Why romance as a genre has disappeared from Kannada cinema

The Kannada industry insiders believe that the current generation mistakes intense scenes for melodrama, explaining why directors don’t aim high with their plots 

Updated - June 02, 2023 05:59 pm IST

Published - June 02, 2023 08:30 am IST

A still from Mungaru Male.

A still from Mungaru Male. | Photo Credit: File Photo

In the 2006 Kannada film Mungaru Male, as we root for Preetham (Ganesh) to make Nandini fall in love with him, director Yogaraj Bhat springs a cruel surprise. He fills our hearts with hope with the now-evergreen love song ‘Anisuthide Yako Indu’ only to quash our expectations with a heart-wrenching scene right after it. Preetham, a shattered man, accepts defeat in love. In a pain-soaked voice, as he drenches in the pouring rain, he tells Nandini that he will find peace living with her memories. Thus was born the new millennium quintessential selfless romantic hero of Kannada cinema.

Fast forward ten years, Ganesh and Bhat reunite for Mugulu Nage. In a film which depicts different kinds of love stories, women get the agency to leave relationships. Pulakeshi (Ganesh), the protagonist, breaks up with his college sweetheart Vaishali (Ashika Ranganath) because he isn’t as sure as her of going abroad for higher studies at the cost of staying away from his family. He is again a second time unlucky, when a self-assured Siri says she doesn’t believe in the concept of marriage; she believes in staying together without a label to the relationship.

Prithvi Ambaar and Kushi in ‘Dia’

Prithvi Ambaar and Kushi in ‘Dia’ | Photo Credit: Anand Audio/YouTube

This refreshing change in approach to the romance genre reflects the experimental nature of Bhat. Between these two films, the industry reaped immense benefits from the genre before slowly forgetting the art of making solid romantic dramas. It’s hard to think of a good Kannada love story in recent times, with perhaps K.S. Ashoka’s old-school yet emotionally engaging Dia (2020) being the only worthy film to mention. Even Bhat failed to weave his magic with Gaalipata 2(2022), a pale shadow of his glorious original. Are these signs of changing times?

The romance of old

Spurred by the mammoth success of Mungaru Male, directors served engaging relationship dramas to an entire generation that stepped into adulthood in the late 2000s. Bhat’s carefree protagonist resonated with the college crowd. He cashed in on their love for travelling by placing his films in exotic locales (Jog Falls in Mungaru Male; the highest peak of Kodachadri mountains in Gaalipata; the coastal beauty in Paramathma). His heroes followed their hearts in stories that debated sanity as in Mansaare, and questioned the conservative attitude of Indian families in Pancharangi. Over the years, they have become films that we can watch at any time.

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With Bhat’s films, which gave us warm fuzzy feelings, Kannada cinema saw romance that felt closer to reality. Films such as Krishnan Love Story and Beautiful Manasugalu explored love stories marred by the problems of the middle class. Director Suri, from the stables of Bhat, brought out the harrowing effects of drinking in Inthi Ninna Preethiya, in which the protagonist gets addicted to alcohol after a love failure. Prem, riding high on three blockbusters, made his most ambitious film Ee Preethi Yeke Bhooi Melide. He questioned the existence and purpose of love in that film which begins with the who’s who of Karnataka (like former C.M. HD Kumaraswamy, seer of Adichunchanagiri, Balagangadharanatha Swamiji) expressing their thoughts on love. A unique concept notwithstanding, the film was a colossal disaster and rightly so. A highly self-indulgent Prem made a messy film with a confused script.

The Kannada audience have a liking for films with heartbreaks. Perhaps inspired by the acceptance to the tragic end of Mungaru Male, director Nagashekhar aimed for similar results with Sanju Weds Geetha and Mynna. While his writing wasn’t ambitious in both films, they were made with technical nuance. The endings impacted the audiences, who found it cathartic to watch them and weep.

Puneeth Rajkumar and Deepa Sannidhi in ‘Paramaathma’

Puneeth Rajkumar and Deepa Sannidhi in ‘Paramaathma’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It was also necessary to have a hit music album for a romantic film to work. It was a phase when writer Jayanth Kaikini and composers V. Harikrishna and Mano Murthy were at the zenith of their creativity. Many love songs enhanced the portrayal of young love, especially the album of Paramathma which goes straight to our heart like no other collection of songs. The lack of quality music is one of the shortcomings in today’s Kannada romantic films.

A lack of love

The earliest cracks in the genre were visible when we saw couples (Addhuri, Googly) breaking up for silly obstacles. Even though they haven’t aged well, these films worked because of the crackling chemistry between the leads. It is interesting to see why filmmakers don’t consider love the most important thing today in their stories. The idea of commitment and the challenges that come with it are absent in Kannada films.

Rakshit Shetty and Shwetha Srivatsav in ‘Simple Aagi Ondu Love Story’

Rakshit Shetty and Shwetha Srivatsav in ‘Simple Aagi Ondu Love Story’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Suni, with the dialogue-heavy yet quirky and enjoyable romance drama Simple Agi Ondh Love Story, and Pawan Kumar, with his delightfully contemporary take on relationships in Lifeu Ishtene, were able to bring out the complexities of modern relationships. But just a few fresh attempts cannot revive a genre. Romance in Kannada cinema has been forgettable from 2016 as directors have resorted to unimaginative sequels of successful originals. They have also used the genre as an excuse to churn out tasteless comedies (Tribble Riding, Love Birds, Bi Two Love, Mr Bachelor). You sense an urge from filmmakers to please the Instagram-hooked generation with short-bursts of entertainment.

A still from ‘Gantumoote’

A still from ‘Gantumoote’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Amidst the ruins, the genre was partly visible in the right spirit in coming-of-age dramas such as Kirik Party, Gantumoote and Love Mocktail. Roopa Rao’s Gantumoote told the story of a woman, a rare phenomenon in Kannada.

Industry insiders believe that the current generation of film buffs mistake intense scenes for melodrama, explaining why directors don’t aim high with their plots. The filmmakers’ understanding of modernity is on how youngsters dress and behave. Sadly, such characters on screen (in Ek Love Ya and Raymo) don’t have a mind of their own or the dignity they deserve. Some attempts touch the surface of a relatable topic, like how Ninna Sanihake squandered an opportunity to portray the dynamics of a live-in-relationship. Now the Kannada film industry is in need of its next breakout romantic star, with Ganesh, once a golden boy of romance, trying to stay relevant. Darling Krishna, who broke through with Love Mocktail has a charming on-screen presence, but his consistently terrible script selection has dented his rising career.

The road ahead

Rakshit Shetty’s upcoming Sapta Sagaradaache Yello, directed by Hemanth. M.Rao (of Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu fame) could offer the much-needed change to the genre. The film seems like an intense relationship drama, right up the alley of Rakshit, and a favourite concept of 90s kids. All eyes are on Swathi Mutthina Male Haniye as well, Raj. B. Shetty’s third film. Though the film is shrouded in suspense, the posters indicate a serious love story.

Rakshit Shetty and Rukmini Vasanth in ‘Sapta Sagaradaache Yello’

Rakshit Shetty and Rukmini Vasanth in ‘Sapta Sagaradaache Yello’ | Photo Credit: Paramvah Studios/YouTube

In an industry obsessed with pan-Indian projects, A-list stars have turned their back on romance. There is no doubting their abilities. Even when Sudeep consciously chased a ‘mass’ image, he was also convincing as a vulnerable man in love in Mussanje Maathu and Just Maath Maathali.

The most striking example of a star’s stint with romance in that period is Puneeth Rajkumar’s Paramathma. With Bhat’s arresting filmmaking combined with composer Harikrishna’s best work, Paramathma is one of the finest tragic love stories. The film’s end feels poetic with his passing away. It is a film that will move you unless you are a rock. Kannada cinema needs more such classics.

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