From a general glance at the Kannada movies in the last five years, it appears that the Shettys (Rishab Shetty, Rakshit Shetty and Raj B Shetty, better known as the ‘RRR’ of Coastalwood) are changing cinema to a certain extent, in terms of content rooted in native ethos.
Rishab Shetty (of Ricky and Kirk Party fame), strongly believes in his theory that cinema will be more universal, if its content is regional and trust is reposed in regionalism.
Kantara is a continuation of his engagement with regional content; he has once again experimented with the much-discussed issue of feudalism, environmental protection and forest land encroachment in general. In Kantara, he has turned his focus on folklore and the native cultures including Yakshagana, Paddana, Bhoota Kola, Daivaradhane, Naagaradhane and Kambala. The film also be viewed as a critique of the suffering of the native tribes, who have been subjected to unspeakable atrocities owing to caste hierarchy.
Set against the rural background of forest wealth smuggling, Rishab narrates a story of the belief system of generations in the coastal region and focuses on the sacred customs of the region with the powerful support of the native village nestled in the forest land. He succeeds in meticulously bringing a tale of myths, legends and superstition, and that too in his native dialect.
Kantara (which means forest in Sanskrit) is narrated through three timelines and deals with the issue of man vs nature, which is steeped in the culture and rituals followed in the coastal region. This deeply-rooted mystical drama opens in the 18th century showing a king handing over a piece of land to the native tribes in the coastal region. It briefly takes a break in the 70s to inform the audience how a descendant of the King tries to reclaim the land, and finally unveils the strategies of the next generation feudal lord (Achyuth Kumar) to regain the land from the tribal community.
When Shiva’s (Rishab Shetty) father, a Kola ritual performer also known as Bhoota, disappears mysteriously in the forest, after a fight with a feudal landlord who demanded the land to be given to the tribal community, he antagonises a DFO named Murali confusing him as their usurper. Trapped by the feudal lord, Shiva picks up fights with Murali, who thinks the former is a smuggler who uses native culture to loot the forest wealth.
His love interest Leela (Sapthami Gowda) joins the Forest Department as a forest guard and helps the department in surveying the government forest land. Shiva’s brother, Guvurva, who doesn’t want to support the feudal lord in grabbing land granted to the natives, gets killed. Shiva is forced to fight with Murali, when he is caught in this crossfire. Finally, both Shiva and Murali join hands to fight against the deep-rooted feudalism in coastal Karnataka.
But, it is cataclysmic that in his enthusiasm to showcase, native culture, Rishab glamourises native practices. Such attempts to please the audience through a commercial framework lead to the narration losing traction and issues get diluted.
However, Rishab excels as Shiva in his endeavour to raise issues, such as forest land encroachment and the attempts of the local lords to appropriate land that belongs to poor tribal people for development, in the guise of being benevolent.
Kishore, as a law-abiding forest officer whose heart is with the protection of the oppressed community, steals the show. He excels as a character who gets caught in a tussle between the system, politics and the problems of the people. Similar is the performance of Achyuth Kumar as a treacherous landlord.
The locations are colourful and vivid, and the background music by B. Ajaneesh Loknath represents the ethos of the land. Cinematographer Arvind S Kashyap’s meditative shots showcase the native culture and capture the rustic locales in their grandeur. The filming of the Kambala sequences (the annual buffalo race, held in coastal Karnataka and celebrated by the farming community) is testimony to his brilliant takes.
Kantara is currently running in theatres