The personal and the professional.
The schedule at the 'Manipal Film Festival', 2013
The subject matters of many of my films are often based in the state of Karnataka in South India. I should admit that there is an ulterior motive here. The idea was that it would enable me to squeeze in a quick trip to Udupi, the town in which I grew up, to visit my parents who were staying alone. In the 1990s I was extensively involved in the non fiction tele-serial ‘Surabhi’, and for quite a while although based in Mumbai, I was the ‘Karnataka man’ in the organization. Anything that was to be done in that state, and I was the chosen one. It was my right, so to say.
I have been in Mumbai for over twenty two years and all these years I always did feel the need to maintain this connection. With both my parents having expired in quick secession a couple of years back, it did occur to me on several occasions as to how long this connection would last. I have been looking at subjects from other parts of the country for my films – in the Sundarbans, in the Little Runn of Kutch etc. A friend stays for a nominal rent in the house that my parents painstakingly built; lest it decays unused. Although there are cousins staying there, my sister, who also is Mumbai based, joked recently that the only reason to go to Udupi seems to be to upgrade one’s old unused bank account passbooks.
Manipal is five kilometers from Udupi. One recounts the childhood fear of going to and being in the Tiger Circle, the main junction of this educational center, all alone because I was told that a Tiger was spotted there long ago. Manipal was as much a home to me as Udupi was. Riding up the hill of Manipal in a cycle was as much an adventure as bunking college classes to see Sai Paranjape’s ‘Chasme Badhoor’; four times in two days.
When the Manipal Institute of Communication of the Manipal University invited me to hold a small workshop in the film festival that they held recently, I was pleasantly surprised - pleasant because the films included were ranging from ‘Ghatashraddha’ to ‘Sholay’ to ‘Shankarabharanam’ to ‘Shree 420’ to ‘Usatad Hotel’ to ‘Gol Maal’ and surprised because my documentary film ‘BV Karnath: Baba’ too was squeezed in. I guess I have the Baba himself to thank.
I did feel a bit odd that having come to Udupi, my own bastion, I was staying in a hotel in Manipal and not in my own house at Udupi. It was my head quarters in Karnataka for quite a number of years, maybe no longer now. Within the cozy confines of the hotel I did create a story in my mind that I am indeed starting to lose the connection; or maybe staying in a hotel in Manipal is an initial sign of it.
There were times when I used to land up at home in Udupi at midnight and knock the door, as if demanding an entry. Later on, as my parents grew old and fragile, there were also times when I had reached home at four in the morning after a grueling shooting elsewhere in Karnataka and having quietly waited in the portico till dawn before ringing the bell. It was also by right that I used to tell them that I had just arrived and that the bus got late or some such reason that they readily believed. Such were the joys of going to and being in Udupi.
This time around the joy was in the rediscovery of some films that I had seen multiple times; and the discussions that followed. The ‘Manipal Film Festival’ is organized as an exercise by the students of the event management course. They could have organized any other event – a fashion show for example – but every year thanks to the committed vision of their director Varadesh Hiregange they choose organising a Film Festival. The Festival itself was coordinated by the energetic HS Shubha. I had an opportunity to hear from and interact, for the first time, with Manu Chakravarthy, the no nonsense critic whose discourses on films in its socio-culture context is well known. And then there was Phaniraj battling hard for the Mainstream Indian Cinema calling them as indicators (or was it indexes?) of major political and social events that have unfolded in India over the years.
But the film that foxed me the most was K Vishwanath’s ‘Shankarabharanam’. I had liked it when I had seen it in my pre-film school days, had liked it when it was screened at the film school on a Sunday morning and continued to like it when it was screened at the ‘Manipal Film Festival’. Everything about the film is about a commitment towards classical music, I screamed at the students at the discussion after the screening. They agreed, or at least I thought that they did so.
I quoted on how the musical maestro Shankar Shastry took every decision in his personal life in relation to his music. He braved the wrath of the casteist society when he gives refuge to a daughter of a prostitute in his traditional house, not only because she has been wronged upon, but also because she directly connects with him through his music. He agrees to an alliance to his daughter only when he realsies that the groom is seriously perusing classical music. And in the end he symbolically hands over, so to say, his musical tradition to the prostitute’s son, who is learning music under his tutelage, by gifting him his precious anklet that was bestowed upon him for his musical genius. The personal seem to play with the professional and visa verse.
And then at the hotel in the night, as I was tossing around the bed, it suddenly occurred to me that he could have given the anklet to the prostitute’s daughter or to even his own daughter too; they were as capable as his young male disciple in their musical skills, if not more. But he had not. The young male kid was the chosen one, as if by right. The whole film was designed in such a way that the anklet goes to this young male kid. Everyone and everything in the film worked for that purpose. Shankar Sastry was a patriarch and his legacy would be carried forward by this young boy who will also soon become one. Continuation of the patriarchal system is as much the theme of the film as music is.
The director had indeed foxed me or maybe I should say I let the director fox me. Strangely after this ‘realsiation’, so to say, I was at ease with myself. The confines of the cozy hotel room that hitherto seemed uncomfortable suddenly became less alien. I was at home. There are no more tigers in Manipal these days. Now that my parents are dead and gone, they would never know that I lied to them about waiting in the portico. Cool. I slept like a log and took the next day’s flight back to Mumbai, to my own little home.
As they say, the home is where your mind is.