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The New Kannada Cinema: A decade of change for Kannada cinema

There can’t be a better time to be a Kannada movie fan. The reason is that a much-needed catharsis to free Kannada Cinema from the dour and trite potboilers that came out between the ‘90s and the early ‘2000s has taken place over the last decade

  • PC Muralidharan

Last Updated: 02.12 PM, Mar 16, 2022

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The New Kannada Cinema: A decade of change for Kannada cinema

In 2013, a young Engineering drop-out, Pawan Kumar, released his crowd-funded film, Lucia. And things began to change in the Kannada film industry. Lucia proved to be the muse that young directors in Kannada were waiting for. Kannada Cinema has since been creating films that every film-loving Kannadiga would be proud of.

Much like people started referring to the trajectory of modern Tamil cinema as Pre-Subramaniapuram and Post-Subramaniapuram, Lucia has also attained that hallowed status in Karnataka.

A Glorious Past

While the term 'new wave’ could be construed as a bit impulsive at the moment, with regard to what is being witnessed in Kannada cinema today. Simply because the new wave’ happened in Kannada cinema nearly 50 years ago.

In 1970, UR Ananthamurthy’s classic tale, Samskara, was rendered for the big screen in a compelling manner by Pattabhirama Reddy. I remember watching it in the mid-‘90s, in one of the film festivals in Madras, and was stunned by what I saw. It was a story that had so many layers; the narrative forayed into caste politics, spirituality, and mystical symbolism. It was an instant classic in parallel cinema.

That film gave birth to other classics in the ‘70s such as Vamsha Vriksha, Grahana and Katha Sangama, to name a few. Doyens like Girish Karnad, BV Karanth, T S Nagabharana and Puttanna Kanagal made some of the best films of that period. In 1977, a new voice entered this august fraternity, Girish Kasaravalli, who directed Ghatashraddha.

Kasaravalli took Kannada Cinema to national acclaim. Though the film Samskara had won a National Award before, the rest of India took some time to take notice of these filmmakers. Girish Kasaravalli bucked that trend through his films marked by astute storytelling and refined visual grammar — thereby more palatable to a national audience.

Continuing this trend in the ‘80s were films that beautifully straddled the parallel and mainstream movements. Directors like Shankar Nag, with movies such as Accident and Minchina Ota — two movies I would recommend everyone to watch; P Lankesh kept the flag flying. Shankar Nag’s brother Anant Nag, must have felt the lack of a good script after the ‘90s, which led him to make a comment in 2015: “I haven’t seen a script like Godhi Banna Sadharana Mayakattu in decades!” More on that film later. So this was the pedigree of Kannada Cinema. Even Tamil didn’t have a powerful parallel cinema movement in the South, way back in the ‘70s. Only Malayalam did. And not to mention, Bengali and Marathi films, which broke all boundaries early on.

Post-Lucia

Between 2015 and 2016, four films made a huge mark with their releases. Rangi Taranga by Anup Bhandari, U-Turn by Pawan Kumar, Godhi Banna Sadharana Mayakattu by Hemanth Rao and Thithi by Raam Reddy.

None other than Francis Ford Coppola acclaimed the making of Thithi and regards it as one of the best films he’s seen. This statement alone would have made Raam Reddy prouder, than all the awards his film eventually won. Interestingly, these new-age filmmakers had one thing in common — none of them come from a film-making background, except Raam Reddy who went to a film school in Prague. They just shared a passion for good cinema and want to create fresh, inspiring stories for today’s audiences.

Hemanth Rao’s Godhi Banna Sadharana Mayakattu, tells a beautiful story of a career-driven son and his father (brilliantly played by Anant Nag), who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Raam Reddy’s Thithi is a light-hearted, dark comedy on how three generations of a family in a village handle the death of their 101-year old granddad. Pawan Kumar’s U-Turn deliberates on the life of a reporter in Bangalore and how she becomes embroiled in an investigation that she initially tried to report on.

These are human stories, personal stories without the outlandish or larger than life characters. That’s also a significant reason why these films have found popularity beyond the borders of Karnataka. Kannada Cinema, in the 90s and 2000s often relied on remakes of films from other parts of India. However, thanks to these new filmmakers today, the roles have reversed at times with Kannada films being remade in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi.

New Kannada Cinema - A Must-Watch List

The films listed below are some of the best that you could hope to watch in Kannada. They may not be an exhaustive list. But they are my favourites.

1) Lucia & U-Turn - Directed by Pawan Kumar

2) Rangi Taranga - Directed by Anup Bhandari

3) Godhi Banna Sadharana Mayakattu & Kavaludari - Directed by Hemanth Rao

4) Thithi - Directed by Raam Reddy

5) Ulidavaru Kandanthe - Directed by Rakshit Shetty

6) Ondu Motteya Kathe - Directed by Raj B Shetty

7) Gantumoote - Directed by Roopa Rao

8) Katha Sangama - A 7-story ode to Puttanna Kanagal by 7 directors, produced by Rishabh Shetty

Final Thoughts

I have not touched upon the bigger releases, the marquee productions, and the star crazy cinema that keep releasing in Kannada. They have their own audiences. The films I have written about are creating a wave, which hitherto, was sorely missing in the Kannada industry. The stories these young filmmakers seek to tell are local in their context discussing everyday human emotions. And they stick to realism in their narration, rather than lean on over-the-top bombast.

Such stories are the only ones that will travel far and wide — both in terms of viewership and fame.

(Views expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of OTTplay)

(Written by PC Muralidharan. He works in advertising and is a cinephile at heart. He loves watching and writing about movies in his spare time.)

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