Onto the next release of the weekend which in a way was a film from the previous weekend. And with that I finished watching the new Kannada film Kantara and thus marking the first Kannada film that I have watched in a theatre(the previous ones were Hindi Dubbed). Year 2022 has been a year of the firsts with Jana Gana Mana, Thiruchitrambalam and Sita Ramam being the first films which I had watched in Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu languages previously. And Kantara was a film that I did get most recommendations for on my Youtube channel(by the same name Popcorn Reviewss).
Despite a mega weekend which saw Vikram Vedha and PS1 clash with one another, a less known film(outside Karnataka) slowly began to grow in stature in the coming days. So much so that the film had no English subtitles to begin with but it grew day after day finally culminating into a packed house yesterday when I finally got a chance to watch it. Again, I knew absolutely nothing about the film and went into the film waiting to be surprised. And I came out in an absolute trance and I needed time to gather my thoughts and to then ultimately pen its review. So then was Kantara worth the hype, are you even kidding me….lets get to the review straightaway.
Story & Screenplay
Kantara is a unique take on the man vs nature debate. And this is all you need to know before venturing into the drama(perhaps you can read a little more on Kambla and Bhooto Kola festival too) and just allow it to take you by surprise. The screenplay of 150 minutes might seem daunting but I promise you this is a cinematic experience which you will never forget!
The drama gets off to a rollicking start with a prelude involving a king who gives a piece of land to the tribals of a forest in exchange for the Panjurli deity. This opening sequence nicely establishes the bond between man and nature with a backdrop of a folklore involving angelic(and demonic) spirits which protect the forest area. By now you would know that I am a fan of culture and I really enjoyed witnessing the Bhooto Kola festival which was shown in the film. A festival which is specific to the north of Kerala and in Parts of Karnataka(mostly in Mangalore), it did add a dimension to the film like no other in what was a tale of beliefs and personal gains.
It is hard to categorize this film in any one specific genre. I have time and again witnessed films from the Kannada film industry specifically playing with different genres in the same film which does require a good amount of skills to justify each genre. Yet, I was really drawn into the world which was mysterious and intriguing yet very rooted to the culture of the region where the drama is set in. And one reason for the same was a way of showcasing some of the local festivals like Bhooto Kalo and Kambla(which is a festival involving Buffalo Racing). The introduction of the protagonist is an exhilarating one wherein the film does cover the latter after a rather terrifyingly brilliant backstory!
The humour in the film is situational and it never gets out of hand(something which it had in a film like Vikrant Rona). It is organic and definitely fits perfectly in the screenplay. Also the romantic track was good although it did have borderline problematic scenes which it could have done without. But there are undercurrents of the folklore which appear constantly at several minutes almost like attention gainers of a danger lurking by.
The world which is built has elements of decent and personal gains right throughout. The concept of a forest encroachment by man for personal gains is literally turned on its head here. So you do see fleeting moments of the protagonist hunting animals with an element constantly lurking nearby. But the destruction mode isn’t yet activated till the forest land is intact depicting the protection of nature.
The characters are really well fleshed out here in a world which has the ability to trap you in long after the film is over. The twists and turns are subtle but really impactful and true to the concept of the film. Which brings me to the final 20 minutes of the film in what was a stunner of a final act.
These final 20 minutes are a visual spectacle like no other where all hell breaks loose in a cracker of a final act(yes have deliberately repeated myself here). The energy of all the characters is unparalleled and it is here that the protagonist literally owns the stage and how! If you do not get goosebumps while watching the final 20 minutes then do consult a doctor. These moments are rare in cinema and they truly need to be cherished and savoured. And this particular moment transports you in a trance like no other! This is why I love cinema, it has the ability to take you and your mind to places which you would never have imagined! Overall, the writing is outstanding and deeply rooted to what we called the land of stories(and proudly so).
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are very well thought out and they create an instant stir. Parts of the dialect did seem like a very local one(perhaps from Mangalore, something that I could make out with Kannada subtitles that appeared with the English ones). And they did seem very authenticate. The music and BGM are absolutely brilliant especially the latter which plays against some mind boggling visuals in the final act that fills you up with a lot of energy yet pushes you into a trance! Again goosebumps guaranteed!
The cinematography is outstanding and this film should be enjoyed on the biggest screen possible for its maximum impact. Stunning is an understatement. The art design gives a very aesthetic feel to the film. The film being shot in real locations does enhance the viewing experience to a different level. This is something that I felt was lacking in the Adipurush teaser where some regular shots were also played out against the backdrop of CGI. The editing is pitch perfect with no jump cuts which would have diluted the impact of the scene(say in the Kambla festival wherein the protagonist is actually riding the buffaloes).
Director Rishab Shetty is an absolute gem just like his two brothers Raj and Rakshit Shetty. I have been a huge fan of their work which has always pushed boundaries in an attempt to do something very different. So if it was GGVV from Raj Shetty, 777 Charlie from Rakshit Shetty, it is Kantara from Rishab Shetty which is nothing short of a masterpiece. His direction and vision are on point wherein his ability to execute them masterfully was something to be studied and cherished.
The performances are simply outstanding. Manasi Sudhir as Shiva’s mother has her moments to shine. Pramod Shetty as Sudhakara, Shanil Guru as Bulla and Swaraj Shetty as Guruva all have their moments to shine. Kishore who had a double header last weekend in the form of PS1 and Kantara is fabulous to watch as Muralidhar. His screen presence is simply terrific. Achyuth Kumar as Devendra is terrifyingly brilliant and his cold expressions did give me tremors. Sapthami Gowda as Leela looks pretty and does a wonderful job here.
But the show undoubted belongs to the man, the legend Rishab Shetty who doubles up as the main protagonist here too. He gets every inch of his character just perfect, right from his appearance to his mannerisms. He had actually taken the effort to ride the buffalo without any body double. So there was no trick editing or photography to fool the audience. But you should just witness him in that terrific final act(that I can go on and on about). That portion required a sense of physicality coupled with a strong screen presence(epitomized with the chilling howls and screams) and that was an acting masterclass to witness and study. He could so easily have gone overboard but he was well in control in what was a memorable performance overall. And yes, Rishab Shetty OP!
Kantara is a memorable cinematic experience like no other which would transport you into a trance. And Goosebumps Guaranteed! Available in a theatre near you and Highly Highly Highly Recommended!
PS : Remember to protect nature and never take it for granted! Or else expect the destruction mode to be activated by Guliga!