Kantara shows where and how Hindi films are going wrong!

Rishab Shetty writes, directs and plays the male lead in Kantara. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

I finally got to see the Hindi Kantara (which means a mythical forest and is pronounced Kaantaaraa) at a nearby movie-hall. The mini-theatre is one I have gone to fairly frequently, but for the first time, I found it packed to capacity—on a weekday late-night show! And among the audience applauding or laughing at several scenes and lines were at least four to five children!

Moral of the story: Kantara primarily graphically demonstrates where—and how!—Hindi films are going wrong!

How does anyone make a film that compels people to watch it on the big screen without waiting for its OTT release, which is usually within just the next 4 to 8 weeks? That too, released in another language dub in mainly night shows? How does one make a box-office figure like Rs 23 billion when you have made the film in 1.6? How do you connect so much and so quickly with a diverse pan-Indian audience despite local sensibilities within the film, substantial parts in the local language (Kannada) with subtitles for those parts in Hindi alone, and not even English? How do you attain such success minus big stars?

The answer: sheer conviction in one’s product, and to leave it to the Almighty after merely ensuring the return on investment math with a sensible budget for the story. With moneys spent on absolute necessities like great cinematography, VFX including DI (digital intermediate, which harmonizes the look of the film in terms of color grading), an impressive background music score, and actors with conviction made to act as the characters rather than brands or well-entrenched mages of their personae. And a major emotional quotient and entertainment quotient supplied in the right way. The songs too, I am sure, have local appeal as they are steeped in melody, classical base, and folk. Unlike in Hindi cinema where we have a humongous overdrive of a particular language that is not Hindi.

After all these assets are in place, it does not matter at all whether the story is today’s or from the past, set in a village or in a city, whether the hero is an urban Adonis or a rural demigod-like character, or there are underdressed nymphets cavorting in needless and cacophonous item numbers filmed as irrelevant and monotonous music videos!

Kantara is (for me, in terms of order of watching), the third action drama in a fortnight where an action thriller blends with and originates from something ancient. After Kartikeya 2 and Ram Setu, it is probably the best and certainly the most universally appealing story among them all, tracing its roots to 1847 and to a legend in rural Karnataka.

Boons, curses, spirits, Kambala (buffalo racing) and devotional rituals mix with royalty, villagers, upright cops and corrupt politicians to emerge as a riveting story centering around a king who had everything except mental peace and thus, good sleep, way back in the 19th century. He acquiesces with Panjurli Daiva, a form of spirit worshipped by the locals, to give some of his forest land to the local tribes in exchange for peace and happiness granted by Daiva.

The locals are happy, but also warn the king that any attempt to go back on the ‘deal’ of sorts will incur the wrath of Guliga Daiva, who is said to be Panjurli’s companion. This comes true 123 years later, thanks to a greedy descendant or successor of the king.

And then, still later in 1990, a forest officer, Muralidhar (Kishore), is sent there with the assignment that he has convert the area into a forest reserve, where even hunting is not allowed. His major opponent is Shiva (Rishab Shetty), with support from the villagers and landlord, Devendra (Achyuth Kumar), who is also the same king’s successor. Shiva is a multiple-time winner in the annual Kambala race, but has a past where he has lost his father during a village ritual. There is another key issue: his girlfriend, Leela (Sapthami Gowda) is now a new recruit in the forest officer’s team and she is placed there, ironically, thanks to the influence of Shiva himself.

The film’s length may be a bit overlong but there is no moment of boredom, really. The action is intense and fiery and the present (1990 for the story), past (1970) and remote past (1847) are well-blended. The technical side is upbeat, as said earlier, with a lot of painstaking effort, and the night-shots and songs are especially well-shot.

Rishab Shetty gets deeply into the skin of Shiva and it is great that he has been able to direct the film as well, that too after writing it excellently. Sapthami Gowda makes a decent Leela despite a sketchy role. Manasi Sudhir provides a nice comic-cum-emotional deviation—her constant reprimanding of her son and his friends alternates with very endearing caring ways for the same trio. Her body language is outstanding as she merges these two traits. Kishore as Muralidhar is superb, never out of sync, while the rest fit the bill, and Shanil Guru and Prakash Thuminad are very good as Shiva’s friends.

Of course, like in most South films, there are too many people talking too much, but that’s a small negative.

Hombale Films recently gave us the blockbuster KGF 2 and has struck pay-dirt again!  But though I did not care a whit for that film (despite a repeat watch later to see what people saw in it!), this film is a winner.

Rating: ***1/2

Hombale Films’ Kantara  Produced by: Vijay Kiragandur  Written & Directed by: Rishabh Shetty  Music: B. Ajaneesh Loknath  Starring: Rishab Shetty, Sapthami Gowda, Kishore, Achyuth Kumar, Pramod Shetty, Shanil Guru, Prakash Thuminad, Manasi Sudhir, Naveen D. Padil, Swaraj Shetty, Chandrakala Rao, Raghu Pandeshwar & others



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