Some cans missing
Did you know that a prince of Mysore operated a hand-cranked camera for a film that he produced and directed? ANIL KUMAR discovers more such curious facts as he flips through the pages of Kannada cinema history
AROUND the early seventies when the last of the cinema theatres were still being built in Bangalore instead of being pulled down like now, there would be magic even before the movie began. The lights would not dim just like that. They tapered off in multicoloured dancing displays, while the curtains rose up, descended gently and rose again. Sometimes there would be more than one curtain. A fountain, also dappled in multicoloured lights, might spring to life in front of the screen and play on till the display - of announcement and advertisement slides concluded. Numerous factors have been pushing cinema theatres towards decline in Bangalore and elsewhere. No more fountains, no more dancing lights. No more new theatres, -in fact. A return to the origins, perhaps? - What kind. of origin did Kannada cinema as such have? How did it grow and where is it heading? Newspaperman Gangadhara -Mudaliar has been seeking answers to these questions for a number of years now and whatever answers he has been able to elicit, he has compiled in book form, under the simple title of Kannada Cinema Ithihasada Putagallali (Kannada cinema in the pages of history).
The answers, says Mudaliar, were hard to come by. “Many of the veterans who possess valuable information are so old that they are not able to grasp the questions put to them, nor or they able to articulate,” he says. In instances where they could get the drift of the question, their memory had become feeble.
In the case of Mr G R Ramaiah who built Navajyothi Studios in Mysore, the answer came scribbled on both sides of one foolscap sheet. “I cannot recall instances if you ask me like this,” the venerable pioneer told the author when they sat face to face. “You write down the questions and I will send you the answers in writing.” S K Padma alias Padmadevi alias Madhugiri Meenakshi, heroine of the second Kannada talkie, Bhakta Dhruva on the other hand possesses selective memory. She was hazy about some instances aspect of others. She recalled sharply that when she went to Bombay for a shooting stint, she discovered to her consternation that one of the co-artistes was her former school teacher!
Mudaliar’s compilation cites astonishing instances like that of a prince of Mysore, Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wodyear, operating a hand-cranked camera for a film that he produced and directed and the association of almost every renowned poet, author and musician of the time in film making. From Devudu to Anakru and S L Bhyrappa, from violinist Chowdiah to sarod artiste Rajiv Taranath, they have all played key parts in Kannada cinema production activity.
The role studios have played in the growth and development of Kannada cinema has not been very big, though the book seeks to chronicle their birth and in the case of quite a few, their fall. We gather that studios in Hollywood virtually control the industry and some studios even in Bombay, like Rajkamal, RK and Mehboob Studios possessed considerable clout.
In Kannada cinema as in most of the South, distributors and exhibitors have played a more decisive role than studios, AVM and Vijaya-Vauhini in Madras being possible exceptions. Owing to this, attempts of path-breaking filmmakers like M S Sathyu and B C Gowrishankar have floundered.Films like Chitegu Chinte and Kendada Male hardly emerged from the cans, while Bhujangayyana Dashavataragalu, though well made in the popular mould, received such a raw deal at the hands of the exhibitors that its director-actor Lokesh vowed never to venture again into film direction. The might of the distributor in Kannada filmdom seems awesome but Mudaliar takes little note of this.
The author has collected his material over a number of years, encountering serious constraints like the acute dearth of reference material on Kannada cinema. After that the Kannada Book Authority took three years to bring it out. Therefore there have been lacunae. The highly popular folk genre of Kannada cinema for example and its prime exponent Hunsur Krishnamurthy. The troupes which must have provided ‘background’ music from the pits in front of the screen in the early cinema halls, for another. And controversies like the exit of some major Kannada film personalities to Madras at one time.
On the last issue, the author contends that controversies should have no place in the history of a field like cinema. And on aspects like folk genre in Kannada cinema, “there can be whole chapters on such topics, on script, dialogue and lyric writers too,” he says. Will he write those additional chapters, perhaps in a second volume? He is uncertain. For others who might take up such a venture, at least Mudaliar’s book can often some source material.