Gulabi is no pin-up model, yet her smile still lingers in my memory even after the movie and the Osian film festival long ended. She seemed so rooted in the ethos of her culture that almost all her gestures in the film are universal in their portrayal and reflection on life. The way she ate, the way she talked, the way she walked and the way she behaved formed a ritual play of gestures and expression unlike any other. The foundation on which the film explores the duality of human behavior- setting a story of an individual against a large socio-economic and political scenario makes this a remarkable and a masterfully conceived film. This very theme also forms a major backdrop for the eleven odd films directed by the master Girish Kasaravalli.
Gulabi Talkies is a film in transit, where every second of screen time reveals something about who we really are, beneath it all. Gulabi who is an expert mid-wife is neglected by a number of people for being a Muslim woman, but she still manages to make a space in the heart for all. But space in the heart does not translate into “action”, and a number of issues prompted during the course of the film are due to the absence of this particular trait of our very own kind. And sometime when action actually occurs, the society forms a horde to pull down curtains on any form of freedom, other than the one formulated under the social framework. What we see on the film reflects the lives and rituals of thousand families who live on the shores, but what reflects in their social behavior and gestures holds true from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Gulabi leads a lonely life, her husband is happily married to his second wife, so she spends her time watching films, yet she manages to be fill every space she crosses with happiness and joy. From the opening shot of the film where we she her characteristic smile with the slight dimple on her left cheek down to the final shot of the film, she remains who she is: calm, complacent, happy, naïve and strong.
Gulabi Talkies is adapted from a book on women written by the Kannada writer, Vaidehi and the preoccupation of Vaidehi are well materialized on the screen, as she worked towards exemplifying through the written text- the social atrocities on women, and her very basic characters defied an act against the inflated male power ego. Girish Kasaravalli. worked with Vaidehi on the dialogues of the film, and even the smallest of conversation is full of echoes of love, sorrow, happiness and fears which are well carried from character to character. Gulabi who irrespective of having childlike naiveté in her expression has a solid inner soul to stand against various injustices still prevailing in this patriarchal dominated Indian society. Gulabi through her course of actions, gestures, defiance( by leaving alone) even after her husband abandoned her, forms an image of a post modernist woman who without the basic imagery of hollow looks, empty talks, and pro-feminist evocation achieves something which is still very much suppressed in the society. And the basic power of her could be felt in the young woman who runs away from her mother-in-law house to find her dreams.
To see Gulabi in action from being an expert mid-wife, to savoring the hyped dramaturgy of television, and to even cherish the act of watching the same movie again and again raises countless questions within us, especially the one related to the most important aspect of humanity today- “ Money”. Gulabi who loves films, works as a mid-wife, has a very limited living amenities and materialism but still manages to suppress all our living luxuries, simply on the single most important and almost forgotten human tract- “To actually be happy, and “really” care for others”. Even when the world collides and falls against Gulabi she manages to form a gesture of non-expression so that we never actually manage to see her sadness, since she does not wish to show it. Yet, when she utters the words of final optimism in the film, even a drowning man would struggle for one last minute against the waves of death for survival.
Girish Kasarvalli weaves a multilayered film almost flawlessly; allowing the opposition of so many distinctive planes (space) and time frame co-exist in harmony. That is a major reason why the film achieves the basic dynamic of being in a constant motion. Like the regular rituals of fisherman going out to fish which slowly becomes a conscious aspect of our own senses When such repetition finally reaches it’s end, the final outcome does not need the backbones of filmed drama to create a tension, but a mere exchange of dialogue highlights the collapse of basic live hood of people. For example, when the fishermen revolt against the authorities regarding the illegal allowing of Gulabi’s husband Musa to fish unlike the normal timings, despite of the fact he is Muslim, their own social standing and conscious cut-throat nature for live hood on the fundamentalism of religion takes a beating on being informed that the government has allowed foreign ships to fish on the shores. The scene not only establishes the basic social framework of people, but it also highlights the important political and economic standings. And such political and social overbearing did affect the lives of thousand fishermen in the region. Girish Kasaravalli’s layered narrative weaves such schematic question silently without being loud.
This scene is layered and builds on the Kargil War between India and Pakistan, which has lot to say about our basic nature, it also highlights how much we mistrust each other simply on the basis of such credos, and today this paranoia has exceeded far beyond our own control. Something that could also be felt in the way the women in Gulabi’s neighborhood behaved. Until the moment Gulabi did not have a color television most women did not enter her house, but when she received a color TV along with cable connection, slowly they all came in packs, first standing and watching from the door and window, and then moving inside her home. But it’s a finally a single gesture captured during a similar scene which showed the façade in the smiles of people, when a woman is combing her daughter hair, she touches Gulabi in some form only to be slapped by her mother not to do so. This single act speaks in volume regarding the large population of our society in relation to seeing people of different religion in such light.
Each single space on which the stories is layered, and the characters, form the basic diegetic function to highlight the condition and plight of such people; we can witness the strong presence of social realism in Girish Kasaravalli’s mise-en-scene. The camera in most cases is mere observant of an ongoing action not dynamic and neither anticipatory static, but it functions more like a microscope used to observe the organism taking shapes and breaking away from unison. Sound plays an important aspect of the mise-en-scene especially through the use of diegetic medium of modern communication: radio and television, to show the various façade and veils of hypocrisy of human kind. Like how the women would never want to enter her house but would do so only on the presence of television in her home or the sudden return of her husband to her home just to see the television. This very act not only laughs at the way we humans are – to neglect the very living social organism and be a mere remote to the reproduction of mechanism.
Even the opinions expressed through the medium (media) affects the nature of human behavior. When Gulabi is walking on the street two small boys surround her asking for donation (on behalf of the Kargil War), when she declined, a man standing on the road offers them the donation and utters: “Why, would they give” in such a single act of dialogue the whole function and mentality of our society is condensed, especially the act of blindfolding on beliefs and stereotyping religion, caste, culture and creed. Like the whole notion of Indian marriage, where the family thinks that the parents have to get their daughters married to a “ rich” family to provide all happiness- an open act of prostituting usually hidden on various layers of protecting our still bourgeois and traditional values.
If it is Girish Kasaravalli who gave the film its basic fabric of living through his conceived mise- en- scene, then its Umashree who plays Gulabi gives this whole filmic space and time its life. She is the heart and soul of the film and it’s her energy which makes the engine run from beginning to end with full vigor, whether it’s her simple gesture of stealing a movie poster to stick on her hut, or simply sitting cross-legged to watch the television in her home. She brings Gulabi from the written text to screen alive, and it’s in the hands of a master that the written text does not akin to theater or literature but achieves a degree of pureness belonging solely to Cinema. It is ironic how the tides of plot take turns and moves about, but whatever the consequences and actions were taken; it resonated to who we actually are, and people like Gulabi have become rarer to find each and every day. Since the very act of being a “rebel” is against the basic norm of “society”. And even this society actually exists on a hollow bone, since what matters for them is very much to “self”, yet we always wonder why we so afraid of what others have to say about us, instead of existing individually and working towards others.
Gulabi Talkies is a remarkable film, which most of us would never actually get to see outside few chosen circles or in the home state of Karnataka. I was lucky enough to catch the film on the big screen in a festival- sadly the only place left for such works. Similarly when Gulabi part ways on boat to never land, the people are not bothered where she goes, but rejoice that the television would remain with them, and when two old ladies sit trying to switch on the television in an empty room…Girish Kasaravalli’s camera observes their basic ignorance from the outside, not only laughing at the eavesdropping of the ladies who had doses of comments on their regular off-screen voyeurism, but at the same highlights the mere hollowness of our souls in our own quest for materialistic spiritualism.
Cross-published on Cinema Without Borders