Vaijanath Biradar, who plays Irya the gravedigger in Girish Kasaravalli’s Kanasembo Kudureyaneri (Riding the Dreams) in Kannada won the best actor award at the recent Imagineindia Film Festival in Madrid. Said Kasaravalli, “this was the first time a Kannada actor was winning the best actor trophy in an international film festival held outside India”. Part of India’s impressive though shrinking reality cinema that is still savoured by a small and, interestingly enough, expanding group of audiences, encouraged and facilitated by the growing number of urban multiplexes, Kasaravalli’s work has travelled to several foreign movie festivals, including those in Italy, France, Spain and England.
Riding the Dreams follows the torturous life of Irya and his wife, Rudri (portrayed with excellence by Umashree), who eke out a living digging graves and helping with burial rituals. Irya has the singularly rare ability to foresee death, and every time someone in his village is about to die, Siddha, the messenger of death, appears in the gravedigger’s dream with the alert. The film is a hauntingly disturbing study of how India’s poorest of the poor live in utter degrading conditions, often going to bed hungry, and Biradar essays the gravedigger with brilliant sensitivity and natural ease, not often seen in Indian cinema.
Kasaravalli, one of the pioneers of the New Indian Cinema of the 1970s, and known for works such as The Ritual Ghatashraddha (The Ritual) and Tabarana Kathe (Tabara’s Story), remains undaunted in the face of big slick-looking productions, continuing to make movies that he strongly believes in. And he has a set of dedicated actors to help him.