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Samskara’s Journey from Novel to Film

Mapping Political Consciousness

Birthed from the same radical anti-caste politics, the narratives of the novel and the film Samskara take slightly different political positions, exposing the subtle cracks and gaps in the sociopolitical consciousness of the time.

In 1965, U R Ananthamurthy was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s epoch-making historical fantasy The Seventh Seal (1957) to write a Kannada novel that would become a classic in its own right. Samskara (Funeral Rites; 1965) revolves around the internal conflict of a conscientious Brahmin, whose carefully laid ethical rubric is radically displaced when he has an illicit sexual encounter with the mistress of his recently deceased adversary. Ananthamurthy’s novel inspired playwright Girish Karnad and director Pattabhi Rama Reddy to adapt it into a Kannada film in 1970. As Samskara journeys across different media, germinating from an idea into a movement, it cuts a path that underlines the conflicted and precarious relationship between cinema and the novel and, in the process, hints at the ruptures and gaps in the political consciousness of its time.   

Samskara centres on a group of orthodox Madhva Brahmins who are required to cremate their much-reviled companion Naranappa, a Brahmin who ate meat, kept a low-caste concubine called Chandri, smoked, drank, and regularly fraternised with Muslims. Terrified of being excommunicated for cremating a man they consider a heretic, but forced to fast until the last rites for Naranappa are performed, they turn to the notably learned Praneshacharya for assistance. While a confounded Praneshacharya is ruminating on a solution to the conundrum, he ends up having sexual intercourse with Chandri. After the encounter, he declares that he is no longer morally fit to lead the group of Brahmins and asks them to seek higher counsel. As the Brahmins travel to meet the head priest, Praneshacharya’s ailing wife Bhagirathi dies, and he sets out of the village to escape his immediate circumstances. On his journey, he finds Putta, a chatty low-caste youth who leads Praneshacharya into a raucous and loud village fair, and eventually to a woman. The older man is deeply disconcerted by this new world and, while attempting to navigate it, decides that he must return to his village to face his past before he can begin to build a new life governed by a different set of rules.

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Updated On : 30th Sep, 2019

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