Allama: A disappointing saga

Dhananjay in a scene from ‘Allama’.  

Allama (Kannada)

Director: T.S. Nagabharana

Cast: Dhananjay, Lakshmi Gopalaswamy, Meghana Raj, Sanchari Vijay

One knew that T.S. Nagabharana’s Allama was going to tell us the story of the 12th century mystic Allama Prabhu. But what about Allama exactly?

Is Nagabharana attempting a biopic? Is it an elaboration of a particular phase of Allama’s life? Is he going to propose an argument about what the poet-philosopher stood for? Strangely, even at the end of the 139-minute-long film, one does not gain a sense of what the film really wants to say about Allama.

Using the verses penned by Allama as the basis, Nagabharana structures the story as a flashback. He begins right at the beginning of Allama’s life. So we go through three or four distinct chapters — his childhood, his youth, his tryst with spirituality, and then his later years. This canvas is rather large and naturally, Nagabharana, at best, can give each phase only a few scenes. But this quick, episodic structure makes it difficult to relate to the central figure of the narrative. Overall, Nagabharana’s Allama feels distant; what we end up with is a list of bullet points about the philosopher.

Then there is the issue of the crafting of Allama’s character. One wishes Nagabharana had spent some time constructing his Allama for the audience. He does not show the evolution of Allama’s thoughts, his philosophy, and most of all, his poetry. Instead, he tells us, right from the time he introduces Allama on screen, that here is a venerable figure; someone meant not for the worldly, but the ethereal. But this strategy seems lacking and robs the audience of an urge to root for the central figure. The distance between us and Nagabharana’s Allama is further accentuated by the nature of the dialogues which oscillate between being text-bookish and colloquial.

One was looking forward to the music and the poetry of Allama Prabhu, but Nagabharana struggles to weave it within the narrative he tries to tell. Often, they end up as disjointed segments in an otherwise incoherent film. Perhaps, what Allama needed was an anchor to first tell the story coherently.

While the philosophy of the unitary consciousness of the self and Shiva and of the shunya (void) is repetitively upheld in the film, it is not adequately explored or even explained well.

It is a complete image-makeover for Dhananjay who plays the older version of Allama. But his performance as the mystic saint often borders on the melodramatic. A case in point is when Maya (Meghana Raj), a temple dancer, tries to seduce Allama. Dhananjay’s reactions to the advances made by a lady or, in a metaphorical sense, to ‘worldly pleasures’, evoke laughter despite the poignancy of the situation.

There are some performances that salvage the film though. Lakshmi Gopalaswamy as the mother of little Allama is effective, for instance. Even Meghana tries her best to save a role that is too simplistically crafted.

Granted that 12th century Karnataka is possibly difficult to recreate, but Nagabharana’s lack of attention to detail is a huge let down (modern-day freshly manicured lawns as surroundings to ancient temples, poor CGI effects, to name a few).

Allama is disappointing, especially with its poor cinematic exploration. It is text heavy and tries to pack in an entire lifetime of a well-known figure but ultimately, says nothing much.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 10:29:00 AM |

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