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Kannada film to light up Cannes Film Festival 2024 with Banjara sunrise folk tale

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Cannes Film Festival 2024: One of the oldest folk tales in Kannada is about a village plunging into darkness after an elderly woman runs away with a rooster whose crowing caused the sun to rise every morning. Also read: Benegal’s restored Manthan set to be screened at Cannes

Kannada filmmaker Chidananda S Naik’s short film Suryakanthihooge modhalugothagidhu (Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know) is part of the film schools’ competition at the Cannes film festival to be held from May 14 to 25.

“In our community the folk tale about the stolen rooster is a common idiom, everyone knows it,” says Chidananda S Naik, a Mysore-based filmmaker and an alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, referring to the popularity of the folklore in Karnataka.

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Centuries after the oral folk narrative was passed on from one generation to another, the rest of the world too is ready to hear the fascinating tale of the stolen rooster from Karnataka soon, thanks to Naik.

Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know, Naik’s debut short film in Kannada language (original Kannada title is Suryakanthihooge modhalugothagidhu), based on the rooster’s story is part of the upcoming Cannes film festival’s competition section for film schools around the world.

Story of the stolen rooster

“I am from the Banjara community in Karnataka,” says Naik, who was born in a panda (Banjara hamlet) in the state’s Shimoga district. The 28-year-old filmmaker began collecting folk tales from his community four years ago and discovered that there were only ten older adults who could still narrate these stories.

Karnataka is home to a sizeable population of India’s Banjara or gypsy community of pastoralists who mostly live today in Rajasthan, Punjab, Karnataka and Telangana. Naik is the first from his community to take a film based on their culture to the Cannes festival, which will be held from May 14 to 25.

“Ours is an oral culture, everything is transmitted orally. But folklore is diminishing today. The new generation doesn’t know any folk tales from the community,” he laments. “A folk tale is a poetic text that carries some of its cultural contexts within it. It is also a traveling metaphor that finds new meaning with each new telling.”

One of the folk tales he found during his research was the story of the stolen rooster. Naik instantly connected with the tale of an elderly woman exiled by the community when the sun ceases to rise after she steals the village rooster.

“When I was a child I thought all these folk tales were true,” beams Naik. “A tale like someone thinking the sun is rising because their rooster was crowing or the story of a talking tiger gave me a happy and comfortable space.”

Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know is based on a Banjara folk tale about the theft of a rooster plunging a village into darkness.
Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know is based on a Banjara folk tale about the theft of a rooster plunging a village into darkness.

Shooting a film in four days

When Naik was told to make a movie in four days as part of his one-year direction course at the FTII, Pune, he went back to the story of the stolen rooster. “To pass out of the film institute, we had to submit a film at the end of the course,” he says. “We had to shoot within four days in a 50-km radius from the institute on a one lakh rupee budget.”

Initially aimed at training Doordarshan employees, the one-year certificate course by FTII, Pune was thrown open to all in 2008 allowing students to study direction, cinematography, editing and sound.

Naik had just completed his medical degree and had joined as a duty doctor at the Krishna Rajendra Government Hospital in Mysore when he decided to apply to FTII, Pune for its one-year course in direction.

“I wrote the entrance examination in 2020, but had to wait for another two years for the course to start because of the coronavirus pandemic,” he says. “Though we lost two years, we are still called the FTII 2020 batch.”

Deeply moved by the power of images, Naik had been struggling to confess his dream of becoming a filmmaker to his parents. Once he did, there was no looking back.

“I wanted to tell stories, especially from my community as well as the stories I used to see around the hospital I worked at,” he says. “The FTII was the right place to learn how to tell them.”

Mysore-based Chidananda S Naik, a doctor-turned-filmmaker, is the first from his Banjara community to screen a film at the Cannes festival.
Mysore-based Chidananda S Naik, a doctor-turned-filmmaker, is the first from his Banjara community to screen a film at the Cannes festival.

From Pune to Cannes in four years

Naik shot Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know for four days during April-May last year in Panshed, 48 km from Pune. The first cut was completed in July 2023 when his batch passed out of the film institute.

“The film institute submitted my short film to the Cannes festival’s La Cinef competition section for film schools this year. I wasn’t aware until the film was selected,” beams Naik.

Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know is among 18 short films selected to La Cinef from among 2,263 entries submitted by film schools across the world this year. “The film reflects the repertoire of stories about stories, a meta-fiction where the burden of stories is transformed and has its own weight, will, and rage,” says the director.

A team work by his batchmates from four filmmaking departments — direction, cinematography, editing and sound — at FTII, Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know has M S Jehangir, a popular Kannada actor, among the cast, a cinematic coup by Naik.

“I sent the script to Jehnagir Sir. He liked the script and came to Pune for the shooting. He told me to treat him like a friend and didn’t accept any fee for his role as a grandfather in the film,” adds Naik who is currently writing the script for his debut feature film.

Among La Cinef entries vying for the top prize are Beijing Film Academy’s Banished Love, London Film School’s It’ll Pass, Guadalajara University, Mexico’s Elevacion, Dar-Al Kalima University, Palestine’s The Deer’s Tooth and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece’s The Chaos She Left Behind.



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