Kannada films are reclaiming their place among world-class cinema and the latest to join the wagon of filmmaking that is a visual delight, a cultural treatise and a gripping tale of popular thought meets contemporary truth is Kantara.
A gripping story of the battle for dharma‘ and how he chooses his warriors, no matter how hard they try to defy fate’s attempts to remind them of their part in the scheme of things.
More importantly, it shamelessly and aesthetically portrays tradition as truth and not, as is often and conveniently done, as “myth.”
Actor and director Rishab Shetty’s Kantara is a tale set in his coastal homeland of Karnataka that examines how greed eventually destroys everything and truth finds its glorious pedestal, no matter how mighty the forces standing there. oppose.
‘Once upon a time’…as most of our folk tales begin…so does the film.
The central theme and backstory, with which the film begins, is of the legend of how a ‘daiva’the deity worshiped in the tradition of spirit worship or bhootaradhane which is indigenous to coastal Karnataka, emerged as an answer to a king’s quest for life and in return sought the expanse of forest as a grant of land for its people.
The film then traces the journey of tradition against human failings, especially greed, tradition against laws that may be just in their intent but are often detrimental to existing social ways of life and living.
It is also a nuanced expression of the internal battle between carrying the tradition and avoiding it for fear of what it can bring, due to a past experience associated with it.
Shiva, the protagonist played by Rishabh Shetty who is also the director of the film, plays the character of a young rural macho who works for a landlord who also runs his buffalo bulls for Kambala.
Shiva’s fight for “dharma”, which translates to “being right, just, true” in its broadest sense, is the constant of the film.
He is fighting for his rightful medal, he is fighting for his people who own the forests, he is fighting for his brother who has been wronged and killed.
But his fight, like the character sketch and the film’s humor is very rustic, organic and doesn’t have an air that makes it feel scripted. It’s very natural.
The humor is often cheeky and suggestive in places, but none out of place or forced. It adds to the character description and the equations between them.
The cast is flawless.
Kishore, as cop and main antagonist, is once again at his subtle best. Those who watched the Netflix production She, will see his “nayak” play an even more important role.
Female lead Saptami Gowda plays her love interest Leela is a newly trained forestry officer who is torn between tradition and duty. While those who would find fault and associate his “sexualization” and the “masculine gaze” as being “objectification”, can do so, but none of it is brash or dilutes the strength of his character.
The sketching of the female characters is actually subtle and strong – be it Leela, or Shiva’s mother or the owner’s submissive wife, Anammakka.
Leela’s struggles, her argument, the stance she takes at various turns, and the justification she gives each time, heighten her character. She is anything but a masala item added for commercial viability of the story.
There is no attempt to be holier than you or to paint a socio-economic reality with the brush of any agenda.
The filmmaker neither preaches nor demonizes and this is what reinforces the ease with which the public can accept the characters. The relatability quotient results from the fact that it is so close to reality.
The film is also a statement about the industry and its view of the world. Especially, given that we have a big industry in our country whose “celebrities” take turns posing as selectively concerned activists at this time of year.
The director here, through the hero, tells the forest cop who prevents the community from popping the “garnal” or raw firecracker during a kola and threatens to arrest all the “sampradaya”, “ninna appanige huttidavanadre nillisi torisa” (try if you were born from your father) – not out of arrogance, but out of sheer spine to prevent a harmless practice from being discontinued as a result of the rule changes.
And the beauty and grandeur with which the tradition of spirit worship has been portrayed through both the storytelling and the captivating cinematography truly deserves applause.
The one at the editing table also made sure it was smooth, well-paced, and rarely frameless.
I’m tempted but I’ll refrain from divulging story details lest it’s a spoiler. The climax left all the audience members in awe and received rave reviews from various contemporary South Indian stars who watched it.
The film is a feast for the eyes and ears and the team can certainly salute the creation of a beautiful piece of cinema that, without too much effort, tells a fantastic “anecdotal” story from the lore.
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