The parallel cinema of Girish Kasaravalli: A look at Kannada industry's stalwart filmmaker

A look at five of Girish Kasaravalli’s films reveals his innate ability to tell stories convincingly and without commercial elements.
The parallel cinema of Girish Kasaravalli: A look at Kannada industry's stalwart filmmaker
The parallel cinema of Girish Kasaravalli: A look at Kannada industry's stalwart filmmaker
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The parallel cinema movement in the country has over the years been nurtured by a number of stalwarts like Satyajit Ray (Pather Panchali, Apur Sansar, Aparajitho) Mrinal Sen (Bhuvan Shome Ek Din Prati Din), Shayam Benegal (Ankur, Manthan), Mani Kaul (Uski Roti, Duvidha), Govind Nihalani (Ardh Satya, Aakrosh), Kumar Shahani (Maya Darpan, Tarang) and Gautam Ghose (Paar Antarjali Yatra).

Down south too, there has been no dearth of filmmakers whose ventures have swerved considerably from the beaten track. Adoor Gopalakrishnan (Elipathayam, Mukhamukam), Aravindan (Utharayanam, Pokkuveyil), John Abraham (Agraharathil Kazhuthai, Amma Ariyan ), MT Vasudevan Nair (Nirmalyam, Oru Cheru Punchiri), BV Karanth (Chomana Dudi, Hamsa Geethe), Pattabhirama Reddy (Samskara), MS Sathyu (Garam Hawa) Girish Karnad (Vamsa Vriksh, Ondanandu Kaladalli), TS Naghabharana (Nagamandala) and Seshadri (Munnudi, Bharath Stores) have all won awards galore for their efforts apart from critical acclaim.

One name that should feature prominently when the history of parallel cinema is written is that of Girish Kasaravalli, a Kannada director of great distinction whose oeuvres have enriched the industry greatly.

A gold medalist from the prestigious Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), Girish, who has worked with directors like B V Karanth in Chomana Dudi made his directorial debut with the path breaking Ghatashradda’ in 1977.

In a span of forty years, he has made just fourteen films, many of which have won him multiple national awards and have been screened at major international film festivals.

Right from his first film, Girish Kasaravalli has revealed a penchant for picking up themes from published works of celebrated authors be they novels, novellas or even short stories. But in most cases he has taken liberties with the text, often adding his own inputs while writing the screenplay.

Girish has never been enamoured of marquee names and his priority has always been to choose actors who could do justice to the characters. The female leads in his films have all been strong-willed, capable of shouldering responsibilities and conquering the odds ranged against them.

A review of five of Girish Kasaravalli’s films reveals his innate ability to tell stories convincingly eschewing commercial elements in toto. Pandering to the dictates of the box office too has been anathema to him.


This 1977 film marked the debut of the director and was based on a novella by the Jnanpith Award winning author U R Ananthamurrthy.

Shot in black and white, Ghatashradda depicted the heart-wrenching story of a young widow whose pregnancy is aborted. A ritual held for the dead is conducted for her while she is still alive.

A little boy who had cottoned on to her and had become her constant companion and only solace is a mute witness to the proceedings. Just as the novella shocked readers, the film too touched a raw nerve. A no holds barred castigation of the social mores of a highly patriarchal society, Ghatashradda won as many as eighteen awards including the coveted Golden Lotus for the Best Film of the Year at the National Awards.

Meena Kuttappa in the lead and Ajith Kumar as the child artiste excelled in their roles with the latter winning the National Award for the Best Child Actor.


The trials and tribulations of a watchman. Tabara Shetty, waging a lone battle against an apathetic dispensation that denies him his pension benefits formed the nucleus ofTabarane Kathe. The film is based on a short story by the celebrated writer Poornachandra Tjejaswi.

Charuhasan, until then better known as the elder brother of matinee idol Kamal Haasan was Girish’s pick for the protagonist’s role and he was ably supported by Nalina Murthy who was cast as his ailing wife.

Madhu Ambat’s cinematography captured the trauma of the characters brilliantly. Two scenes in the film stood out, one showing the head of an accounts clerk emerging from behind a mountain of files like that of a mouse from a haystack, and the other a highly poignant one where Tabara requests a butcher to amputate the gangrenous leg of his wife as he is not in a position to afford a surgery.

Eventually, the wife breathes her last and Tabara’s pension is cleared. By then he had lost his zest for life and he curses all those who had been responsible for his plight. This film too won the Golden Lotus Award.


The film, based on a novel by Ranganath Shyamrao Lokapure, was set in the pre-independence era and narrated the story of a patient and docile woman Narmada Thaayi whose husband Appa Saheb, a freedom fighter, seeks to adopt a son as she remains childless.

The film revolved around the social status of women in an orthodox Brahmin household and as in his earlier films, Girish ensured that the story was presented in a realistic manner. Girish’s wife, the late Vaishali Kasaravalli won the National Award for Best Costume Design for the film and the film netted four awards in all at the National level.

Girish had plumped for an actor better known for her glamorous roles, Jayamala, for the title role and she did not disappoint, winning a Special Jury Award for her portrayal.

DWEEPA – 2002

One of the busiest heroines in south Indian cinema, Soundarya produced the film Dweepa as she had a desire to work with the director and also work in an offbeat film in a deglamourised role.

Character actor Avinash was cast as her husband and the film, based on Na D’Souza novel, revolved around the displacement of tribals from their homes as the government takes their lands over for constructing a dam.

A serious study of the human mind and the stark contrast between the wife’s optimistic outlook on life and her husband’s abject resignation to his fate, Dweepa also had enchanting visuals that gave a fillip to the proceedings.


Feminist writer Vaidehi’s novel Gulabi Talkies tells the story of a fifty plus Muslim woman who is estranged from her husband. She serves a fishing village as a midwife but is forced to remain aloof as the villagers shun her company.

However a transformation occurs as she becomes the proud possessor of a TV set, a rarity in the village and everyone flocks to her humble abode in no time. Picturised in sylvan surroundings in the coastal town of Kundapura and Kasaravalli, Gulabi Talkies dwelt on the minutest details of life in a fishing village.

Actor Umashri, often wasted in inane comical roles, took on the character of Gulabi and invested it with her histrionic abilities to come up with an outstanding performance that won her a richly deserved National Award.

Girish Kasaravalli’s filmography also boasts of films like Kraurya, Hasina, Naayi Neralu, Kansaambo Kudiriyeneri and Karmavathara and each one of them will remain milestones in his career. A self-confessed admirer of Adoor Gopalakrishnan and his minimalistic style of filmmaking, Girish Kasaravalli has to his credit a documentary titled ‘ Adoor – A Journey In Frames on the ace filmmaker as well.

Image courtesy: Omshivaprakash, Wikipedia/Creative Commons

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