Kantara – A Movie That Stays With You
Early in October, my friend asked me to watch this movie. I said it was impossible that a Kannada movie would screen in theaters near me. I did look it up and it was running at a theater a few miles away. Then, a chance conversation with a neighbor had me at the theater this past weekend, spellbound.
WARNING: Spoilers abound
Kantara starts off with a water buffalo race (Kambala) that also introduces us to the hero, a stocky not yet middle aged Shiva. He loves his drinks, fish fry and his buffaloes in that order. He is village lout, a good-for-nothing according to his mother and an overall loveable ruffian for the rest of the village.
As the story unfolds, we participate in the the Bhoota Kola, we sit at the edge of the seat as the buffaloes race in muddy water, we flinch when Shiva roughs up people, we cringe when he pinches Leela’s hips and peeks at her bathing.
The camera lingers just enough, it glides when there is movement, it is unobtrusive when the grama devatas possess the anointed person. We gasp in horror, we startle when the protagonist does. The camera feels like it is in your eyes. You are not the onlooker, you are a participant.
The music is haunting, it is uplifting, it is dark and it is sublime. It elevates the movie by being understated when needed and being dramatic when we might lose interest.
Almost all of the movie is shot in a forest, at night, in the rains. The casting is fantastic and I could imagine each one of the characters as people I would run into if I were to venture into a forest dwelling of sorts.
The absence of a separate comic track instead imbuing the film with witty repartees in every frame works brilliantly.
One of the things that I loved best about the film was the freshness in depicting sexuality and romantic relationships. There is no moralising, just an acceptance that this is how it is. The same appealed to me about the depiction of food, there is no stand being taken, no shouting from the rooftops, no underplaying the way of life. The real, rawness of the everyday shots is what elevates this movie.
The best part of the film however is the tenderness and respect with which the daiva aradhane, the bhoota kola is picturised. In April this year, I was in Albuquerque, at the Indian Cultural Center watching a Pueblo dance. I sat there feeling discomfort at something sacred being offered for tourist consumption. I worried that this film will do that with putting the camera on what is an indigenous belief and way of life. My worries were unnecessary as I sat in that dark theater feeling moved to tears, my skin erupting into goosebumps at the very end as guliga possesses Shiva.
As the end credits rolled, I sat there unwilling, unable to move, knowing that this movie experience is one for the books.
If you have not watched the move, run now to the theaters while you can still experience it on the big screen.
Phenomenal is an understatement.
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