We have indubitably seen a continual rise in publications on Indian cinema and while many books gravitate to popular Hindi cinema there is still a lack of monographs on directors and films especially on Indian art cinema. Playwright and theatre critic Sakti Sengupta’s self published book focuses on the films of award winning auteur Girish Kasaravalli. This is an invaluable, much-needed publication as the dearth of materials on Kasaravalli points to the wider obscurity of unconventional cinema in India. Sengupta’s book appears under the heading of ‘Discovering Indian Independent Cinema’ implying this is the first in a series of books on independent Indian directors, another welcoming idea.
The acknowledgment of Kasaravalli’s involvement in the book from the outset is critical in many respects as such an endorsement lends the book a sincerity, which is maintained throughout. Sengupta structures his monograph around eight key works, ranging from the seminal Ghatashraddha (The Ritual, 1977) to Kanasembo Kudureyanari (Riding the Stallion of a Dream, 2011). Each chapter is richly contextualised in terms of social and political historicising, effective in getting to grips with a sustained and insightful ideological analysis of Kasaravalli’s understated visual style that arguably has more in common with directors like Satyajit Ray than ones often associated with parallel cinema. A major thematic interest Sengupta continually returns to is Kasaravalli’s contradictory relationship with his status as a wealthy Brahmin and the ways in which his characters regularly seek to question and confront existing hierarchies, rituals and processes. Furthermore, the book also traces the authorial evolution of Kasaravalli, exhibiting the director’s experimentation with film styles such as neorealism (Thaayi Sahiba, 1997) and failed attempts at commercial cinema (Mane / The House, 1991). Authorship is tied to Kasaravalli’s preoccupations with the history and culture of India, which Sengupta argues is presented through a subaltern perspective.
It is worrying that none of Kasaravalli’s films are available in the UK. It is probably a similar situation in India. Although the politics of access is an on-going impediment in terms of scholarly research, Sengupta’s fortitude in being able to access the director’s key works is something that should be praised since it allows for one of the first fully informed critical assessments of Kasaravalli’s work, thus reclaiming him as a key figure in the landscape of Indian independent art cinema and helping to fill in an authorial black hole that haunts many Indian directors working outside of conventional film industries. Conclusively, this is a terrific introduction to the work of Girish Kasaravalli, rich in terms of context, appropriately researched and assuredly written entrusting its likely appeal to the general reader, academics and cinephiles alike in furthering their understanding of the vagaries of Indian cinema.