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The Kannada new wave

Now in its ninth week in theatres, the Kannada film Thithi has been basking in the international limelight. Everyone, from Francis Ford Coppola to Aamir Khan to Anurag Kashyap, has raved about it.

RangiTaranga completed a whole year in theatres, a tough act when most films last just about a week, and made an impressive mark in the overseas market too.

U-Turn is just completed its 50th day, and ater an international premiere, it is also showing in Europe, Australia, and is all set for an online pre-ordered Vimeo release.

And Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu just released in North American theatres.

Is something brewing in Kannada cinema?

The New Wave

Many are calling this the ‘new wave’ of Kannada cinema, and surfing its crest are young filmmakers, mostly without filmi connections or formal film schooling, who have lived off a regular diet of world cinema.

These films, subtitled in English, are bridging India’s north-south divide, running in multiplex screens outside Karnataka. Many have won awards at international film festivals; and overseas Indian audiences are paying to see them in theatres in their countries. There’s even a reverse osmosis of sorts: for once, Kannada films are being bought for remakes in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Marathi.

At the Bengaluru International Film Festival this year, there were snaking queues and extra show demands for Thithi and RangiTaranga .

To think RangiTaranga ’s debutant director Anup Bhandari, a software engineer, was afraid he’d have to get back to his IT job after checking the film’s first day collections1 On July 3, the film, with murder, intrigue, spirits, and alternate realities, completed a run of 365 days. Bhandari, whose father is a TV serial producer-director, re-released the film with an international cut in the USA, the U.K., Singapore, Europe and Australia. And he is now set to announce his second film.

“Our films are working because people wanted something new,” he says. “While my film was different, at heart it was a true Indian film: it had romance, sacrifice and thrill. I very consciously wanted to keep it that way. I wanted to connect with the ‘class’ and the ‘masala’ audience.”

Kannada cinema is being turned on its head. Suddenly, psychological thrillers, alternate realities, horror themes and subtle dramas have found favour. Some films have urban themes; others are set in parts of Karnataka previously ignored. And in these last two years their number is on the rise.

Most agree it all began in 2013, with Pawan Kumar’s non-linear Lucia , which was also Kannada cinema’s first crowd-funded film. It drew attention as much for the freshness of its story and the way it was told, as it did for the way Kannadigas the world over pooled in money to help make it.

Soon other films followed: Rakshit Shetty's Ulidavaru Kandanthe , S.D. Aravind’s Last Bus , Navaneeth’s Karvva and Hemant M. Rao’s Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu which is now all set to be remade in Tamil and Telugu by popular actor Prakash Raj. Not to mention Kumar’s second directorial outing, U Turn and Thithi directed by 26-year-old Raam Reddy.

Kumar acknowledges that the films made by his contemporaries “are collectively looking different and standing out. We have been extremely sensitive to real people’s real emotions.”

What’s different?

An engineering college dropout, Kumar stepped wanted to be a theatre actor, but often found himself behind the scenes. He turned to scriptwriting, before making his debut with Lucia . His second film, U-Turn saw Bengaluru’s traffic chaos meet the supernatural realm and is running strong across India, with shows being slotted based on audience demands on social media. U-Turn has also had several shows abroad, including in the USA and Canada.

This way in which this new crop of filmmakers has been able to directly seek out and establish an audience has been very different in the past three years. These new films are also far removed from the iconic parallel cinema movement of the 70s. Film scholar and author M.K. Raghavendra says that “Kannada cinema could be going somewhere else with watershed films like Thithi . There’s a coming of age in some way, with a lot of potential and a different class of filmmakers. They give the old kind of cinema a go-by.” He sees this trend as an indication of a new global Kannadiga gaining strength.

Reddy is from a political and business family, an economics student who went to film school in Prague. Growing up, he never watched Kannada or Hindi cinema. “I wasn’t cinema oriented at all. I only watched world cinema in the phase while I was forming a creative opinion. Every country treats its cinema differently. I wanted a more holistic exposure to how every country’s director brings their culture into their cinema,” he explains.

Reddy waited for the film to “grow” before releasing it. And that is something both Kumar and Bhandari acknowledge as well: the power of marketing and social media and its role in a film’s success.

After all, beyond talk of these young Turks pushing the envelope, you do get a kick when you see a Facebook post with photos of Americans queuing up to see a Kannada film at an international film festival.

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 8:30:19 PM |

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