2019 ended on a positive note for Kannada cinema with 'Avane Srimannarayana'

I must confess I’m not good at predicting the fate of a film at the box-office. After watching a preview of ‘Janumadha Jodi’ (1996) with B.C. Gowrishanker who was checking copies before they’re sent to theatres I was skeptical about the film appealing to Shivanna’s fans because his character was sans machismo, especially after the phenomenal success of ‘Om’. By the way, I had told Gowri that ‘Om’ would be a blockbuster, but that does not help my record overall. Gowri agreed to an extent. I was apparently echoing the sentiments of those close to the Raj Kumar family which produced the film. There’s an interesting anecdote. Apparently everyone privy to a preview advised the first family to sell the film to distributors. Parvathamma Rajkumar one night decided to watch the film at Prasad Studios and told a shocked coterie that the film would be a huge hit and she would distribute the film herself. She also said the Malayalam actress Chippy will be the highlight along with the music, and her son Shivraj Kumar just happened to be in the film. The film made with a budget of around 60 lakh rupees collected more than ten times. An entire book can be written about Parvathamma’s shrewd business sense.

If ‘Baahubali’ showed that South Indian cinema can churn out pan Indian blockbusters, ‘KGF’ kicked the door open for Kannada cinema which was looked down upon not entirely for unjustified reasons. I think it’s the burgeoning budgets that inadvertently forces filmmakers to try and break language barriers. Yash has confessed that ‘KGF’ was not planned as a pan-Indian film. I must mention though that Yash has always nursed ambitions about taking Kannada cinema to the next level, and he’s achieved it. He was never looking at the local superstars as competition and basically the confidence comes from not feeling inferior to anyone anywhere. The films that have appealed all over are love in the time of strife (Roja), interracial alliances (Bombay and Ek Duuje Ke Liye) or a fable with no particular geographical specificity (Baahubali). ‘KGF’ did not tick any of these boxes. Released at the fag end of 2018, I predicted box-office doom as soon as I watched it. Definitely not a fan of the director Prashant Neel’s previous film ‘Ugramm’, I was not impressed with the trailer and the film confirmed my worst fears. There was nothing humane in any of the characters, including the hero’s mother. Yash is the hero purely because he tames the shrew and survives in the end. He also mouths embarrassingly puerile lines like, “If you are bad, I’m your dad.” Fans roared when he claimed he’d killed 23 people and was still counting.

I thought the film was definitely not the right representative of the so-called resurgence of Kannada cinema. Nobody really knows what brings in audiences in throngs for a particular film and that’s what makes cinema fascinating and alluring. It’s not just one aspect like the songs in ‘Mungaru Male’ and ‘Janumada Jodi’ or the hunger for prosperity at any cost in ‘KGF’, with the protagonist’s mother egging him on. Anyway, I was wrong again. ‘KGF’ scorched the box-office and it’s not just because of the publicity blitzkrieg which can only make people curious and serve as an invitation. The sequel is one of the most awaited films this year.

The much awaited ‘Avane Srimannarayana’ was released last week after being in the making for three long years and a budget that spiraled. I watched the first show and again predicted the worse. I was squirming in my seat more from bouts of ennui than any sort of discomfort. The scenes shift from interesting to totally unnecessary often. The comedy vacillates from effortless to puerile and characters that don’t contribute to the proceedings jump into this long journey about a bounty hunt. It’s a bit like time travel. On one side there are jeeps, microphones, cameras and telephones and on the other you have a world caught in a time warp. There’s a kingdom with no electricity, characters who badly need to visit the barber riding horses and warring step-brothers waiting to usurp the throne. Caught in the crossfire is a drama troupe who can’t leave without performing their last act. A promising premise quickly peters out and is reduced to a plot that plods aimlessly. There’s self-indulgence aplenty, a la ‘Ulidavaru Kandanthe’. Rakshit told me he should have let someone else edit ‘UK’ but repeats the mistake here too. The director Sachin is the editor too, but everyone knows Rakshit holds the scissors. Now the length of a film is daunting only when the proceedings make you keep checking the time. You often do that in ‘ASN’. Rakshit’s performance reminds you of Sudeep who again does not have a flair for comedy. It’s the smart on-liners that save the day. What could have been an edge of the seat adventure like ‘Raiders Of The Lost Arc’ is reduced to a sort of spoof .

The apparent effort to merge genres is not very effective. Well, again keeping my record of wrong box-office predictions unblemished, ‘ASN’ is raking it in. I thought it would tank on Monday but the crowds are swelling. The holidays have helped and friends managing multiplexes are surprised at the increasing footfall because they had agreed with my apprehensions. 17 minutes are being chopped off to make it relatively crisper. I’m glad I’m wrong because I know Rakshit is passionate about the craft though I prefer him as a director than as an actor and definitely liked ‘UK’ more. Sometimes you have to appreciate the effort too and the film is technically first rate be it the cinematography, CG or the terrific background score. I hear the Telugu distributor has asked for 21 minutes to be edited which should make it racy. It’s heartening that the year has ended on positive note for Kannada cinema. Gladly people are chanting ‘Srimannarayana’ instead of ‘Govinda Govinda’.

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Printable version | Aug 6, 2020 6:28:00 PM |

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