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Lankesh with daughter and filmmaker Kavita


Why good people gamble

Horseracing is a metaphor for the human impulse to take risks, the brilliant Kannada writer Lankesh used to say, and that's what led him to write a song on it

Deveeri, which won Kavita Lankesh the Aravindan Puraskaram for best debutant director, features two songs by her famous father. Kavita had earlier made a documentary film on women artistes, and Deveeri is her first feature film.

Lankesh died in December, just before the film was released, but he had seen it at private screenings and liked the way Kavita had filmed Akka, his novel about a village boy's affectionate and painful relationship with his elder sister, and his colourful experiences in the big city.

The last Lankesh had written songs for films was when he directed Ondanondu Kaladalli a couple of decades ago. Kannada film buffs will remember that S P Balasubramanyam sang Kempadavo ella kempadavo and Ellidde illi tanka, songs that had a bare orchestra, and simple, haunting tunes composed by Vijayabhaskar.

Horseracing fascinated Lankesh, and in his weekly column, he often wrote about it as a metaphor for the human impulse to take risks. Yudhishtira the righteous was a gambler, he used to say, and recall how he had himself sunk all his money into films, and given up a secure university teaching position to plunge into journalism.

The first song in Deveeri is about horseracing (a drunken gambler eulogises the animals as "children on god"!). The second is a take-off on the Hamsalekha brand of movie song that rhymes hennu (girl) with nimbe hannu (lime)! The music for the songs is by V Manohar. The background score is by Thomas Isaac, an FTII almnus.

Sound technology has advanced tremendously since the '70s, what with DTS and Dolby systems being installed at our theatres, but I was sorely disappointed that I couldn't catch the words of either song. The projection room (at Puttanna in Bangalore) raised the volume when the songs came on, and that made the words totally inaudible. All we could hear was a heavy bass guitar. This happens all the time, and at most theatres. Why do projector operators so unfailingly pump up the volume for the songs?

Wish Deveeri's songs were at least released on tape. Because the film was considered "off-beat", no label has taken its audio rights.

The film itself is a delight, with excellent performances by Nandita Das and 12-year-old Manjunath, who, incidentally, Kavita discovered at a Bangalore slum. Nandita, who won wide critical acclaim for her role in Deepa Mehta's Fire, plays Deveeri, a woman who drifts to Bangalore from distant Bellary, and who has to earn a living for herself and her brother. Ramappa, a politician, arranges for her to live in a hut, and his men are her friends. They protect her, and also use her. Meanwhile her brother looks at the world around in wonder. School is a nightmare, and he is forever running away from it.

Kavita has painted an absorbing, often humorous, picture of city life. She avoids equally the melodrama we associate with commercial cinema, and the heavyhanded solemnity we see in much of parallel cinema.

S R Ramakrishna

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