Kaadu: Beware the Power of Tradition & Consensus in Village India

Girish Karnad has said of Kaadu that it is a documentary presentation of a village by someone who grew up there, yet it is more melodramatic than the autobiographical novel written by a man in his twenties who had witnessed the events. Furthermore the film contained in small roles as the village elders the men who had actually been imprisoned for the raid(Binford p.156). While the events in this story are indeed true, Karnad’s artistic decisions regarding the portrayal of these events are biased to the extent that he feels the ‘violence inherent in village society is inevitable (Gupta p.173).’ Karnad's narrative is dramatized in a very Japanese fashion. He revealed a love for Japanese cinema (especially Kurosawa) and Kabuki style theater whose heavy handed moralism and passionate acting would later manifest in Karnad’s cinema. The main character is Chandra Gowda, played by Amrish Puri, who is possessed of a brooding visage even Toshiro Mifune would envy. However, the narrator is ten-year-old Kitti who 'loses innocence’ through witnessing the arcane practices of rural India. By seeing the story through Kitti’s eyes (which have a very dominant presence on the screen) the adults and their behavior seems more ominous. To Kitti the traditions seem followed with blind faith and the consensus arrived at by cruel ‘kangaroo courts’ and only catalyzed by violence. Karnad is not concerned with an accurate potrait of village life but rather the ‘emotional and mythic’ weight of this stark, grim narrative. Therefore Kaadu possesses an understanding of the traditions and consensus of village India that is tinted with Karnad’s disdain and his pessimism.

The first power of tradition that confronts the audience is that which oppresses women. The first scene shows Kitti attending a witchcraft ritual where the women present are trying to restore Chandra's devotion to Silla,Kitti's aunt, and they brutally sacrifice a chicken. Through Kitti's eyes this event seems macabre yet the audience in hindsight perceives this attempt as feeble and pathetic. Silla is denied any other facility for expressing her discontent and must turn as her only resort to private meaningless rituals in the secrecy of the forest. Later Kitti walks by Basakka's (Chandra's mistress) house and is invited in. There is a sense of the precarious in Basakka as she fawns over Kitti and Nagi while admitting that Silla knows of her infidelities with Chandra. These women are helpless and their meager control is confined to their houses and children. These initial scenes with women prefigure the scenes of Devi's trial, Kalyani's branding, and ultimately Silla's rape and subsequent death. These portrayals of the powerlessness of women and the injuries they suffer as levied by a rigid code of male supremacy in village India are the crux of Karnad's disdain. He establishes these women as the narrator's best friends and then the narrator watches them suffer abuse from the male hierarchy, who short of one interrupted walking scene with Chandra, never interact with Kitti at all. There is a steady decline in the receptiveness of Kitti's eyes to this violence. First he watches wide-eyed the trial of Devi, then later his eyes are full of guilt, half lidded and cast at the floor when Kalyani is branded, and finally his eyes close as he faints watching Silla get raped. Karnad considers this patriarchy barbaric and even though the events are true the use of Kitti's perspective makes the women seem more human and the men seem more monstrous.

Parallel to the violence against women is the violence between the villages which is precipitated by a kind of consensus taken at 'kangaroo court' town gatherings. Karnad frames these courts with the black of night which suggests that the tasks the villagers are about are dark as well. The film noir mise-en-scene of these trials leaves an image of crude unorganized forums where consensus is won by passionate male anger whereas the voice of reason from the women and the reserved elders is all but ignored. During Devi's trial, the pace of the editing builds to the climax of Chandra's beatings. Chandra always has control of the camera and his grim stare embodies the brutality that Karnad feels is inherent in village rule. This kind of martial rule manifests in other subtle ways especially the village wide consensus regarding Kalyani's retreat from the village. Strikingly the bulk of the film's profanity is used to condemn her escape. Before her run away, there are long takes of Kalyani's pensive eyes. The audience has to sympathize with her just for the length of time devoted to her angst. In contrast the scenes following of the consensus of women calling her names are short in length, edited quickly and therefore distance the viewer. Lastly the consensus regarding the police functions to belittle the village. All the villagers throughout the movie are indignant to the idea of police help, yet at the end of the film the police arrival, however scary, is the first real sign of order in the town. The police are heavily equipped and asssemble in a straight line which commands respect but Karnad does not depict them as brutalizing anyone. In fact the response of the police seems justifiably heavier because the police explain that the village 'waited too long to call us and allowing the events to escalate this far.' This statement implies that even though the police cost the village, they could have prevented the violent competition of the towns at any stage. Therefore Karnad suggests that the institution of the urban police, while not perfect, is vastly superior to village consensus. Karnad obviously feels that countryside informal courts possess only the facility to govern through fear and violence, and not respect.


Last Updated on 03/06/00
By JR Kerr
Send Comments to jamesrkerr@yahoo.com


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