Tulu Cinema - a response

Recently, Chaitra Acharya, asked me a few questions regarding Tulu Cinema, on which she is doing research. Here is the response.

Poster of the Tulu film Suddha (The Cleansing Rites)
 'I do not hold a brief for Tulu movies, except the fact that I originally hail from a Tulu speaking area of Karnataka, I am sympathetic to the cause of Tulu films and my first feature film is in this language. I do believe that more and more films should be supported, made and exhibited in regional languages like Bhojpuri, Awadi, Konkani, Tulu etc.. - films that reflect the unique multiple cultures that these languages represents. 

It is often said that language is inseparable from culture. Destroy a language and you have destroyed its culture. The Tulu people, though living in only two districts of the state of Karnataka in India take pride in their language. Among other things, it is a home to a matrilineal system of family, it is rich in its oral traditions especially the epics, the literacy rate here is almost 100%, it is environmentally rich and traditionally, more than the gods that we know of, it is the humane but benevolent sprits who are being worshiped here. Despite its negotiations with globalization, the distinct nature of the Tuluva culture is still noticeable.

The foot print of the Tulu film Industry, if there is one, is just two Tulu speaking districts.  Although there are sizeable number of Tulu speaking people in Bangalore, Mumbai and even in the Middle East, these centers could at best be a secondary market for the Tulu film Industry.  Since the money invested in a Tulu film would come from its limited local audience, the making costs of such a film too would have to be limited. The budget of many Tulu films work around the subsidy that the Government of Karnataka gives for films made in the state. 

Of late, I have been told that the making cost of a Tulu film has increased and that there are investors who are willing to pump in heavy money, thanks to the monetary success of a few Tulu films. I have my doubts if the limited audience the Industry has would sustain such heavy budgets in the long run, as we see has happened in Bhojpuri films.

I see the development of Tulu films in the following possible paths. Initially, the Tulu films found its support base in Chennai, as the entire Kannada Film Industry was based there. The Tamil films during those days were know for their melodrama, and the Tulu films made by Tuluva migrants involved with filmmaking there, mirrored this.

This continued even when the Kannada film industry gradually sifted to Bangalore, and when Tuluva migrants involved in the Kannada Film Industry in Bangalore started to make Tulu films. There are other set of filmmakers who were the Tuluvas working in the action department in the Mumbai film Industry. They too made Tulu films, mainly to be in touch with their culture. So, the films they made were mainly action oriented.

But the imputes to the Tulu Film Industry, I would like to believe, came from within - from Mangalore and other centers in Coastal Karnataka. Locals took up to making Tulu films, taking this as a semi-profession. They probably has other business or professional interests to look after, but within their own limits they tried to consistently make Tulu films. 

And finally, off late, there are semi professional theater actors who have ventured into film making, taking off from where they left in their highly successful comic stage plays. They have managed to bring in the audience back to the screens, for they have their own loyal following in theater. How long will this trend last, only time would tell.

I do not believe that there is a Tulu way of film making or for that matter a Kannada way of film making or a Hindi way of film making. There could be an Indian way of film making that borrows heavily from Natyashastra, the ancient treatise for performing arts.  Many of the formal devices prescribed in the Natyashastra are found in most Indian films, including Tulu films - insistence on incorporating all the rasas (roughly translated, emotions) and focusing on one, the characterizations, the structure and even the use of music, song and dance etc...

As far as the content goes, with some exceptions, Tulu films have not really reflected upon the socio-economic and environmental developments of the area, over the years. Although there are a few films made based on the Tulu folk lore, bringing Tulu culture into Tulu cinema has normally come to mean that you show Tulu landscapes, traditional practices and rituals.

It is only when Tulu cinema dwells on the issues that the Tulu land is presently dealing with, that there could be a truly Tulu way of film making - issues pertaining to indiscriminate use of natural resources, caste equations, the impact the Industry has had on environment and the displacement it causes, the growing intolerance in an increasingly polarizing world etc..'
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