Kannada movie industry is undergoing a transformation of sorts – it’s like watching a pupa change into a butterfly. Sure, we still have hackneyed plots and remakes, but even these show glimpses of technical brilliance, not to mention great attention to detail in terms of settings and costumes.
A major reason for this transformation is the surge of young talent – they are brash, bold and passionate about movie-making, unafraid to push the boundaries of commercial cinema. The movie that everyone is talking about this year has to be Ulidavaru Kandanthe – a literal translation given by the makers is ‘As seen by the rest’. Written and directed by Rakshit Shetty, the movie clearly is Shetty’s personal, devoted tribute to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Here’s a guy who absolutely lives and breathes cinema – it’s not possible for a sane person to take a risk with this kind of script. Borrowing the stylistic elements of Kill Bill and Sin City, and putting it through a Rashomonisque narration, and yet, doing all this with authentic Kannada flavour – it is the work of a wizard.
Shot exclusively in Malpe, the movie deals with the death of a local thug. A reporter follows up on the events that led to his murder – so the movie, like Kill Bill, is narrated in ‘chapters’. We are even treated to our own version of Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang - ‘Knock Knock’ J We are introduced a motley crew of sorts – who are all linked to the death in both direct and indirect ways.
Asymmetric and non-linear plot-lines work only if the actors are par excellence – and so is the case in ULidavaru Kandanthe. There is no ‘hero’, given everyone is an important cog in the wheel, taking the story forward. Yet, even in the limited screen presence, you can’t find a single fault in any of the portrayals. But then, great portrayal is just one part of acting - persuading the audience to care about the character is quite another challenge. Indeed why will the audience, constantly fed on a diet of six-pack masculinity and padded femininity, even bother about a bunch of ‘ordinary looking’ folks? There’s a schizophrenic who’s convinced a cawing crow is after him, boding ill omen; there’s the love-lorn boat mechanic, there’s the fisherwoman who has lost everyone in her family...and then there’s this trio of trigger happy small-town bullies. So here’s the wizardry – in both direction and acting – you do get to care, empathise, and think of these characters long after the credits have rolled.
Kishore as the die-hard romantic barely has a two lines of dialogues – but simply towers in the movie. Tara proves why she is indeed the tara of Kannada movie industry. Achyuth Kumar as the crazy man hallucinating about crows is funny and sad at the same time. Rakshit Shetty manages to evoke disgust and laughter. The two young ladies in the movie – Yagna Shetty and Sheetal Shetty – what a refreshing change from false eyelashes and hair extensions. The power-politics of a small community is brought out brilliantly, without being overt, and you realise the sympathy you feel for all these characters is because their lives, like ours, is so inconsequential...so dispensable...it just amounts to nothing.
I simply love the way Rakshit has interwoven local folklore so intrinsic to Udupi region into the plot. Again, this is not done with any overt narration, there’s no “telling the tale” – yet, you are instantly connected to the timelessness of the region. Well for those of you who don’t know, there’s an interesting story of how the Udupi Krishna idol reached Udupi, all the way from Dwaraka. In Dwaraka,the idol was encased in a lump of clay, and no one had any idea about it. It so happened that some merchant sailors loaded this heavy mound of clay in their ship, to be used as ballast. But as they set out in the Arabian Sea, there was a fearsome storm and the ship ran aground near the Malpe coast. Madhvacharya who witnessed the ship’s distress is said to have rescued the sailors. When the sailors wished to reward the Acharya for his kindness, he requested them to give the mound of clay – he knew what it contained. As his disciples carried their heavy load towards Udupi, it split open, and the Krishna idol revealed itself.
Watch out for many more quirks – especially Rakshit’s now famous ‘Cuban kid’ story and the absolutely adorable child nicknamed ‘Democracy’. I have a feeling it’s some obtuse reference to Che J But did I say there’s no hero in the movie? I was wrong. The hero of the movie is the music – it assumes a character of its own throughout the movie. Music director Ajaneesh Loknath is, without a doubt, a great experimenter. It’s unlike any tunes or lyrics I’ve heard in a long, long time. Given the dusty Western outback-type narration, plus the overpowering influence of Tanrantino-Rodriguez duo, Ajaneesh has managed to give an OST that incorporates these influences, while retaining the coastal folk beats.
My biggest regret is that I won’t be able to watch this on the big screen – what a visual treat this movie is! Rakshit serves you with the gathering monsoon clouds, the salty air, the stench of fish, the bubbling rice in a mud pot – and the forlornness that surrounds it all. It makes you ache for a place like this – untouched by time, clinging on to its culture – especially if you are from a city that’s now unrecognizable in spirit and structure.
© Sumana Khan - 2014