Gulabi Talkies -- Film Review

Bottom Line: A tale of a tense fishing community narrated with consummate temperance

Panorama, International Film Festival of India

PANAJI, India -- Master director Girish Kasaravalli uses the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan as a backdrop in his "Gulabi Talkies" to analyze how a small peace-loving fishing community in the southern coastal State of Karnataka loses its inter-religious harmony. The conflict on the Kargil Heights is never shown, and the tension that builds up between Hindus and Muslims in the fishing village is handled with exemplary restraint. By the end of the film, it's economics, not religion, that drives a wedge between the two groups.

Musa (K.G Krishnamurthy) is a relatively rich Muslim fish merchant, who undercuts prices to the annoyance of Vasanna (Ashok Sandip), a Hindu trader, who finds it impossible to sell his daily catch. The faraway war that television brings into living rooms worsens the animosity between the two men fueling malice and suspicion between their folks.

Interestingly, the television that splits the village also helps forge some kind of unity, however tenuous. At the center of this discord and disunity is Gulabi (Umashree), the neglected, childless second wife of Musa. Her skills as a midwife transcends the societal divide. Crazy about movies, she is one evening dragged out of a theater and asked to attend on a woman in labor. A thoroughly displeased Gulabi is promised a color television set and a huge dish-antenna by the woman's family.

The box that brings cinema into her hut serves as a catalyst for communal compromise. Women and children of both religions throng Gulabi's talkies or film-house, united by the magic of the medium. But cinema can cement bonds only to a point. They snap when a Hindu girl elopes. Musa is suspected of this misdemeanor, and Gulabi is unfairly victimized.

Though a trifle long at 122 minutes with the energy dipping at times, the camera brilliantly captures the splendors of the region as it does the mood and manners of the fishermen. Natural and authentic, the movie also scores with its top-rate performances. Umashree is excellent as a barren woman, shunned by her husband, but sought after by the people for her warmth and geniality. She conveys the pain and pathos of her paradoxical life with a subtlety rarely seen on the Indian screen. Krishnamurthy and Sandip are engaging as the two fishermen troubled and tormented by dwindling supplies, rising tempers and a widening chasm between religions.

Production company: Basant Productions
Cast: Umashree, K.G Krishnamurthy and Ashok Sandip.
Director/screenwriter: Girish Kasaravalli
Story: Vaidehi.
Producers: Basantkumar Patil, Amrita Patil.
Director of photography: S.Ramachandra Aithal.
Art director: Ba Su Ma Kodagu.
Music: Isaac Thomas Kottukapally.
Costume designer: Subhashini.
Editors: M.N Swamy, S.Manohar.
No rating, 122 minutes.