Written by: Siddhartha Krishnan . 5 Min Read
‘Rooted in culture’ is a phrase that is all over the internet right now after the recent success of Kannada film ‘Kantara’. But what does it really mean? Does it simply mean invoking the past, remembering forgotten heroes and mythical gods? Or, is there more to it, like being true to the time, the people and the world that the film is exploring? In filmmaking, the latter surely is a more daunting task, while the former might just require a star, few whistle-worthy dialogues, horrid graphics and a big marketing budget to cover all of that. In the recent past, within the supernatural genre, I can only name two films that have pulled off this feat. One is Tumbbad, and the other is Kantara. But, while Tumbbad is a near perfect film in all aspects, Kantara is not without its flaws. However, where it matches the horror classic is in its world building.
Kantara’s world is magical. The attention to detail is immaculate. So, the locations, costumes and sets blend perfectly with the story. We can therefore escape effortlessly into the jungles of the western ghats in Dakshina Kannada, where Panjurli Daiva, the local deity in animist form, is the protector of the forest, its creatures and its people. We also meet Shiva, a Kambala athlete from the fictional village of Kaadubettu, a darling of his people, a rogue occasionally, who goes through a fascinating character arc to meet his destiny. The film strikes a contract with its audience, through a cleverly written opening sequence, promising an entertaining journey. The makers have wisely invested their energy in selecting a very capable supporting cast, an area which can easily be overlooked in films like these. This investment has paid them rich dividends.
The stellar camerawork of cinematographer, Arvind Kashyap, is a powerful aspect of the storytelling. He gives perhaps the most well-lit film of this year, which reminded me of Girish Gangadharan’s work in the Malayalam film, ‘Jallikattu’, that was also shot mostly in a forest. As in Jallikattu, every source of light, whether natural or artificial, has been used brilliantly to create stunning moments. The fight scenes especially were scintillating. Girish Gangadharan went onto win a national award for Jallikattu and grab a big project like ‘Vikram‘ thereafter. The same is expected of Arvind Kashyap with the talent that he has displayed.
In terms of performances, the film rides on the shoulders of its lead character. Shiva, played by a brilliant Rishab Shetty, who is also the director and writer of the film, gives one of the best performances of the year. The transformation that his character goes through over the course of the film leading to the much talked about climax has been essayed to perfection. In an interview with RJ, Siddharth Kannan, Rishab mentions how he doesn’t see any other hero doing this role, because, since childhood he has grown up watching the Bhoota Kola rituals. The deep understanding of the culture has helped him become Shiva with ease.
Kantara is unabashedly a commercial entertainer. It plays to the galleries with its outlandish fight scenes and dialogues. The film falters slightly with the love story between Shiva and Leela, which did not come across as convincing as the rest of the parallel storylines. At its core, it is the oppressor vs the oppressed story, set against a backdrop of folklore and local legends. Hence, the film is aptly titled – Kantara. A Legend.
However, what the film cannot be criticized for is laziness, both in vision and execution. The makers have given it their all to win over the audience, and the effort has been appreciated by both the masses and the classes. When shows are running to packed halls even after a month, there is a truth in there which nobody can deny.
I’ve seen three films by the Shetty brothers (Rishab, Raj and Rakshit) this year, ‘Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana’, ‘Charlie 777’ and now ‘Kantara’. In my opinion, they are naturally skilled in two aspects of writing, namely world building and creating magical moments out of the ordinary. A scene comes to mind in this regard, in Raj B. Shetty’s ‘Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana’ where the character Bhramaiyya, a sub-inspector, has lost all hope. He wants to end his suffering and asks his driver to take him to an isolated location. What follows thereafter was unexpected and elevates a decent gangster film into a really good one. There are similar evocative moments in Kantara as well.
I feel with their vision, energy and ability to offer something new to their audiences, the Shetty brothers are a blessing to the Kannada and Indian film industry. They make good films consistently which is not possible if you are not a good student of cinema. Making a big budget film look like one may be a difficult task. But making a 16-crore film look like a 100-crore one requires ingenuity. Therein lies the magic of cinema. Thus, Kantara is a film that breaks the mould in more ways than one.
Siddhartha Krishnan is the author of Two and a Half Rainbows – A Collection of Short Stories. He is also an enthusiastic blogger and, on his website, www.whatsonsidsmind.com, he regularly puts out his essays, articles, travelogues and movie reviews.
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