Pawan Kumar that straddled the worlds of reality and drug-induced fantasy in the life of a movie usher.
A scene from Thithi
"Lucia was a definite turning point in the economics of making a Kannada film," says film curator Meenakshi Shedde, South Asia consultant to the Berlin and Dubai film festivals. "It was a unique story told in a unique way, it managed to find distribution channels and audiences. And it won the audience award at the London Indian Film Festival."
There is a sense in the emerging independent Kannada films that we are not being told stories; we are watching as they unfold before us, adds veteran Kannada filmmaker Girish Kasarvalli.
"There is a fresh way of looking at the real. The emphasis is on watching things, on retaining the rhythm and pace intrinsic to them and casually reconstructing this as film. Thanks to technology, film has been liberated from the clutches of industry. This has opened up the true potential of the medium. Painters, visual artists and software engineers can now embrace the form and use it to tell stories of their choosing, in a manner of their choosing, and that is a heartening change," Kasaravalli says.
This also makes the new indie Kannada films universal, building on Karnataka's rich legacy of experimental films by stalwarts such as Girish Karnad, Girish Kasaravalli, BV Karanth and Pattabhirama Reddy Tikkavarapu, says D'Cunha.
This brand of idealism is also reflected in the choice of Kannada as a language, adds Shedde. "The dominant cinema in Karnataka is Bollywood, Hollywood, then Tamil," she says.