Preserving Kannada cinema: Suneel Puranik’s plans for a film museum

How the chairman of the Karnataka Chalanachitra Academy hopes to document the film industry’s 85-year-old history

The Chairman of the Karnataka Chalanachitra Academy (KCA), Suneel Puranik, has been in the Kannada film industry for over three decades. A popular name in showbiz, Puranik has worked in every branch of film-making.

Almost a year and a half after he took over as KCA chairman, (he took charge on January 2, 2020) Puranik looks back at what aspired to and how much he was able to achieve.

“The first thing I did when I took over was to create a road map for myself and the team. There is more to an academy than conducting film festivals. We need to create projects, reach out to younger filmmakers and create a more dynamic and academic approach so that they get to study the history of the Kannada film industry. In my three-year tenure, we set certain targets and we are happy to have made some progress in that direction.”

Puranik’s first challenge as KCA chairman was the Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFes). “The preparations for the 12th edition of BIFFes was already in progress. I picked up from where it was left off and had 48 days to create an event on par with international standards. Credit also goes to Vidya Shankar, the artistic director of BIFFes, who was instrumental in making the festival a success.”

The first lockdown followed close on the heels of the festival. “We were so thankful that we missed the pandemic by a hairline. BIFFes ended on March 4, by March 5 all the guests had left, and we heard of the first case on March 8.”

The lockdown gave Puranik some breathing space. “The team and I decided to create an archive for Kannada films. We created a committee comprising Vidya shankar, Suresh Moona (art historian), Arun Sagar (art director), Ashok Kashyap (cinematographer) and Muralidhara Khajane (journalist who worked with The Hindu). We travelled to the Film Institute in Pune to study the film archive there and how it functions. We then prepared a project report including all their successes. We have already started collecting songs, films, and original prints for our archive.”

Puranik has plans to create a Kannada film museum and library at the KCA building in the next six months. “We need to protect 85 year-old history of Kannada cinema. We will also digitise it so that the access will be easier to students as well as anyone interested in cinema.

Puranik’s directorial debut,Gurukula, focused on the ancient education system of India and won the State Award in the Best Children’s Movie category. He did not make another film. “I am particular about content, both as an actor and director. That has kept me away from doing films or serials just for monetary gains. I have lost on quite a few films simply because I refused to compromise on content or execution of the ideas.”

He has kept himself occupied with making films on historical figures of Karanataka for television. “The one on Sangolli Rayanna, was said to be the very first daily soap on Star in Kannada.”

Puranik has travelled the length and breadth of Karnataka studying dying art and folk forms. “I am now in a position to help revive those dying art forms too. During my travels, I realised the dire financial state that these artisans live in. A simple folk dance like Kolatta is dying.”

Future plans include a Film Institute in Karnataka and a syllabus to encourage women in film-making. “With this programme, we aim to reach out to women in rural areas too.”

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