Director: Pattabhi Rama Reddy; Writer: Girish Karnad, U.R. Ananthamurthy; Producer: Pattabhirama Reddy; Cinematographer: Tom Cowan; Editor: Steven Cartaw, Vasu; Cast: Girish Karnad, Snehalata Reddy, P. Lankesh, B.R. Jayaram, Dasharathi Dixit, Lakshmi Krishnamurthy
Duration: 01:43:07; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 75.011; Saturation: 0.012; Lightness: 0.443; Volume: 0.148; Cuts per Minute: 13.518
Summary: The Telugu director and poet Reddy’s landmark adaptation of an early story written by his family’s friend, the noted Karnataka novelist Ananthamurthy whose work is an important source for many young Kannada film-makers, launching a cinematic version of the literary Navya Movement. Shot on location in the mountains of Mysore by a visiting Australian cameraman, this morality tale set among orthodox Madhava Brahmins tells of a rebellious but charismatic Brahmin who rejects his caste’s religion. Plague erupts in a village claiming as its first victim Naranappa (Lankesh), a Brahmin notorious for eating meat, drinking and for his low-caste mistress Chandri (Snehalata Reddy). None of the Brahmins are willing to cremate him until Chandri appeals to the scholar Praneshacharya (Karnad), who cannot find a solution to the problem in the scriptures. Praneshacharya seduces Chandri and his subsequent guilt induces him to assume responsibility when the entire village becomes plague infested. He is lectured on the reality principle by a talkative commoner (Jayaram) and eventually returns to cremate Naranappa himself, rejecting brahminical bigotry. The film’s backbone is the playwright Karnad’s script (here making his film debut) which adopted the novel’s very localised idiom. A censor ban was averted through the personal intervention of the Information and Broadcasting Minister I.K. Gujral. Ananthamurthy approved of the film but noted that in his story, the corpse is soon buried secretly by Naranappa’s Muslim friend, so that the scholar’s dilemma is purely a matter of brahminical beliefs: by burning the corpse, it becomes an ancestor to be worshipped. The novelist commented that when the scholar ‘realises all he has in common with his rival after making love to the dead man’s mistress, he becomes the other man himself, thus embodying the presence of the other within himself. The scriptwriter and the director felt that the body should be kept for the protagonist to return to after his wanderings, cremating it himself as an act of expiation.’ The film in effect dismisses religious subtleties in favour of simple humanitarian values. Following a year after Sen’s Bhuvan Shome (1969), this film helped New Indian Cinema gain a foothold in the South.