Life imitating art

A still from the film Chronicles of Hari (Harikatha Prasanga)

Chronicles of Hari (Harikatha Prasanga) starts with two journalists interviewing Yakshagana artists in a coastal town of South India, as they are getting ready for their performance. The focus of the interviews is to unravel the mysterious life of Hari, a Yakshagana artist who is believed to have committed suicide. What was the cause for Hari to end his life? Was it a suicide or a murder? Is Hari even dead?

The above questions form the crux of a story which delves into the lives of performers carrying the legacy of an ancient form of theatre found in the coastal regions of Karnataka. Traditionally performed from dusk to dawn, Yakshagana – as the performing art form is called – essentially involved men playing female parts. And the film follows the life of Hari, who was renowned for performing female roles. His popularity as an actor not just causes embarrassment to his family but also ignites a personal struggle of identity crisis, with respect to sexuality. Tired of being a woman at night and a man during the day, Hari finally decides to adopt a woman’s persona completely.

Like one of the journalists in the film, debutante director Ananya Kasaravalli also believes that Hari is not dead. “Every time he wants to end his life, he fights the battle,” Kasaravalli justifies fielding questions after the screening of her first feature film in Kannada at the recently concluded Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star. But, have all Yakshagana artists had to battle turbulent relationships with their families and society at large? “No. Majority of them did not have a conflicted identity. They had families and were balancing their professional and personal lives quite comfortably. But society did view them differently. People did make a pass at them,” she informs, adding, “Yakshagana is still active today. But they have all women troupes now. So men no longer play women... women play men.”

Daughter of film director Girish Kasaravalli, better known as one of the pioneers of parallel cinema in Kannada films, Ananya is much like her father when it comes to portraying socially relevant but complex subjects. “People told me you are a woman, do a children’s film as your first. But I chose this subject for my first film because it was complex. Also, I had already made some documentaries on the LGBT community,” she recounts. Along with a complex subject, Ananya also chose a complex style of storytelling for her debut. The film shuffles between flashbacks and present day interviews of the journalists as the story is told with minimal dialogue, replaced by long pauses of silence. 

“I have been very conscious of the form as it’s a very melodramatic story. When I first read the script, my biggest fear was that the film would become extremely melodramatic. I wanted it to be emotionally engaging, not melodramatic. Hence, I chose this device,” the alumna of L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy, Chennai, explains. 

Based on a short story by Gopalakrishna Pai – who is also one of the screenplay writers of the film – Chronicles of Hari is an adaptation, which moves away from its original story from time to time. “The short story also had many references of Hari being abused. It was a very violent story. Whereas I wanted it to be a quieter story with subtle violence. So I took all those parts out,” Ananya says, informing that her film has already had a world premiere at the 2016 Busan Film Festival. And the journey has just begun. 

After MAMI, the film is set to travel to Goa next, where it will screened in the Indian Panorama section at IFFI 2016 (International Film Festival of India) followed by the Kerala International Film Festival and then to New York at the Museum of the Moving Image. 


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