Girish Kasarvalli’s film, Ananthamurthy -- Not A Documentary But A Hypothesis, screened at FDZone on Saturday, explores the writings, ideas and ideology of the socialist-Gandhian novelist-thinker U. R. Ananthamurthy. The title is intriguing. It tells us not to expect a conventional biopic, but mystifies us with the word hypothesis. What can it mean in the context of a thinker-writer and his work? Late in the film, we see the light. Shiv Vishwanathan uses it as a metaphor to sum up Ananthamurthy’s philosophical method. He trod the line between binaries, raised questions about our socio-political-cultural existence, showed the path to possible answers, but did not take it himself. He remained a hypothesis, a proposition; not a proven theory.

A K Ramanujan says something similar in the “Afterword” to his translation of Ananthamurthy’s first novel Samskara, that hit the Kannada reading world like a bombshell. He locates Ananthamurthy’s method in our traditional forms of story-telling, where “a question is raised; kept alive despite solutions; maintained till profounder questions are raised”, making the plot of the story a “perpetually deferred reply”.

Amongst the lucidly articulated analyses of Ananthamurthy’s ideas and work that intellectuals like Vishwanthan, Ashis Nandy, Samik Bandyopadhyay, Manu Chakravarthy and others offer in the film, we also hear the quiet voice of Ananthamurthy himself. He speaks of his decision to write in Kannada rather than in English as a political act. Categorising English as brahmin and Kannada as shudra, he felt it was incumbent on him to show which side he was on. This was not chauvinism, but an assertion of caste equality. He identified equality as one of the three hungers of our times, the other two being the hunger for spirituality and the hunger for modernity.  

In a film that sets itself deliberately against peddling tidbits of biographical detail and attempts instead, to come to grips with the subject’s ideas, there is, inevitably, a great deal of talk. Sharply perceptive and stimulating though the talk may be, it is cinematically static. With skilled scripting and editing, and a sophisticated sense of filmic rhythm, Kasarvalli breaks it up with visual interludes of Ananthamurthy’s stories and novels. His strategy is to create an evocative location, have an actor speak a few lines in character, then move smoothly into a reading of the text. In a delightful enactment of girls playing with cowrie shells, realism turns into abstraction when shells clatter down in a shower, producing a sound so exquisitely recorded, that we hear the ring of each individual shell.    

When Ananthamurthy speaks of his idea of how the spaces in traditional village homes are configured to allow an independent existence to every aspect of life, Kasarvalli reconstructs such a home, with men discussing village problems and politics in the frontyard, a cradle rocking in a dark room in the middle and women transacting the practical business of living in the backyard, chatting and laughing the while.

Kasarvalli’s lighting of interiors and exteriors is so beautiful it makes you catch your breath. Some critics of the film have felt that this beauty, which they term “prettiness”, is inappropriate to Ananthamurthy’s work. However, if we grant that the film-maker is also an artist, we must allow him to respond to another artist’s work through his own aesthetic, instead of insisting on a rigid one-to-one relationship with it. It is pertinent to point out here that Kasravalli has used the same aesthetic of framing, lighting and shot-taking in his adaptation to the screen of Ananthamurthy’s novella Ghatashraddha

Ananthamurthy – Not a Documentary but a Hypothesis is clearly the work of a film-maker who admires his subject and wants to analyse this admiration for his own and our benefit. There is no place in the film for the controversies that, we know, surrounded Ananthamurthy’s work and public statements. Like all those who seek to understand the two opposing sides of a socio-political divide, he too was criticised by both, the left and the right, the progressives and the conservatives. In Kasarvalli’s film, however, no shadow falls on the general luminosity of Ananthamurthy’s life.

An abiding image in the film is a long shot of Ananthamurthy, back turned to camera, bathed in a long beam of light, gazing into the distance through a large window. The admittedly romanticised image is fortunately undercut by the rest of the film which shows us a writer-thinker who was never too far from the battlefield of ideas, who consistently contemplated the past to find a way to be in the present.   

Published On : 10-09-2014