Girish Karnad – Utsav aka The Festival (1984)


Playwright, actor, director, and theatre scholar Girish Karnad conceived this film as a popularly-accessible tribute to the glories of Sanskrit drama, turning one of the most beloved of classical plays, the ca. 5th century “Little Clay Cart” (ascribed to Shudraka) into a contemporary spectacle with A-list stars and music by major filmi composers. Lavish sets and costumes, jewelry and hairstyles, all inspired by classical paintings and sculptures, evoke the glories of the Gupta age, while saucy dialog in contemporary (if properly Sanskritized) Hindi recreates the playwright’s satirical vision of the demimondaine world of the city of Ujjayini. By reminding viewers that, for ancient Indians, “pleasure” and “profit” (kama and artha) were right up there with “virtue” (dharma) among the principal Aims of Life, the film can serve as a refreshing antidote to the over-emphasized philosophical and mystical preoccupations of the much-studied texts of the classical period (e.g., Bhagavad-gita). Its Rabelaisian cast of characters — the voluptuous and talented courtesan, witty cat burglar, pompous monk, wild-eyed revolutionary — mirror those found in the worldly-wise story anthologies of the classical period (such as those translated in J. A. B. van Buitenen’s Tales of Ancient India), and thus bring to life their urbane world of fleshly delights. Continue reading