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A Non-Take on Kannada Cinema

Chandan Gowda

By M.K. Raghavendra
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2011, pp. 209, Rs.695.00


In 2002, the Government of Karnataka prohibited the sales of a massive two-volume history of Kannada cinema published by Hampi University Press. It apparently had factual errors and, more importantly, had misrepresented Dr. Rajkumar, the Kannada film superstar. The prohibition still holds. And, well-documented work on Kannada cinema continues to be unavailable. A scholarly book on Kannada cinema, therefore, would normally be an occasion for cheer. A dominant tendency within film studies has been to track the effects of social power and ideology in cinematic texts. Here, the emphasis is less on the aesthetic properties of cinematic images and sound and more on their institutional coordinates in social space. Bipolar Identity, too, intends to explain Kannada films as texts reflective of and engaging with local sociopolitical realities of their time. More specifically, its author, M.K. Raghavendra, notes: ‘This is an inquiry into how local/regional identity is addressed in regional language cinema and also whether regional identity can conflict with the national identity/other identities’ (p. xii). A few pages later, he says: ‘. . . the purpose (of the book) is to chart out the way Kannada cinema responds to both the region and the nation, or, to phrase it differently, how it negotiates the space between the two’ (p. xivii). He does not consider ‘Kannada art cinema’ relevant for his discussion since it was closer (especially after the late 1970s) to the ‘pan-Indian art film’ promoted by the National Film Development Corporation, and free from the compulsions of addressing a geographically circumscribed audience, and had ‘little local appeal’ (p. xii). A brief summary of the book’s argument: Since the Mysore State was not directly ruled by the British, it experienced colonial rule differently than British India. It was a ‘Hindu’ kingdom. And, science and modernity came to Mysore much before Nehru introduced it in India after Independence (I am only summarizing the book here). All of these account for the differences in ‘film conventions’ (and ‘not form’) in Kannada and Hindi cinema in the preIndependence era (p. xv). In the decades following the unification of Mysore State (later Karnataka) in 1956, the strong symbolic association of Kannada films with Mysore society began to wear off, especially post-1980. The changing economic, social and political trends in the newly unified State explain the shifts in Kannada film conventions. And, throughout this process, Kannada cinema managed to retain its local identity vis-á-vis the ...

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