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Ghatashraddha (The Ritual)

Posted by martinteller on April 17, 2013

This is the story of Nani (Ajith Kumar), a young Brahmin boy who has just been dropped off at a vedic school by his father.  Nani is small and quiet, and gets teased and tricked by the other boys, berated by the teachers for having difficulty learning the complex rituals and incantations.  It is also the story of Yamuna (Meena Kuttappa), the headmaster’s daughter.  She looks after Nani and a couple of the other students.  And she has a big problem of her own: one of the teachers has impregnated her.  Nani and Yamuna form a bond as they try to keep her secret from the village gossip.

This is the first feature film by director Girish Kasaravalli, and my first in the Kannada language.  It has a similar feel to Satyajit Ray’s first film, Pather Panchali.  Both have a neorealistic approach to melodrama, feature very strong child performances, and are especially good at highlighting the natural surroundings.  Both also won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film.

It is a superb drama with harsh social commentary.  The antics of the boys who taunt Nani are reflected in the archaic customs of the adult world.  Each seems equally random, meaningless and unrewarding.  Nani resists conforming to the arcane rules of this society, but ultimately he is trapped by them, as is everyone else.  The cinematography often emphasizes the enforced barriers between people, from the latticework through which characters are frequently seen to the final image suggesting Yamuna’s isolation and exile.  The forest through which the character must often traverse is wild and forbidding, a labyrinthine jungle.

The relationship between Kumar and Kuttappa is very moving, and not without nuance.  There is a moment when Nani appears to be flexing his power and influence over her, despite being much younger.  Both performances are excellent and endearing, and Kumar deserved his award for Best Child Actor.  There are a few scenes that could have perhaps benefitted from a slightly more restrained approach, but it’s nothing major.  The music by B.V. Karanth adds a lot as well, very tribal and ritualistic.  In one scene it marries the drunken revelries of a group of “untouchables” to the sufferings of Yamuna.

I would like to see more by Kasaravalli, although apparently this is generally thought of as his best.  It is a heavy, moving drama about two outcasts trying to help each other navigate the social restrictions that impede even the upper castes.  Rating: Very Good (85)


4 Responses to “Ghatashraddha (The Ritual)”

  1. Anonymous said

    Have you seen the more recent Indian movie, Water? It was up for an Academy Award a few years back. It tore me apart.

  2. Great to find a solid review of this film. This was just the beginning of a great career, he grew with every film.I have a reviewed a couple of his films on my blog

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