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A Kuvempu masterpiece on screen

Kaanuru Heggadithi brings together Girish Karnad and B V Karanth, pioneers of experimental Kannada cinema, after 26 years. The Kuvempu classic is attracting enthusiatic crowds all over Karnataka, and has been selected to represent India at the next international film festival

Kaanuru Heggadithi
Music: B V Karanth
Rs 20

On the day of its release, there was a festive atmosphere in Shimoga. That's the biggest city in Malnad, the lush mountainous region that Kuvempu wrote about. The release of Kaanuru Heggadithi was a big event, for wasn't Kuvempu the most famous son of this soil? But as fate would have it, the bus carrying the reels got involved in an accident. The crowd at the theatre got restive and near violent, prompting police action. Some tense hours later, the film was screened to the expectant crowd.

Kaanuru Heggadithi has been attracting big audiences in other cities too, prompting its producers to announce plans of filming a novel by Shivarama Karanth, another Jnanpith winner. It has also been chosen for the Panorama, which means it will represent India at the next international film festival.

Many see in the commercial success of Kaanuru Heggadithi a revival of the spirit of the '70s, when the best literary minds in Kannada started experimenting with the celluloid medium.

Girish Karnad and B V Karanth were active in films then, and have now come together after 26 years for this film. Karnad has directed and acted in both its versions: Kannada and Hindi.

Kuvempu was the first Kannada writer to win the Jnanpith. Karnad, the seventh and latest to win the prestigious literary award, has now filmed Kuvempu's novel. That, besides the formidable reputation of the novel, has generated a lot of interest in the film.

Poornachandra Tejaswi, Kuvempu's son, recently wrote Annana Nenapu (Memories of Father), a biography of the poet; it documents, with humour and warmth, the life of one of the most respected Kannadigas of this century.

Kannada cinema of the 1970s saw a lot of experimental work, and Karnad and Karanth were at the forefront of the new wave movement. Kaadu, the film on which they worked last, won a national award. Their paths then diverged. Karanth went to Bhopal, and returned some years ago to Mysore, where he became director of the Rangayana theatre company. Karnad got busy with his playwriting, and acting for television and Mumbai films.

When Doordarshan commissioned him to make a Hindi serial based on Kuvempu's novel, Karnad simultaneously made a feature film in Kannada. Tara, a star from mainstream Kannada cinema, plays the role of Subbamma, wife of the village headman.

Karnad plays the role of Chandrayya whose feudal tyranny leads to the slow disintegration of his family. He is autocratic even with his sons and his young wife, which forces them to live separately. His suspicion wrecks the love lives of his two sons, one of whom is a poet. When Chandrayya dies, his wife Subbamma starts managing their lands, and her relationship with his assistant gets her pregnant. Events head to a tragic finale for her and her younger son. Hoovayya, the poet, turns lonely and haunted, but still returns to the village.

Karnad tells the story succinctly, paring down the epic novel to two and a half hours. He uses the language of Malnad, and also the coastal district of Dakshina Kannada, resisting the common tendency to use the standard Kannada diction.

The tape features nine songs and two theme scores. The songs are all Kuvempu's. That's a bonus: you get to hear many of the poet's obscure songs. The words come simple and easy, as they do in his lyrical poetry, and are free of the grand Sanskrit diction he used in his epic Ramayana Darshanam.

Many singers, including Mysore Ananthaswamy, have sung Kuvempu's O nanna chetana, but that one, and all other tracks in this album, are newly recorded.

Karnad does not use the full songs though. He edits major parts out in the film. And if you are familiar with Karanth's hypnotic theatre songs, you may be disappointed with this album. That magic is missing, perhaps because Karanth hasn't kept away the synthesizer, the electronic drum kit, and conventional voices.

The orchestra sounds over-familiar, and doesn't draw on the unusual sounds that Karanth is famous for creating in his plays. You'll long for the wholesome acoustic sounds and full-throated singing that you've always associated with Karanth's music.

Hoguvenu naa (L N Shastry) celebrates the beauty of Malnad, the mountainous region Kuvempu so loved. Mane mane muddu mane (Narasimha Nayak) looks at home as a place full of memories: father's blows, mother's kisses, childhood games, births, deaths Hasirinuyyaleyalli bisilu toogaadutide has a pleasant movement and describes the "sunlight swaying on the swing of greenery". O nanna chetana, which Kuvempu thought epitomised his philosophy, calls upon the spirit to roam free, and not to be fettered.

This album will be bought, heard, and preserved. For Kuvempu is not just a poet, he is a man Kannadigas revere.

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