Published: 10th June 2019
How Girish Karnad took art films to Dharwad and why he refused to stop screenings despite thinning audiences
Karnad set up the Chitra Film Society in 1971 because at that time, small towns did not have access to art films
Today, no matter what movie you want to watch, you know that there's a platform through which you can access it. Things weren't the same back in the 1970s, while popular films did release all over, it wasn't the same for what we call 'art films'. The smaller towns like Dharwad didn't get a chance to experiencing art films and Girish Karnad wanted to change this. This is when he along with Vijay Nilekani and Professor Shafi Khan from Karnataka Arts College set up the Chitra Film Society in Dharwad in 1971. Their objective was clear that even the people in smaller cities must be getting to watch art movies in English, Hindi, Kannada and other languages.
Abdul Khan, the Secretary of this Chitra Film Society says, "Girish was an alumnus of Karnataka Arts College and he always wanted people to watch all these great films and so he started screening movies from this college. Those days, the width of the gauge of a film was 16 mm and it was huge. Which is why Girish thought that the college was the best place to have a screening since it had a huge gallery. He was shooting the film 'Samskara' and even that was screened here. About 83 members had become part of society at that point."
The show must go on: Srijana Ranga Mandira located in Karnataka Arts College in Dharwad is where the movies are screened now (Pic: Karnataka Arts College)
Chitra Film Society kept growing steadily and at one point had over 300 members. "Those were the golden days, Abdul said fondly. "We saw some dark days too when. When TV began to air mega serials, people stopped watching these art films. There were no new memberships. But at that time Girish said whether or not people come to watch, the movie screenings should continue and so we kept going. Till date, the society has screened over 1,000 movies and we currently have 63 members in our society." At present, the movies are screened at Srijana Ranga Mandira located in the Karnataka Arts College Campus.
Apart from the screening movies, the Society also invited directors and actors to interact with the audience. "Many times, when we did not know what to screen, Girish would make suggestions over the phone," he said.
Abdul said that was never a dearth of English art movies, "We are affiliated to the Federation of Film Societies of India and the societies get the movies through the embassies of different countries. So we never fall short. Recently too, Devara Naadalli, The Post, Hasiru Ribbon and a series of films on women empowerment were suggested by the famous actor, Amol Palekar. We screen movies once in two months and people come during their weekends with their families to watch them," he concludes.
Chitra Film Society is easily one of the oldest film societies in India, it will celebrate its Golden Jubilee next year. But without its founder, Girish, it might not be as joyous. But let's hope they carry on, no matter what happens. That's what he wanted after all.