Six years ago, when I asked Bengaluru-based historian Ramachandra Guha about contemporary Kannada cinema during a conversation, he advised me to watch the film ‘Thithi’. This film of Rama Reddy was awarded the National Award for ‘Best Film’ in Kannada language. I remember that hardly twenty-five to thirty people were present in a cinema hall in Delhi to watch this film. Although this film full of bitter reality and sense of humor, centered in a village in Karnataka, was highly appreciated in the international world as well. Non-professional actors acted in it without any ‘star’.
Last month when I was watching ‘Kantara’ directed by Rishabh Shetty, I was reminded of this. This film was housefull and the enthusiasm of the people was seen in the cinema hall. In fact, after the phenomenal box office success of ‘KFG’ and ‘Kantara’, Kannada cinema has caught the attention of audiences and critics across the country. Earlier, whenever there was talk of popular South Indian cinema, only Tamil and Telugu films were mentioned, while Malayalam cinema has been the choice of critics artistically. Obviously, the mention of Kannada cinema has been missing in the mainstream media.
The producer-director has called ‘Kantara’ as ‘Dant Katha’ in the sub-title of the film. Shetty is also the writer and lead actor of this film. The film has been woven from commercial cinematic sources, but the local folk-culture, tradition, faith-belief, customs, religious beliefs and myths of the coastal areas of South Karnataka have been beautifully threaded with the story. The struggle of the tribals with the state power for the forest and land is at the center of the story. There has been a lot of discussion about the visual combination of ‘Dev dancers’ in this film. This film will be remembered for years especially for the grand cinematography and cinematic prowess of ‘Climax’.
Many scenes in this film also show the superstition prevalent in the people. Many scenes do not stand the test of logic. But it doesn’t matter much to the audience of commercial cinema, as long as the film continues to entertain people. In this sense ‘Kantara’ is a successful film. It would be appropriate to add here that this film should be analyzed from the framework of popular cinema only. It would be futile to search for an accurate depiction of parallel cinema. Critics have commented that the way in which the local religious customs, ‘ghost kola’ scenes have been combined in this film, goes in favor of Hindutva politics.
Recently, during an interview, when I spoke to Girish Kasaravalli, a famous director of Kannada cinema, about the success of South cinema, he said:
“It is true that these films have brought attention to South Indian cinema and have received great recognition from the audience, but South Indian cinema has been attracting attention since a long time. This is not a recent thing. Be it Adoor Gopalakrishnan (Malayalam cinema) or Pattabhirama Reddy’s Samskara (1970), Bibi Karanth’s Chommana Dudi (1975). Other films also got pan-India recognition for their cinematic content and art. Since these films were never released on a very large scale, they did not get the same recognition from the audience as today’s films are getting.
Parallel cinema was initiated in Kannada cinema with the film based on the novel ‘Samskara’ by famous Kannada litterateur UR Ananthamurthy, in which famous playwright and actor Girish Karnad played a major role. Girish Karnad’s films Vansh Vriksha (1971), Kaadu (1973), Andonondu Kaladalli (1978) were also highly praised. Similarly, during the parallel cinema movement in the 70-80s, Girish Kasaravalli’s films Ghatashraddha (1977), Tabrana Kathe (1986) etc. got national-international fame. He is still active in filmmaking today. Films like ‘Thithi’ fall in the category of this parallel stream of Kannada cinema, where the reality of marginalized society is visible. In recent years the line between popular and parallel has blurred. The protagonist of ‘Kantara’ represents the marginalized society.
However, it is necessary to take a look at the history of Kannada cinema against the success of ‘Kantara’. The first film in Kannada was Bhakta Dhruva (1934). In the same year ‘Sati Sulochana’ was also released. However, Kannada cinema took the form of an industry only in the 1950s. Well-known actor Rajkumar (1929-2006) entered in the year 1954 with the film ‘Bedara Kannapa’ and acted in about 200 Kannada films. He was honored with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his contribution to cinema along with many other awards. Actor Puneet Rajkumar was his son, who died last year. His film ‘James’, which was released posthumously this year, made a splash at the box office. Similarly, there has been talk of a talented Kannada filmmaker, actor Shankar Nag (1954-1990), who directed RK Narayan’s much-loved work ‘Malgudi Days’ (1986-87) for Doordarshan, which is one of our childhood memories. included in the memories.
We can explain the success of ‘Kantara’ through the elements of the history of Kannada cinema, the changing social and political situation of the country, the means of communication (availability of internet, mobile phones) and the network of film distribution. ‘Kantara’ is a film woven with elements of folk culture, with an emphasis on locality. Is this the return of ‘local’ in the era of ‘global’? Where the success of ‘Kantara’ takes the stream of Kannada cinema, it will be interesting to see in the coming times. Along with this, the question of what Bollywood learns from this film also exists.