Where cinema turns into a spiritual experience


Kantara – ondu danta kathe

The words flash on the big screen, formed from the embers of the Panjurli Daiva’s torch, waking you from the surreal trance the legend held you in for two and a half hours.

A cinematic story told in the style of a folk tale spanning generations, this visual celebration of all things folk, from the remote lands of Kundapura on the Karnataka coast, is packed with rich detail from all walks of life. community life of this region – an impossible feat, one would think, and yet here it is.

Just as art serves the gods, entertainment serves mortals. This film, although presented as entertainment, is, as the viewer quickly discovers, a playground for the gods.

There may have been many Indian films that show worship rituals as a backdrop or as a story prop, but never before has there been a film where the worship of deities and their intimate relationship with the communities are the central hero and plot.

The archetype of the king who wanders into the world, restless and restless, who finds his way through the deep, dark and unknown forest in search of truth and salvation is as old as mankind, and just as universal. .

Let it be like Siddhartha who left the royal palace and his wife and son in search of the root of all suffering; or King Suratha who lost his kingdom and learned of the great power of the goddess in the refuge of a forest, as depicted in Devi Mahatmyam; or as in kantara, as a king who finds the love of a mother and the embrace of a maternal uncle (a nod to the matrilineal culture of coastal Karnataka) in the Panjurli Daiva of the forest. It is a deeply human experience to lose one’s way and to find oneself with one’s faith in the darkest and most difficult paths of one’s life.

And when we discover our divinity, whatever we choose to call it, do we treat it in good faith? In other words, do we keep our word to our gods? What happens when we don’t?

kantara maps this relationship between man and faith, man and his community, his ancestors, his environment, his land and finally his vocation, his desire and his nightmares when he refuses to respond to them. This isn’t just a retaliatory story – that would be too black and white. Nothing about kantara is simple, save the hearts of the people depicted in it.

The story, with a brief introduction to the origin of the daiva, is largely based in present-day Kundapura, where simple-minded people live on a plot of land at the edge of the forest, which they believe was given to them by decree of the gods. Their gods are forests – Panjurli, a benevolent daiva who embodies the boar, Varaha Swamy, and his brother Guliga who fiercely protects the oath between humans and gods. These two gods – there are many others in the region – are at the center of this story.

What does this belief mean in the 21st century, where the land is not valued in terms of faith, but in currency? Where boundaries and property are not just human-to-human transactions, but even the non-human world is meant to adhere to?

The story continues by exploring the complex relationships of a village community that barely understands the current law that governs their lives and destinies, the usual fights over small stakes, jealousies and intrigues over food, sex , love and money, the strains of tensions over family feuds that could erupt at any moment, tightened by “the outsider”, the stubborn law officer, who neither cares nor sympathizes with the blind ignorance of ordinary villagers.

These themes are all too familiar but barely represented in mainstream entertainment, clearly because they are too “sensitive” and our focus as environmentally conscious city dwellers or forest dwellers (it is seldom the two) is often tinged with external prejudices.

But the writers and director here navigate these themes masterfully and manage to display remarkable sensitivity to every aspect of this conflict. It was heartening to see that the narrative didn’t dive into labeling a “ruthless state” or claim casualties.

This maturity is seen throughout the film, in all aspects. The non-believer is not condemned, we do not end up cheering one side or the other between the state and the community. Even amid the tragedies that strike the community, there is a beautiful reconciliation at the end. The community and state officials realize that the deep mistrust that has divided them has been wedged in by selfish individuals with their own agenda fueled by greed.

Mistrust stems, in the first place, from having entirely different worldviews.

The secular state views the people’s divinely ordained claim to the land as a shrewd manipulation using faith as a deterrent. The community views the government’s claim to their land as imperialistic and authoritarian.

The reconciliation, at the end of the film, is nothing less than divine intervention, brought about by the patron god, with a compassionate smile, drawing everyone to him in a slow dance movement.

In the modern system of democracy, the voice of the people can prevail over the voice of the gods, not everyone may even believe in the same system of faith, but ultimately the state, the people and the people are united in their purpose – the prosperity and protection of the earth and all who are in it. And whether we believe it or not, that’s what the gods want for us too.

Now on to the cinematic experience of this beautiful story – Rishab Shetty has achieved nothing less than a miracle with this production.

With a modest budget of Rs. 16 crores, shot entirely in Kundapura, it is visually stunning in almost every scene without the aid of CGI and green screen techniques.

The only scene with CGI-assisted footage was one that couldn’t be done with human actors.

The cinematography is spectacular, blending a gritty, rugged, rustic village feel with surreal, magical realism in the forest and god scenes, seamlessly.

The mood of each scene is achieved primarily through impeccable lighting and camera angles. If the scenes weren’t so enchanting, they would make an excellent study for practical cinematography.

Makeup and costumes are painstakingly authentic and visually arresting. Rishab Shetty goes from rustic troublemaker Shiva with paan teeth to graceful god of extravagant style with elegant dance moves in the blink of an eye.

Physics is a big part of this movie, and the actor nails every nuance of Panjurli’s Dance, the fearsome Guliga’s Last Dance of Death with his unique signature moves.

Rishab Shetty stands out as the star of this film, but he is by no means the only one. Sapthami Gowda holds her ground in a film where the female lead isn’t just a pretty prop. As a woman with a modern education, she brings her own set of conflicts to the scene – bearing the burden of family expectations and their anger when they are disappointed with what her education and a government job mean for their sense of community and their beliefs.

Achyuth Kumar, the predictable villain, can make any character feel unpredictable, tricking the viewer into complacency as you experience the usual wickedness and cunning, but quickly turns into devilish cruelty that stuns you in disbelief.

The inimitable Kishore embodies a righteous forest agent who has very little patience for ignorant transgressions. All cast members – Manasi Sudhir, Pramod Shetty, Prakash Thuminad, Naveen Padil, Swaraj Shetty and Vinay Bidappa lend harmony to the performance.

Binding all the performances together, in sync, is B. Ajaneesh Loknath’s rich and energetic background score, which uses extraordinarily diverse techniques, such as throat singing, rock chants and riffs as well as traditional dolu and other instruments, and always sounds refreshingly truthful. To the earth.

A final word about the gods – which I fully believe in – breathed through this film and not just metaphorically.

In my tweet, typed right after watching the movie, I said, “We got our gods back.” It may have sounded like hyperbole, but watching the movie, the gods were the most real part for me.

In every ordinary village scene, I could step back and realize that I was watching fiction. But in every scene with the gods, I lost all sense of reality, as I sat with my hands clasped, participating in the emotions felt by the gods – of love, of compassion, of kinship, of companionship, of life, of incredible and heady joy of human connection, of loss, of grief, of grief.

I laughed with the gods, cried with the gods, felt their sorrow deep in my gut, felt touched by their love and blessed by them.

At this point, it was no longer a movie. It was a deeply spiritual experience. A blessing.

Having a profoundly life-changing connection with the gods (and I’m not talking about email marketing copy), sitting in a movie theater – a space as unreligious and secular as any – is the inevitable proof that the gods have decided to pierce the web of impenetrability that we have woven around us, and to touch our hearts despite everything.

Is this what our elders call “Kripa”?


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