Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

Girish Kasaravalli’s ‘Kurmavatara–The Tortoise, an Incarnation’ (Kannada, Colour, 125 mins) shown in Goa Film Festival [Nov-Dec, 2012] is not a mythological film, though the title of the film is borrowed from mythology, where Lord Vishnu takes garb of a tortoise, to save the world. The credits intercut to a TV film on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The actor hero suffers a cardiac arrest, just before Gandhi is about to be assassinated. An ambulance is called to the film set. The director of the film is now in search of a substitute actor. Anand Rao (Shikaripura Krishna Murthy), an aged government office employee, strongly resembles Gandhi, in facial features and eye glasses. Chandan, the film director visits Rao in his office. Rao is stooped in files, sits in office till late at night, and never watches TV. After office, Rao attends devotional songs, in praise of Ambica, at a temple. Chandan sends sweets to the family, and widower Rao is persuaded by his daughter-in-law, since there was good money in TV serials. Rao is assured to be briefed, since he does not know anything about Gandhi.

Rao enters the make-up room, and walk with a stick on the TV screen. Chandan and Rao’s family watch the ‘Gandhi’ serial on TV. The dialogue abounds in Gandhi, Jinnah and Pant. After partition, there is a proposal to make Jinnah Prime Minister. There are possibilities of civil war and ‘satyagraha’. Pleas are sent to Congress leaders, to stop appeasing Jinnah. Rao has no emotions in rendering role, and the director instructs an emotionally charged performance. The son informs that his father did not cry, even when his mother passed away. Rao is disappointed, and wished to return the cash advance to the director. The grandson, Nodu brings a small tortoise to the house, and directs the tortoise with ‘Action, run, cut’. At Rao’s office, the boss congratulates Rao for his acting. Rao gifts a diary to actress, Sushila, who has portrayed Kasturba in the film. The TV payments are diverted by Rao to his son.

The film director conveys to Rao’s son that Rao’s acting has been unsatisfactory, and TV ratings were falling. Passers-bys and shop keepers recognize Rao from the TV film. Rao’s son has been investing the TV earnings in the stock market. Rao starts reading books on Gandhi. There is discord in the family, as Rao’s son accuses Rao of not giving opportunities to study medicine or engineering. Rao searches for ethics in political leaders. A friendship develops between Rao and actress, Susheela. In exchange for acting lessons, Susheela wants to learn more about Gandhi. Slowly Rao renders social service in the neighbourhood, helping license renewals at the local borough office. In the atmosphere of bribes there is a ruckus in the city council office, and Rao’s boss threatens disciplinary action. Rao is advised to leave Gandhi acting on the TV screen. But Rao renews demands for clean water and clean roads. Rao’s son suffers financial setbacks on the internet share market. Rao begins acting in TV ads. Kasaravalli offers a montage of people, from politician to office workers to shop keepers, resolutely busy on their occupations. The play offs between dramatic structures and screen and political characters furnish in sight into political and social situations. G S Bhaskar’s photography captures the straight forward tale, with imaginative movements. ‘‘Kurma-vatara’’ is lively and entertaining.

Vol. 46, No. 6, Aug 18-24, 2013

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