A Review of Bipolar Identity - Region , Nation and Kannada Language Film - MK Raghavendra, Oxford University Press, 2011
This is probably the first book in English which analyses the Entire Kannada Cinema and make some significant conclusions applying the perspective of region and nation and their interaction with each other. Author has tried to assess the 'motifs' of the mainly 'popular' Kannada cinema although there is comparatively brief analysis about the 'Parallel'(Art) Cinema. He also seems to be determined to analyse only from the point of view of friction between region and nation, but at times he goes beyond his original intentions which is sort of breaks the monotony which one can experience while reading. The reason that the author has given more importance to the 'popular cinema' is probably because of the fact this genre of the cinema captures the pulse of the constituents of that Region and most likely to have the impact on society. Some of the main conclusions which author has tried to stress is the fact that National(Indian) identity tries to subsume the regional identity and its only proper that Region opposes it. The constituents(populace) of Kannada region tries to register the opposition to Nation State whenever the socio-political conditions are not so favourable to Kannada region, however when the region (or its people) get importance at National level, then Region tries to be loyal with nation state. Author illustrates this point with fact that how Kannada cinema reacts to Growth and Fall of Nijalingappa as national leader of INC to rationalise his conclusions.
Regions v/s Nation:-
Another important thread which Author tries to hang on is the fact that the Mysore Princely state had seen Modernity (thanks to Rajarshi Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, Sir M. Vishweshwaraiah and Mirza Ismail) much before India started experiencing the modernity. This was registered in Kannada cinema through various Bond films and 'Kasthuri Nivasa'. 'Kasturi Nivasa' has been dealt with much detail because the author thinks that Rajkumar's role represents the Mysore Modernity(Pigeon Brand) and Rajanand's role, who raises beyond his master(Rajkumar) in the business, represents Indian Modernity(Eagle brand). In the last phase of the movie when the Rajanand tries to give back the 'bungalow' which was once owned by Rajkumar. Rajkumar rejects the offer and prefers to stay in small hut. This is definitely contest between Mysore and India and definitely Mysore(Region) tries to assert its superiority over India(Nation). In another movie Puttanna's 'Nagarahavu', one can notice the Photos of Vishweshwaraiah and Kannada cultural stalwarts in Chamaiah Master's (KS Ashwath) house who represents Mysorean Modernity whereas Photo of Nehru in College Principal's(Loknath) house. Again ultimately in the movie superiority or importance has been given to Mysorean Modernity Indian /Nehruvian Modernity is almost neglected or takes backstage. Author vindicates this point through several illustrations throughout the book.
Though the Kannada cinema industry is located in Bengaluru today, but the confused pereception about Bengaluru maintained in movies from 60's to very recent. Author thinks that its Mysore which is regarded as the true representation of Kannadigas than Bengaluru because of the 'cantonment' effect which it experienced during British rule. In fact in 'Sandhyaraaga', the joint family breaks off when it moves from village to Bengaluru. In 'pattanakke banda patniyaru', Bengaluru is almost projected as lawless space and in the end, sisters goes back to village to join their husbands after bitter experience in Bengaluru.
Author is of the opinion is that 'Brahminical' Kannada actually raises the self esteem of Kannada in movies of 60s to 80s. 'Low Kannada' in 90s actually demeans the self Image of Kannada and Kannadigas. However, thankfully author observes that there was more passion among film makers towards 'realism' in 90s. New breed of film makers wanted to break the 'traditions' and also account of the other sections/communities of society and their dialect, which didn't get enough importance in the big screen in previous decades. Interestingly movies of 2000s' gives importance to 'Tribal'(Jogi) and Dalit(Duniya) as the protagonists and there dialectical Kannada, which is sort of oxymoron considering the onslaught of globalization during this decade. This perhaps points to the fact that, with globalisation there is increasing friction between 'natives' and 'outsiders' and natives trying to reach out to their nativity in a never before manner and scale. This of course is narrated in subtle way in this book rather than in a more pronounced manner.
Shortcomings or Limitations:-
Any kind of study of Kannada cinema cant be completed without giving importance to the role of Dr.Rajkumar and author is no different in his approach. He tries to catch on the popular perception as 'ethical super hero' of Kannada populace. Author goes on to say that Rajkumar was more popular than NTR in AP and also unlike NTR , Rajkumar never entered politics and his exit from the cinemas was gradual rather than abrupt. According to Author, throughout his career Rajkumar represented the characters which represents Regional Modernity/Mysorean Modernity or Regional/Mysorean Values except the dual role in 'Babruvahana' where he represented both Nation(Arjuna) and Region(Babruvahana). Author makes a factual error by saying that the Rajkumar never acted as 'God'(Nation) however the author has correctly recognized that he either plays roles as King(Arjuna) or Demon(Mahishasura, Hiranya Kashyapu). Rajkumar has actually acted as God "Srinivasa/Venkateshwara" in 'Shrinivasa Kalyana' and as God Shiva in 'Shiva meccida Kannappa', however he has played greater number of King/Demon roles than the 'God' roles. What is disappointing as a reader to me is that author misses three important as well as popular cinemas namely 'Kulavadhu', 'Mallammana Pawada' and 'Mayura'. Mayura especially, would have been very important in the wake of the techniques used by author to assess the motifs and milieu of Kannada Region. Also the movies like 'Gandhada Gudi' and 'Immadi pulakeshi' getting very less attention from the author also disappointing, with the former having long lasting impression of Kannada populace. The author never tries to bring in the points like upholding the Kannada culture and Language, which both the above movies vehemently tries to implicate on viewers. There are some of the factual errors in the names of Directors and moveis (V.Somashekhar's Shankar Guru whereas mentioned as K, Somashekar). Sometimes movie name is mentioned as 'Mungaru male' and sometimes 'Mungaru Maley'. There could also some other errors in the names of Directors or Movies. One can also provide the list of movies which either didn't get mentioned in the book or not dealt in detail.
Overall, the author is able to hit upon interesting findings both from viewer's and maker's perspective. There is enough matter in the book which could be useful to the movie makers, sociologists and in general to those who follow Kannada cinema.