Monday, December 06, 2010
The Kannada film based on the novel (with the same title) was produced in 1978. It was directed by Maruti Shivaram and the roles of Gendethimma and Maranki were played by Lokesh and Rita Anchan, respectively. The artist behind the camera was the man known for his imaginative handling of the camera, Ramachandra; and the lyrics were penned by the famous poet Doddarange Gowda. As a bridge-film, it was a big hit with both the masses and the critics.
A film, as is common knowledge, is a visual medium with its many in-built compulsions. To start with, its time-frame is limited; whatever it has to show, it should do so within two to three hours. More importantly, it is a composite art-form that demands contributions from many different people: dialogue-writer, music-composer and singer, lyricist, cameraman, dancers and choreographer, director, and many others. And, most importantly, it is an industry, in the sense that huge investments are made on it in the form of money, time and labour of hundreds of people. All these factors compel a film to cater, primarily, to the taste of the ‘implied audience’ which consists of both the illiterate and the literate, both the individual and the family.
In such a situation, naturally, the visual medium has to be different from the print medium in many ways. Coming to the film version of Alanahally’s novella, owing to its limited time-frame, the film version leaves out many incidents and characters of the written version: it omits the Maranki-Nanjanagud-uncle episode entirely; it shortens the ‘Shani-impersonator episode’; etc. On the other hand, to make the film more ‘colourful,’ it adds the early-morning scenes of a village as it was some seven to eight decades ago –women manually grinding corn on a stone-grinder and singing folk songs, farmers going to their fields with the ploughs on their shoulders, women drawing water from deep wells, and such.
Again, the Indian audience is presumed to demand entertainment first and foremost (be the film realistic or mythological). Hence, a film has to have lilting songs and voluptuous dances. There are in this film eleven songs, most of which are set to pleasing and tunes; and there are group dances which show rural people rejoicing in farming activities or festivals. Shri Ramachandra’s camerawork is superb and it catches, in myriad hues and colours, the sunset and sunrise, and the group-scenes of villagers celebrating an occasion happily. In order to appeal to the prurient in the audience, Maranki is always shown either smiling or slightly bending so that the camera can catch her rich bosom. Also, Thimma in the film (Lokesh) is not physically as unattractive as the novel describes him, and Bediyamma’s hut and its surroundings in the film are not as filthy, wretched and nauseating as the written text describes it –again, another attempt not to disturb the pleasure-seeking audience.
A visual medium, which has to meet the expectations of the mass-audience, cannot afford to indulge in subtle analyses of characters and ambiguous points of view. (Of course, the ‘experimental’ films undertake such a daring step; but they fail at the box office.) They have to avoid ambiguous attitudes and present characters who are almost black and white. To a great extent, this film also follows that dictum; what is covert in the novel is overtly presented in the film.
Consider the covert love of the author (or narrator) for rural life: emotively, he has a deep-rooted attachment for the various aspects of rural life, but he also, ideologically, desires change in the stagnant society. But the film, beginning with a woman singing and grinding corn on a stone-grinder early in the morning (which is not in the novel), colourful and eye-catching scenes of farming activities, the lyrics composed in the folklore tradition like “ teraneri ambaradaage nesara nagutaane …” (‘climbing his chariot, the Sun smiles in the sky’, surely one of the finest lyrics composed for a film), the rural huts being less filthy and crowded -- with all these features, the film shows us a serene and lovely village-life ruined by the changes Maranki introduces. That is, the film overtly privileges rural life as against city-life and depicts ‘Change brought in by City-mores’ in darker colours than what the written text suggests. To emphasize the destructive aspect of ‘Change,’ Maranki, the metaphor for change, is shown in the film always wearing an eye-catching red-blouse –the red colour acting as a sign of both attraction and threat. Further, nakedness in words doesn’t reveal anything; but the little flesh shown in the visual medium was enough to be given an ‘A’ certificate (though the director considered it unjust).
In one of his seminal essays, A. K. Ramanujan argues that a translation has to obey three sets of conflicting allegiances –to the text, to the reader, and to the culture of the text translated. 2 In principle, a translator has to give equal importance to all these three allegiances; however, in practice, since they are conflicting, allegiance to one or the other factor dominates. Also, we notice that this dominance of one factor or another varies depending upon the assymetrical power-relations existing between the source language and target language. If, in the politico-economic hierarchy of literary works, the source language is supposed to be much lower than the target language, allegiance to the implied reader of the translated text dominates; and, as a consequence, during the process of translation, the entire ‘rhetoricity’ of the original is consciously wiped out clean.
‘Rhetoricity’ is the term Gayatri Spivak uses in her essay “ The Politics of Translation,” in which she argues that “ a translator should engage herself/himself with the ‘rhetoricity’ of the original.” 3 Here, by rhetoricity she means the network of connotations built by different registers of a language, intentional uses of particular terms, proverbs and addresses. To illustrate this point, she compares her translation with another translation of a story by Mahashweta Devi. Spivak translates the title of the story ‘stanadayini’, as ‘Breast-giver’ whereas another translator uses ‘The Wet-nurse’; and Spivak points out the difference in these words: “ The alternative translation … thus neutralizes the author’s irony in constructing an uncanny world; … the theme of treating the breast as organ of labour-power-as-commodity … is lost even before you enter the story” (p.400).
Whereas the non-Kannada-English-knowing ‘implied reader’ decides the tone, vocabulary and style of the translated version, the implied entertainment-seeking mass-audience decides the texture and tone of the film, which, as analyzed earlier, is loud, does away with all the subtle innuendos and ambiguities, emphasizes the sensuous character of Maranki at the cost of Thimma, and thus makes explicit what is implicit in the novella.
However, I do not want to push this argument too far. For, publishing houses have to sell their products to survive, and the reader of translations has to be persuaded –if not pampered –to buy the translation and give his time to it. Similarly, a film, in order to succeed, has to cater to the taste and expectations of an average spectator and not only of a connoisseur. Consequently, a series of compromises has to be made during the process of translation from one language to another, and one medium to another. Each ‘Avatar’ has its own compulsions as well as justification.
In fact, even the so-called ‘original’ written work is a ‘translation’ – the author ‘translates’ into words the abstract and amorphous thoughts and images of his mind; and while doing so, he also has to make a series of compromises from the point of view of communicability: providing a causal link to the incidents, transforming images to be both emotive and thought-provoking, in short giving the abstract ideas and images “a local habitation.”
The word ‘translation,’ from Latin ‘translatus’ ( trans + latus = borne, carried), means both ‘to turn from one language to another’ and also ‘to remove from one (cultural) place to another’ . Only, one wishes, a translator /film-director could be a bit more sensitive while making the necessary compromises than what he/she appears to be, today.
1. Shrikrishna Alanahalli, Parasangada Gendethimma ( 1974; rpt.
2. Vinay Dharwadker, “ A. K. Ramanujan’s Theory and Practice of
Translation,” in ed. Susan Bassnette and Harish Trivadi, Post-Colonial Translation: Theory And Practice (New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 114-141.
3. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “ The Politics of Translation,” in ed.
Dr. C. N. Ramachandran
Labels: Book Reviews