I watched Kantara in the original Kannada version because I realised very early that watching a dubbed version will dilute the effect. It helped that I can understand Kannada and don't have to rely on subtitles. The Mangaluru-Kundapura dialect used in the movie gives it a unique personality and it is sure to have lost to non Kannada viewers, even to those who relied on subtitles.
It's almost 3 weeks since I watched Kantara and the movie is still fresh in my minds. I think it is the perfect time to write about the movie as I am just out of the euphoric period of its effect. I don't want to go again to the story or the brilliance of it's maker, but I think there are two specific topics to be discussed, which is very relevant. First is the reason it became a phenomenon all over India and the lessons movie makers can learn from it's success. The second is the thematic interpretation of the movie itself. There may be spoilers going forward.
At a time when our movie watching has undergone a tremendous change, thanks to the availability of high quality content, as movies and series from all over the world, our movie makers are in a fix. The usual formulaic movie making is obviously not working. We all say content is the king, but it has become more difficult to identify the kind of content that actually works.
One obvious way is to make huge movies with enormous budget, heavily laden with star power and VFX, creating huge hype so that public is forced to watch the movie. S S Rajamauli has already paved the way with Bahubali. But the issue is that only Rajamauli seems to benefit consistently with this formula, due to his vision. You need to just look at the filmography of Prabhas, post Bahubali, to realise this. KGF 2 also did great by adopting this approach. Haphazard try of the same strategy can be seen in Brahmastra.
Another way is to make quality movies with minimal budget with second or third level stars and release in OTT platforms. This has also backfired as too many OTT platforms reduced visibility of such projects and onslaught of sub quality movies, made to cash in on this wave dipped the interest of platforms for such attempts.
Enter Kantara with its deep rooted ethnic narrative. Even the makers initially failed to realise it's potential to appeal Indians all over. Kantara told a story that is very universal. There is nothing new about a wealthy man trying to trick simpletons out of their wealth and the resultant revolt. Along with this subject, Kantara also used an oft-repeated narrative involving a mass hero, who along with with a bunch of no-gooders like him and a devil-may-care attitude, saving everyone around him. There are double meaning dialogues, some stalking, some tomfoolery and lot of illegal activities masked as heroism.
The audience all over India are well-acquainted with these tropes. But makers of Kantara added an additional layer of divinity to it and made sure the local culture is embedded and they made no compromise on it. They made sure that movie is made like a fairy take where the line between myth and reality is made hair line thin.
The rituals and myths similar to Bhoota Kola exists in different forms all over India and majority of the viewers have roots in such customs. A strong flavor of regional rituals and culture made many persons remember their roots and culture. It resulted in favorite reciprocation. This happened also because Rishabh Shetty has a deep knowledge about the culture of Bhoota Kola and he was able to make everything about the movie, centring it. As the experience was authentic, it tapped into the hidden psyche of Indian audience, who identified with it and lapped it up.
So what are the lessons to movie makers.. The content of your work should be genuine. It should come from your inner sense about your culture. And most importantly it should resonate with your audience. Audience base of Indian movies predominantly include people in lower and lower-middle class. If they have to like a movie, they should be able to identify with it. The way people behave in your movie should be relevant to them. When you make a movie with value systems and living styles that appeal to only the elite class, it is quite natural that your audience group get shrunk.
So be relevant to the movie going public, give them entertainment, don't press them with your agenda, don't be afraid to go local, and most importantly, be smart to include the message you intent to convey very subtly.
The last point has to be elaborated in the context of Kantara. What Kantara tried to convey..? Let's examine. Light spoilers ahead...
Kantara can be approached in different ways. It can be just a mass movie about a hero, who rises to save his fellow villagers. It can be interpreted as how divine intervention helped to subvert a danger to villagers. Or it can be interpreted as a class struggle, where villagers fights against the upper class and their nefarious attempts to occupy land.
I believe that even though these interpretations are all valid, the best way to describe Kantara is in conjunction with its ecological statements. Kantara is a metaphor. In this story, there is a balance established centuries before between the forest, forest-dwellers and outsiders. Daiva is the bridge that binds all these elements.
When the balance is lost due to the claim on forest by outsiders, Daiva is no more. The bridge is broken. Now forest dwellers, represented by Shiva, feels orphaned and they are not ready to follow their ancestral ways, which was beneficial to forest. They become friends with outsiders and loot resources. This makes the government, represented by forest officer to act upon them. This conflict makes both of them hate each other more intensely. Both parties are affected by their actions.
But in the movie, when disaster strikes, Daiva reappear and reestablish the balance. You can see in the last Kola performance, how Daiva holds the hands of all parties and resolves the conflict. Basically, the movie want to stress that, for the conservation of nature, all parties involved- tribes, government or the business and landowners, should join hands and work collaboratively.
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