Samskara (English title: Funeral Rites) is a 1970 Kannada-language film written by U. R. Ananthamurthy based on his eponymous novel, and directed and produced by Pattabhirama Reddy. Singeetam Srinivasa Rao was executive director for the film. It is considered a path-breaking film that pioneered the parallel cinema movement in Kannada. Samskara won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film (1970).
The word samskara means “ritual” in Kannada. The Madras Censor Board banned Samskara because it was felt that the strong anti-caste message of the film could spark tensions among the public. The ban was revoked by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The film was released and it went on to win awards at national and international levels.
The story is set in a street in a small village called Durvasapura in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. A majority of the people who live in the street belong to the community of Madhwas (a Brahmin community). The people who stay here have a traditional mindset and strictly follow the rules defined by their religion. Two of the main characters in the story are Praneshacharya (Girish Karnad) and Narayanappa. Praneshacharya is a devout Brahmin who has completed his Vedic education at Varanasi and has returned to Duravasapura and is considered as the leader of the Brahmin community of his village and the surrounding ones. His main goal is to attain liberation (moksha) and he is willing to go to any length to achieve it. To remain focused on his goal and as an act of self-sacrifice, he marries an invalid woman and hence remains celibate.
The other main character, Narayanappa, a Brahmin by birth but one who has rejected the set rules of Brahminism by eating meat and by keeping the company of a prostitute named Chandri. Once Narayanappa and his friends catches the sacred fish in the temple tank, cooks, and eats them. This causes the Brahmins in the villages to rise up against him. They approach Praneshacharya to throw him out of the village. Praneshacharya decides against taking this extreme step and he believes that Narayanappa can be convinced to get rid of his immoral acts. Once Narayanappa visits Shimoga and he returns to Duravasapura with high fever and dies. The Brahmins are left in a piquant situation because, according to Brahmin principles, a person who dies should be cremated as early as possible. None of the Brahmins wants to cremate the body — they feel that by cremating Narayanappa’s body, they will become polluted as he was against the Brahmin principles during his life.
However, the Brahmin principles also stipulate that a non-Brahmin cannot cremate the body of a Brahmin. Praneshacharya, being the leader, is responsible for finding the solution to this difficult problem. He reads the holy books, but they do not provide any solution. He then goes to a temple to pray to God and spends a whole day there. Disappointed at not being able to solve the problem, he trudges back home. On his way, he encounters Chandri. He is mesmerised by her beauty and when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he finds himself lying on Chandri’s lap. Chandri rushes home, finds that Narayanappa’s body has started to rot, gets it cremated in secrecy, and leaves Durvasapura. Praneshacharya is left in a piquant situation on whether he has to reveal his immoral act to the people of the village or keep quiet about it. Feeling guilty, he leaves the village but the guilt never leaves him. Finally deciding to own up to his act, he returns to the village and the story ends there. It’s left to the imagination of the viewer on whether Praneshacharya owns up or not.
Directed by : Pattabhirama Reddy
Produced by : Pattabhirama Reddy
Screenplay by : Girish Karnad, Pattabhirama Reddy
Story by : U. R. Ananthamurthy
Starring :Girish Karnad, P. Lankesh, Dasharathi Dixit, B. R. Jayaram, ,Lakshmi ,Krishnamurthy,
Music by : Rajeev Taranath
Cinematography : Tom Cowan
Edited by : Steven Cartaw Vasu
Distributed by : Rama Manohara Chitra
Release date : 1970
Running time : 113 minutes
Country : India
Language : Kannada
Girish Karnad as Praneshacharya,
Snehalatha Reddy as Chandri,
P. Lankesh as Narayanappa,
B. R. Shivaram,
C. R. Simha,
B. S. Rama Rao,
A. L. Srinivasamurthy,
18th National Film Awards
Best Feature Film — Pattabhirama Reddy
1970–71 Karnataka State Film Awards
Second Best Film — Pattabhirama Reddy
Best Supporting Actor — B. R. Jayaram
Best Story Writer — U. R. Ananthamurthy
Best Cinematographer — Tom Cowan