If KGF – Part 1 opened the doors of the world of Kannada cinema to many Non – Kannadigas, for me it was a film called – Garuda Gamana Vrishaba Vahana (GGVV), a 2021 film that took me to Kannada films. GGVV is a gritty film about a set of local gangsters – a genre that has been flogged to death in Indian cinema. Nevertheless, as a film, it stood out because of its packaging. Set in rural Dakshin Kannada – a terrain not exposed to non-Kannadigas, the makers deftly weaved the roots of the local culture, the language, and the sub-plots into the narrative that gave an interesting twist and flavour to a regular mafia/Don story. In this review of Kantara, why am I waxing eloquent on GGVV, you may wonder.
Well, to me it appeared that the Director of Kantara – Rishab Shetty who is also the film’s main protagonist, took a leaf from GGVV in which he also happened to play a crucial lead role. The story of Kantara, as the title suggests, hovers around a forest in Karnataka with mysticism thrown in for effect. If I may add, the story is an oft-beaten one that we have seen in Hindi and Tamil films from time immemorial, of scheming feudal landlords facing off with landless labourers in what is a typical class struggle. For most parts, the film has only moments that we have seen before including crass jokes on women and objectification.
What sets the film apart despite having the usual masala fare as the storyline is its nativity pivot. As the film opens, the first 30 mins are just spent introducing us to the various native elements of the land including the art form of Bhoota Kola which has an important role to play in the end. Thereafter the film meanders in expected lines with familiar tropes till the climax only to be brought back to kindle some interest in the last twenty minutes. This is one film that is saved by the last 20 minutes in a powerful climax. Rishab who also has written the story brings in elements of mysticism and spiritualism which add to the intrigue quotient of what is an otherwise normal revenge story.
There is a brilliance that the director displays in the making. Whether it is the action choreography, the constantly moving camera, the coverage of the expansive forests, and the rustic background score, the film’s making is of a high order. Special mention for the songs and the background score during the art performances. The performances of the main cast are at the right pitch, especially of Rishab Shetty who gives a controlled performance for a hyper-masculine role. Kishore as the forest officer also does his job commendably but I felt he was done in by the arc his character takes all of a sudden. There are some missing links in the writing there, I felt.
Kantara was released on the 30th of September and the film has done well at the box office, taking Kannada films to the next level after the success of the KGF series. I couldn’t watch it on the big screen though many were constantly nudging me to watch the film and review it, in the past few weeks. I finally caught up with the film last night on Amazon Prime where it started streaming on Friday. As you can make out from this review, I found Kantara to be an ordinary film but with some extraordinary packaging. I am still wondering if I missed something.