If there is one film you absolutely must not miss this year, it is Kantara. A melting pot of genres, the Kannada film is a cinematic experience that is difficult to articulate into words. Rishab Shetty, who has acted in, written, and directed Kantara, has managed to stitch a bewitching story rooted in Dakshina Kannada.
For the longest time—after the magnanimous performance of S.S. Rajamouli’s Baahubali—common perception has been that a pan-India film is packed with a shockingly high budget. But films like Thiruchitrambalam, The Kashmir Files, Karthikeya 2, Vikrant Rona, and Sita Ramam (all released in 2022) —with a budget less than 100 crores—have managed to find audiences beyond the language they were made in. Kantara can easily be the crowning jewel of this lot, redefining the tropes of a pan-India film.
The ‘RRR’ trio of the Kannada film industry—Rishab Shetty, Rakshit Shetty, and Raj B Shetty—are on a mission to reformulate the cinematic language by creating a unique brand of films, focused on folklore and rooted in native ethos including Yakshagana, Paddana, Bhoota Kola, Daivaradhane, Naagaradhane, and Kambala.
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‘Regional is more universal’
Kantara translates to ‘mysterious forest,’ and that is where the 149-minute-long plot of the belief system of generations of natives in the coastal region is based. The villager Kaadubettu Shiva (Rishab) is at the centre of the story. He is the son of a man who used to perform Bhoota Kola, a ritual performed in coastal Karnataka. For a brief period of time, the performer embodies the spirit of Daiva (a demigod), a bridge between nature and human beings. But during one such ceremony, Shiva’s father mysteriously disappears after a quarrel with a feudal landlord who insisted on getting back the land his ancestors had given to a tribal community.
Shiva grows up to be farther and farther away from his lineage after his father’s disappearance. He is not a quintessential urban hero. Much like most characters in the film, his personality is interspersed with shades of grey. Despite being one of the prominent central figures in Kantara, he is a “representative of a section of youth” who are not the most well-behaved or woke.
The story moves forward with Shiva and Deputy Range Forest officer Murali (Kishore Kumar G) at loggerheads concerning the protection and preservation of the native ethos and environment. Parallelly, Dhani (played by the impeccable Achyuth Kumar) plays a friendly village head who appears liberal on the face but his pride rooted in casteism surfaces time and again. From here on, the story is meticulously woven with tales of legends, rituals, and beliefs embedded in its native cultural language.
The film is a satiating blend of folklore and masala. The writing, choreography, cinematography (by Arvind S Kashyap) and music by B. Ajaneesh Loknath are extraordinary, to say the least, and yet grounded. But the best part of the film is in the last 15 minutes, which is no less than a cinematic masterpiece. This film is made for theatres. Loknath’s throbbing background music, coupled with Kashyap’s cinematography merged with Rishab’s magnetic screen presence and skilled direction, is a sight to behold. In another sequence, Rishab participates in Kambala, a race with the rider sitting atop buffaloes in a slushy field. His commitment to the character on screen and off screen is highly commendable.
In a recent interview with film critic Anupama Chopra, Rishab said, “regional is more universal”. I couldn’t agree more.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)