When demi-gods show the way: Anupama Chopra on Kantara - Hindustan Times

When demi-gods show the way: Anupama Chopra on Kantara

Oct 21, 2022 02:11 PM IST

Rishab Shetty’s new Kannada film is primal, authentic. And its blend of folklore and masala just shattered the language barrier in real time.

“I always thought more regional was more universal,” triple threat Rishab Shetty said to me in an interview last week. The Kannada actor-writer-director is a blazing example of this. His new film, Kantara (Mysterious Forest), is rooted in the traditions of coastal Karnataka. The script, written by Rishab, ingeniously marries folklore with masala. Kantara is about the conflict of man and nature, greed, violence, oppression and power. It is also, I would argue, an authentically homegrown superhero film.

Actor-writer-director Shetty plays Shiva, an impulsive villager. The plot makes room for love, comedy, family drama, and trauma overcome with a bit of divine aid. PREMIUM
Actor-writer-director Shetty plays Shiva, an impulsive villager. The plot makes room for love, comedy, family drama, and trauma overcome with a bit of divine aid.

Rishab plays Shiva, a ferocious, impulsive villager who seems like a wastrel at first but eventually fulfils his destiny. Shiva is introduced in slow-motion, winning the Kambala or buffalo race. The plot makes room for a love story, comedy, family drama; Shiva’s hapless, exhausted mother is constantly berating him. But into these familiar beats, Rishab weaves divinity: Shiva has recurring nightmares of running into a Bhoota Kola artist dressed in the traditional Yakshagana attire. Shiva’s father was a Bhoota Kola performer who disappeared into the forest one night and was never seen again. Shiva is haunted by this loss, but his trauma eventually reveals new paths. The demi-gods show him the way.

Kantara, shot by Arvind Kashyap, is visually stunning. But what makes the film distinctive is its primal quality. There is a feeling of timelessness to it. Rishab describes it as “mera gaon ka ek rooted story”. This “gaon ka story” has spread like wildfire. The film was released on September 30 in Karnataka, across 201 screens. By the end of week, that number had shot up to 350.

By the end of week two, the buzz was so strong that the producers (Hombale Films) dubbed and released it in various languages, including Hindi.

Now in week three, the film has crossed the 100-crore mark across languages, and shows no signs of slowing down. Kantara is being called the biggest Kannada blockbuster since the KGF franchise. A top producer in Mumbai called to buy the remake rights; he reportedly hadn’t even seen the film.

I’m thrilled that Bollywood is paying attention to the film’s success. Hopefully, it will inspire a few filmmakers to seek out stories that are specific instead of generic. As Rishab put it: Audiences are exposed to so much on OTT platforms but “yeh story kisi platform mein nahi hai; woh sirf hamara gaon mein hai.”

Kantara was written in four months and shot over 96 days, in Rishab’s village. The set was erected within walking distance of his home there. Rishab is clear that he will continue to bring folk culture and traditions into his cinema. “Yeh culture main duniya ko bata raha hoon,” he says. But first he wants a vacation.

When we met in Hyderabad, he’d been in interviews all day. With a broad smile he said: “Mujhe language issue hai. Main sochta hoon Kannada mein, baat karta hoon Kannada mein, khata hoon Kannada mein.”

A good film, however, has no language issues. The success of Kantara, once again, proves that.

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