Kasturi Nivasa

Kasturi_Nivasa

I keep an eye out for any early Dr Rajkumar films with subtitles, and was lucky enough to find this 1971 classic on DVD. It’s a simple story, but one that’s beautifully told with mesmerising performances from the main leads. The film was written and directed by Dorairaj and Bhagawan, who were also responsible for the excellent CID 999 films, Operation Jackpot Nalli and Operation Diamond Racket, also with Dr Rajkumar. Although quite dissimilar in terms of content, Kasturi Nivasa has the same attention to detail as these movies, with creative cinematography and memorable songs and music from G.K. Venkatesh. The film was re-released in colour in 2014 and is available (but without subtitles) on YouTube in both versions.

Kasturi Nivasa is the ancestral home of Ravi Varma (Rajkumar), an industrialist who runs a successful match factory. Ravi is a widower whose only daughter also died in an accident, which has left him alone in the large house except for his servant Ramaiah (K.S. Ashwath). At the factory, Ravi notices new employee Chandru (Rajashankar) because he doesn’t laugh at Ravi’s jokes. Appreciating his honesty, Ravi makes Chandru the Chief Foreman and decides to send him to America for further training. But Chandru is also a widower and has a young daughter, so he is reluctant to make the trip and leave Rani behind. However, Chandru’s situation is so similar to Ravi’s that he offers to look after Rani until Chandru returns.

The early part of the film sets up the character of Ravi as a rich but philanthropic businessman. He has inherited wealth and knows that his place in society is to function as a role model while also helping others who are less fortunate. Ravi is very aware of his lofty status but attempts to bridge the gap between himself and his workers by telling jokes and by generally treating them well, although he still seems himself as being of a higher class than his workers. In contrast Bhojarajaiah (Balakrishna) is a terrible owner and suffers financial loss due to his poor treatment of his workers. While that sounds potentially revolutionary and egalitarian, Balakrishna forms part of the comedy track, so his loss of money and face is more about his poor attitude rather than any real concern about workers’ rights – although to be fair, at least there is acknowledgement that everyone deserves a living wage.

Bhojarajaiah also tries to set Ravi up with his daughter Prabhu, but she prefers Bhojarajaiah’s brother-in-law Sampath (Narasimharaju) and the various contortions the couple go through to avoid Bhojarajaiah make up the rest of the comedy track. While Balakrishna and Narasimharaju are acknowledged comedic actors, their performances here seem somewhat flat in comparison to other films I’ve seen, while the comedy track doesn’t fit well with the rest of the narrative. I’m guessing that it was added because there ‘has’ to be a comedy track, since otherwise there seems to be added value to the characters of Bhojarajaiah and Sampath.

Ravi looks after Rani and recruits his secretary Neela (Jayanthi) to be a substitute mother for the little girl. (My subtitles say Leela, but Ravi seems to be saying Neela which is the name given on most character lists that I’ve seen.) The child actress here is excellent and very sweet, although she’s a fair way towards being spoiled given that Ravi caters to her every whim. Neela too sets Rani up as the sole purpose for her existence, so it’s hardly surprising that Rani throws tantrums when she doesn’t get what she wishes. When Chandru comes back, Rani is so used to Neela as her mother that she insists Chandru and Neela sleep with her together in their bed. This leads to Neela and Chandru getting married, which devastates Ravi as he was in love with Neela, but never actually approached her about his feelings.

Things continue to go wrong for Ravi as he loses business when Chandru starts up his own factory using more modern manufacturing methods. As Ravi’s situation deteriorates further, Chandru buys Kasturi Nivasa and to his credit tries to help his former boss. However, Ravi’s pride leads him to refuse all offers of help, which in turn seriously affects Neela who still has feelings for her ‘boss’. Jayanthi looks stunning and she does a fantastic job of portraying Neela’s conflicting emotions and loyalties as she is torn between her former employer and her husband. The situation leads to problems between Chandru and Neela, and eventually Ravi succumbs to a suitably dramatic and tragic end, symbolising the end of an era.

Dr Rajkumar is simply wonderful here and imbues his character with dignity and charm that suits his rather old-fashioned persona. Ravi is wealthy and generous, seeing himself as a benefactor for the poor and as someone who upholds traditional values. Chandru in contrast is more modern and practical, and Rajashankar plays him as intelligent and hard-working but impatient with the old order. Chandru is the one who sees the potential in upgrading the factory and on moving with the times, ending up successful as a result of his own hard work. Both actors excel in their roles and work well together to accentuate these differences which lie at the heart of the story. Ravi is old money and the class system, Chandru is equality and success based on personal achievement. Kasturi Nivasa then is a lament for the old order, for rich landlords who looked after their poor tenants and for an opulent lifestyle that few can continue to afford. It charts the rise of the new order– modern manufacturing techniques, the loss of a class divide as workers rise up to become equal with their former bosses, but with an associated loss of morals, seen here by Chandru’s addiction to alcohol and his violent behaviour.

What I find most interesting here is the large amount of symbolism used throughout to convey the message. The way Ravi and Chandru are contrasted with each other is also cleverly done to enhance the story. Both men run match factories and believe in treating their workers well, but while Ravi sells Dove matches, Chandru has branded his product with an Eagle, presumably to signify his more aggressive nature. As Chandru comes up in the world he starts wearing suits like Ravi, while Ravi wears the same suit for long enough that it starts to develop visible holes. The transfer of power is seen by their appearance as well as by the changes in the living standards of the two men, but it’s also interesting how they are both affected by having money and prestige. Dorairaj and Bhagawan seem to be suggesting that you need to be born with money to know how to use it properly – wealth corrupts those who come into money later in life.

The songs too continue the symbolism, particularly this one about a doll that always gets back up and cannot be knocked down. Sadly for Ravi, although this may have been his philosophy, he appeared to be getting less able to get back up again after each successive set-back

Kasturi Nivasa is deservedly called a classic, with stirring dialogue and the captivating and powerful combination of Rajkumar, Rajashankar and Jayanthi. G.K. Venkatesh’s songs are wonderful and beautifully pictured, while there is a socially important message underlying the excellent screenplay. Although I watched the black and white version, the richness of the house comes thought well, and the contrast between Kasturi Nivasa and Chandru’s house is perfectly set out. Although the concepts addressed here are rather dated and some of the beliefs now seem quaint and old-fashioned, there is still a powerful message here, and regardless of the date, the film has an ageless quality due in part to the spellbinding performance from Dr Rajkumar. Highly recommended, this is one of those films that should be on everyone’s checklist – 5 stars.

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Nagara Haavu (1972)

Nagarahaavu

Nagara Haavu is a classic film from Kannada cinema featuring Vishnuvardhan in his first lead role. Director Puttanna Kanagal based his 1972 screenplay on three novels by T.R. Subba Rao, telling the story of an angry young man, his love affairs and his relationship with his old primary school teacher, who seems to be the only one who has any patience with his outbursts. The film is set in the 1950’s and although many of the social conventions are now outdated, there are some that still apply to-day; while Ramachari’s struggle against conformity continues to be a popular theme in modern cinema. At almost 3 hours Nagara Haavu is a bit of an epic, but it’s an interesting film to watch and essential viewing to anyone interested in the evolution of cinema in Bangalore.

The film begins and ends with the same images of rocks and the sun viewed through a red filter, presumably an indication that despite the tumultuous events portrayed, by the end nothing has actually changed. The young Ramachari of the opening scene is a rude and angry child with terrible hair, who grows into a rude and angry young man, still with a terrible haircut. This time perhaps he has reason for his anger since his teacher instructs him to remove his trousers when he is caught cheating at college. It seems rather extreme, but Ramachari (Vishnuvardhan) has a reputation as being a bad student and his reaction is even more over the top. He decides that if he is considered to be villainous, then he will become villainous, going to his professor’s house and smashing the windows. Not content with this wilful destruction of property, Ramachari then ties Shyamrao (Lokanath) to a lamppost and leaves him there overnight to the horror of Tungamma (Leelavathi), Ramachari’s old schoolteacher’s wife. And me! How he avoids being arrested is baffling!

Ramachari seems to be angry with everyone and everything, but the reason for his apparently all-consuming rage is never fully explained. It may be partly due to frustration with his religious parents who revere God above all else, and seem to have little time for their son. Possibly his anger is a reaction to being forced to study when he clearly has no interest or aptitude, but whatever the reason, Ramachari has a well-deserved reputation for belligerence in his home town.

The only person who seems to have any time for Ramachari is his old schoolteacher Chamiah (K.S. Ashwath) who has practically adopted Ramachari and considers him to be his son. His wife Tungamma also has a soft spot for the troubled youth and between them they act as mentors and advisors whenever Ramachari finds himself (yet again) in trouble. The relationship between Ramachari and Chamiah is well written and excellently portrayed by Vishnuvardhan and K.S. Ashwath through both the good and the bad times. There is real warmth between them, and Vishnuvardhan does an excellent job of capturing the respect and love that Ramachari feels for his mentor. For his part, K.S. Ashwath is compassionate and stern as required while making it clear that he can see beneath the surface anger to the possibility that Ramachari represents. The dialogues between the two are the best parts of the film, as Chamiah tries to instruct Ramachari how he should behave in society, while Ramachari does his best to point out the double standards and hypocrisy that make him rebel against convention.

Ramachari’s best mate is Varadha (Shivaram), a man who knows the value of product, and who happens to have a beautiful sister Alamelu (Aarathi). When Alamelu is harassed by local sleaze Jaleel (Ambareesh) her brother is too much of a wimp to do anything, so he recruits Ramachari to deal with the problem. Ramachari has seen Alamelu, so his price for helping her dissuade her unwelcome suitor is to marry her himself. Neither Varadha nor Alamelu have any problem with this plan but it’s a different story for Alamelu’s parents who have no desire to marry their daughter to the local rowdy.

There is much drama when Alamelu steals away to tell Ramachari of her impending marriage to someone else and it’s up to Chamaiah to persuade Ramachari that Alamelu’s parents should decide her fate. After much emoting, Ramachari is eventually persuaded that sacrificing his love is the noble thing to do although it’s clear that Chamaiah doesn’t believe this at all and is simply bowing to conventional wisdom and the presumed dictates of society.

This has serious consequences for Ramachari’s relationship with Chamaiah when he later discovers that instead of living in luxury, Alamelu has been forced into a life of prostitution. This could have been one of those terribly over-dramatic scenes so common in seventies Bollywood, with Alamelu dying rather than continue to live in shame, but instead Puttanna Kanagal gives her a beautiful song and impassioned speech where she says that she wants to live! OK, she’s not happy, but it’s better than the usual attempt at suicide at least. There is also a lovely moment of symmetry too when this time it’s Alamelu who walks away from Ramachari and sacrifices her love for his sake. It’s all wonderfully melodramatic as Alamelu recites her story to Ramachari beside a red-lit fountain.

After Alamelu is married, Ramachari is pursued by Margaret (Shubha), a girl from his class in college who is determined that he should fall in love with her. She is portrayed as being more modern, chasing after Ramachari shamelessly, wearing Western clothes and declaring her love quite openly. Margaret seems to get away with all this because she is Christian and the daughter of a single mother – which is apparently all we need to know to realise that she is no better than she should be. Once again Chamaiah is recruited to break up the relationship as Margaret’s mother Mary (M.N. Lakshmi Devi) has much bigger plans for her daughter while Ramachari’s parents are mortally offended at the idea that their son would marry a Christian. The question is, will Ramachari listen to his long-time mentor or has he lost faith after what happened to Alamelu?

There is plenty of over-the-top drama in Nagara Haavu and some of the best ‘death stares’ I’ve seen for a long time. Everyone overacts like crazy, Ramachari throws chickens at Margaret after she teases him in class, her mother accuses him of rape, while Chamaiah clambers over rocks trying to find Ramachari to drag him off to apologise to the latest person he has offended. All apparently part of a normal day in downtown Chitradurga!

As well as showing the relationship between a troubled youth and his kindly teacher, the film paints a picture of a dysfunctional society where appearances and prestige matter more than love and happiness. Chamaiah believes that Ramachari just needs time to mature and indeed he becomes a more responsible person when he is allowed to leave college and work for a wage. The rest of the town however brand him a troublemaker and don’t allow him the opportunity to ever become anything else. No matter how much Chamaiah tries to fit Ramachari into the role that society demands, he is never going to conform, particularly when Chamaiah realises just how shallow and self-centred society has become.

Nagara Haavu is deservedly classed as a classic film with good performances, a well-written story and engaging music from Vijaya Bhaskar. Despite the length, the film doesn’t drag and is a fascinating look at times past, society attitudes (and fashions!) and family dynamics of the time. Some thing have changed, but many of these issues are still a concern even now, making the film relevant and not as outdated as it first appears. The dialogues might seem stilted, but the ideas behind them are valid and used to good effect. I enjoyed Nagara Haavu and recommended watching it for Visnuvardhan, Aarathi and K.S. Ashwath, the excellent screenplay plus beautiful shots of Chitradurga and countryside. 4 stars.