One of the best movies I've seen in a long long while. Not that I watch too many movies. Surfing through the channels late Sunday night, I struck upon DD1. They were showing some regional fare with the usual English translations scrolling at the bottom of the screen. Paid some closer attention and realized the language being spoken is Kannada. The movie was "Dweepa" by Girish Kasaravalli. They were speaking in the Kodagu accent which is different from what I've grown up on, so it took me more than a couple of seconds to figure out what they were saying. Initially I had planned to watch the movie for a few minutes and surf on. But those few minutes went onto become the entire length of the movie. Nagi lives with her husband Ganappa and maviah (father-in-law) Duggayya on an island (dweepa - hence the name of the movie). The government asks all folks on the island to move out of it and onto safer locations since the dam being constructed will submerge most of the island and make the rest inhabitable. In exchange is a mediocre compensation. Like the mice that followed the pied-piper, each of the families leave the island accepting the meagre compensation being given, with the fear that even that may not reach them if they refuse to leave now. Ganappa is the temple priest on the island, a job that he's assumed as a family responsibility. With the passage of people, nema, the prayer offered through the priest by the devotees becomes less frequent. Inspite of being coaxed by all his fellow villagers who have long left the island, Ganappa decides to stay put since Duggayya does not intend to leave the village. He believes the river goddess will protect him and the island from submersion. The rainy season is at its onset and soon the family realizes the rising water levels. Also looming large is the threat of a tiger that has entered the jungle atop the island. Unable to manage the physical labor on their own, Nagi brings along with her Krishna, a youth who wants to have a change in the environment after personal failures in Mumbai. Krishna though a simpleton like the rest of the people around him, is slightly more aware of the worldly affairs. The four of them are the only ones on the island. Nagi's brotherly relation with Krishna is mis-understood by her husband Ganappa who asks her to send him back. She refuses saying that it is they who requested him to come here. The beautiful relation shared between Nagi and Ganappa soon begins to sour. Duggayya is still adamant about accepting the compensation and moving out of the island. The waters by now would have consumed their hut on the shores of the island and they move to higher grounds and occupy a bigger home that has been vacated by the deserting villagers. Ganappa rows Duggayya to the temple one night on his request. Duggayya intends to perform a night long nema to ensure the island's safety and to bring happiness back to the family. In the morning, when its time to bring back Duggayya, Ganappa refuses to go and asks Krishna to bring him back instead. The hatred he has for Krishna and the suspicion he has about Nagi is now complete. Krishna refuses to go, upset because Nagi now refuses to speak to him. Nagi herself rows to the temple, only to find the temple submerged and her father-in-law dead, separated from the nema attire made out of leaves and other things from the forest.
Soundarya and Avinash in Dweepa
In the movie, Girish Kasaravalli has done as much as he has with the interplay of words, as he has with silence. The feelings of hatred and suspicion that Ganappa has towards his wife and Krishna, is captured in one cynical look that he throws towards Nagi. With things getting worse, Nagi asks Krishna to leave them and go away from the island. Upset that on returning to his own village, he would be considered a failure in both the cities and the villages, Krishna leaves the island on boat, the only way by which Nagi and Ganappa might have escaped the wrath of the waters. Kasaravalli intercepts the dialogue and the visuals with powerful lines from Akka Mahadevi's works (a 12th century Shiva Devotee and Kannada poet).
When they reach the shores, who remembers the boatman
A lake at the back, a snare in front
Can there be peace, tell me.
Still water behind, full stream ahead,
What's the way out, tell me.
With Krishna and the boat gone, the rising waters threat the higher parts of the island too. And like the overflowing waters, their troubles increase too when the tiger kills their only source of milk, a buffalo. Ganappa has given up all the hopes he has of a survival and refuses to help when the tiger approaches their home in the night, when the shed in which the buffalo calf is kept collapses, trapping the calf beneath, and when debris blocks the only drain for the water to go out. With gusto and a heavy heart, the strong arms of Nagi continue to work hard at fighting all these troubles, not once does she keel down.
The morning reveals to her the receding waters around the island and she runs to the top of the island to find out the reason. The dam levels have been breached and the waters have been released. Tears fighting her eyes, she runs down to wake her hopeless husband. The news invigors him and he becomes ecstasic. Words of thankfulness flow out of his lips to the God above and he credits the God for saving them. Nagi is shocked! Not one of her efforts have been acknowledged and Ganappa tells her that she was only the tool in God's schemes. Her effort was nothing. The movie ends, with Nagi remaining disheartened.
I've not seen better action than this from Soundarya and the rest of the cast are equally brilliant too. The old actor portaying Duggayya has done a fantastic job with his toothless smile and sullen grimace. His panic run to the interiors of the house when he sees the cops approaching the island by boat, is a brilliant metaphor for the common man's fear of the unyielding government.
Many from Karnataka believe that Kannada film is dead and long gone. For every 100 pathetic commercial movies made in the state, if even one such movie is delivered by a Kasaravalli or Karnad, I would say that the art of film-making survives. The industry may die, but the art won't!