- Hardcover: 264 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Edition edition (22 June 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780198071587
- ISBN-13: 978-0198071587
- ASIN: 0198071582
- Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 2 x 23 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #4,07,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Bipolar Identity: Region, Nation and the Kannada Language Film Hardcover – 22 Jun 2011
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About the Author
M.K. Raghavendra is a freelance film critic and scholar living in Bangalore, India. He is the winner of 'National Award for the Best Film Critic―The Swarna Kamal'.
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The author examines more than 100 Kannada movies from the 1950's till the present (classics starring Rajkumar to forgettable Kashinath and rowdy movies) and tries to relate their social setting or the main storyline to some underlying socio-political reality in Karnataka during the time.
The major political development that is traced is the evolution of Karnataka (previously called Mysore State) from a monarchy centred in Mysore and subservient to the British, to a democratic state headquartered in Bangalore and having periods of both cordial and hostile relationships with the Central government. The formation of the state was a contentious process, with the strongest need heard from less prosperous regions in the north. The social developments are breaking up of the joint family, changing caste dynamics, marriage networks becoming larger and less endogamous, Bangalore emerging as a magnet for migrants due to heavy investment by the Central government and so on.
You are probably wondering how Kannada movies can depict any of that! What with the hero-heroine singing and then the customary round of dishum-dishum. But as I mentioned, the book is more concerned with the background/setting of a film. The author relies extensively on allegorical interpretation, comparisons with themes from Hindi movies and some references to movie criticism in other languages. So it's best read with an open mind and some suspension of disbelief. For example. his analysis of Mungaru Male will make your jaw drop and it's possible you'll never see movies the same way again!
The book firmly locates the cultural roots of Kannada films in the old Mysore State ruled by the Wodeyars. The kingdom was fairly autonomous in most spheres and embarked on State-backed industrialization and expansion of education with the help of administrators like Visveswaraiya and Mirza Ismail. Popular symbols of this era - be they historically accurate or not - live on in movies for many decades thereafter. For example, as the hero or patriarch who is educated, benevolent and owns a factory (Rajkumar in Kasturi Nivasa), but is still socially conservative. Set against this receding memory is a new, impersonal, commercial kind of modernity ushered in by the nation state and/or Bangalore (the antagonist in the same movie).
The slow enlargement of marriage networks gets a lot of treatment. While older films portrayed already married characters or marriage as an unremarkable event involving family elders, romance starts getting problematized (School Master, 1958) and Bangalore is invoked explicitly as the site of romantic encounters in a larger backdrop of many other kinds of non-traditional social interactions (Nagara Haavu, 1972).
The concluding chapters of the book have good reflections on the state of Bangalore and the future of the Kannada film industry (spoiler: not good, unless they expand their target audience from the current migrant-to-Bangalore-living-on-the-margins to different parts of Karnataka and social segments in Bangalore itself). There is much here for political junkies too, as the author keeps up a narrative spanning a long list of Chief Ministers from Kengal Hanumanthaiah to S.M Krishna.
It is impossible to do justice to this book in a short review. So if you have watched a lot of Kannada movies in your life and have the stomach for a heavy dose of literary and historical analysis, this book comes highly recommended!