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Fruits of labour

Samskara not only brought international acclaim but also pioneered the parallel cinema movement in Kannada. It is only befitting that the 86-year-old director Pattabhi Rama Reddy has been honoured with the Puttanna Kanagal award, says MURALIDHARA KHAJANE

Pattabhi Rama Reddy wrote the preface for experimental films in Kannada. — Photo: Courtesy D.C. Nagesh

IT IS a case of better late than never for Pattabhi Rama Reddy, the 86-year-old director. With Samskara, the landmark film of Indian cinema, he pioneered the course of parallel cinema. The state Government has finally chosen Reddy for the prestigious Puttanna Kanagal award, which will be presented to him shortly.

It is Pattabhi Rama Reddy who wrote the preface for experimental films in Kannada. Though he had predecessors who dealt with social issues on celluloid, Samskara has been recognised as a path-breaking attempt in Kannada as far as parallel film movement is concerned. Reddy's Samskara, is a land mark in the sense that almost everyone who were part of the production of the film, are now leading personalities either in theatre or in films. They had no clue that Samskara will change their careers completely.

Despite odds

Tracing the genesis of experimental film movement in Kannada, noted film critic and writer, the late T.G. Vaidyanathan had said, "the first Kannada film to make an impact nationally is undoubtedly Samskara, which won the national Award for the Best Feature Film in 1971. A medley of talents came together to make this masterpiece." As coincidence would have it, all those who were involved with the film were either trained in the west or from the west itself. The director Pattabhi, was trained in Columbia, barely familiar with Kannada, writer-actor Girish Karnad, was Oxford educated, the cameraman, was an obscure Australian named Tom Cowan, the editor was an equally obscure Englishman Stevan Cartaw, the story was by U.R. Ananthamurthy, professor of English literature, and the music director, Rajiv Taranath was also a professor of English, who had spent six years learning the sarod from the legendary Ali Akbar Khan.

The film faced stiff opposition from the Madhwa community, and also met with resistance form the Censors. But it triumphed all odds to win critical and popular favour.

Curious interests

Pattabhi Rama Reddy was born in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, on February 2, 1919. Interestingly, he had for his passion, two conflicting subjects, poetry and Mathematics. Reddy was greatly influenced by Rabindranath Tagore in Shantiniketan, where he studied for two years. He joined Calcutta University for his master's degree in English literature and stayed in a dingy room on Lower Chitpur Road in Calcutta. As Reddy confessed in one of the conversations, the din, the squalor, and the human misery around shocked him to the core. Exploitation of innocence by the rapacious commercial cult disturbed him. The clouds of world war in 1938, further unveiled harsh reality for him. The metaphors of Tagore's poetry suddenly lost its meaning. It had become difficult for him to concentrate on his studies in Calcutta and he returned to Nellore. He reluctantly entered his family business of Mica export at Gudur, and very often travelled between Madras and Nellore.

During his visits to Madras, he used to meet Sri Sri and Mallavarapu Visweswara Rao (both revolutionary poets). It is during this time he wrote Ragala Dozen (A Dozen Melodies), a collection that recorded his observations in Madras and Nellore. Reddy later went on to study Mathematics in Columbia University. By becoming an active member of Madras Players Amateur Theatres he produced and directed many plays. He founded Jayanthi Pictures in association with K.V. Reddy and P.N. Reddy and produced the Telugu film, Pellinaati Pramanalu, which bagged the National award.

On his novel being translated to celluloid, the Jnanapith award writer, U.R. Ananthamurthy whose works have inspired many film-makers later, recalls the first experience. "It was in 1965. While in Oxford, my tutor Malcolm Bradbury suggested I should write on my experience of co-existence in India. That started me on writing Samskara. For me it was an act of self-discovery. Meanwhile, in India, Girish Karnad had read the manuscript. He and Pattabhi Rama Reddy, along with a visiting Australian cameraman Tom Cowan, had prepared a shot-by-shot film script of it. I returned to India to find Karnad and others with shaven heads and tufts, ready to shoot and act in this film, using a village from my district as its location."

Derryl d'Monte, wrote in The Guardian on January 5, 1973 that "the film is a startling indictment of caste and priesthood, two things that traditional India holds most sacred. Rama Reddy, the director, condemns the malignancy of caste-ridden village society by constantly inter-cutting to rats writhing their last in a plague epidemic, which simultaneously strikes the Mysore village, where the action is set." Not surprising that the Mysore Government tried to ban the film.


Differing with the treatment meted to his novel, Ananthamurthy said: "I insist that my novel says something different and something abstract." He also said that the film was not only an artistic venture, but also a committed political act. "The two are never separate in our minds."

The makers of Samskara were harassed rather cruelly by the government during the Emergency. Snehalatha Reddy, the leading actress in Samskara and wife of Reddy, was accused of concealing information about the whereabouts of George Fernandes (who later become Union Minister in successive Governments), a trade union leader, whose arrest had been ordered in the Emergency roundup. Snehalata Reddy known to be a friend of Mr. Fernandes, denied knowledge of Fernandes's whereabouts. She was jailed and interrogated for eight months. An asthmatic deprived of medicine; she fell seriously ill and was released just before her death. She died in January 1977, five days after her release.

The other films of Pattabhi Rama Reddy are Chandamarutha, Sringaramasa, and Devara Kaadu, all with serious concerns.

It surely is an honour to the Government by honouring Pattabhi Rama Reddy.

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