With the release of films like Hostel Hudugaru Bekagiddare and Aachar & Co., one feels a sense of calm and optimism gradually returning to the Kannada film fraternity. This respite, so to speak, is timely considering that Kannada films have yielded underwhelming results over the past 6-8 months. With the year 2022 concluded on a high on the back of superb 'pan Indian' successes such as KGF 2, 777 Charlie, Kantara and Gandhada Gudi, 2023 came along with a lot of expectations flanked to it. And with someone like Challenging Star Darshan kicking things off with Kranti, the stage seemed perfectly set for another exciting box office year.
But that wasn't to be because, despite the hype and the buzz created by Darshan's fans, Kranti failed to make it count. The film opened to mixed to negative reviews on the opening day and surprisingly, even the most ardent fans of the actor were found slightly reluctant in supporting him. The makers, though, claimed that their film had crossed the coveted Rs. 100 crore mark within a couple of days of its release, but one still regarded these claims with wariness.
Similarly, R. Chandru's Kabzaa (released on March 17), too, served as a harsh reminder to everyone that scale and big budgets alone cannot help a film work. What was and still is seen as a poorer rehash of the KGF franchise, Kabzaa - which stars Upendra and Shriya Saran with cameos from Kiccha Sudeep and Shiva Rajkumar - struggled to live up to its box office promise and was also panned by critics and audiences alike. But director-producer R. Chandru continued to assert that his film was a major success and even announced a part 2, which is yet to take off.
The Era of Originality
If the recent trend is to go by, it is evident that the Kannada audiences seek and prefer authentic voices to be at the forefront. Regardless of the size and stature of a film, all the recent successes have one thing in common, which is originality. If KGF 2 was about unabashedness, Kiranraj K's 777 Charlie was compassionate in its telling. If Gandhada Gudi managed to capture the true majesty of Karnataka, Rishab Shetty's Kantara hand-held us into the region's distinctiveness by presenting a most idiosyncratic tale of a lesser-known culture.
All four films, thus, emerged as commercial hits because they weren't trying to impersonate another success but rather trying to exhibit novelty of some kind, trusting their audiences' intelligence and discretion. In turn, these films compelled the rest of the country, and beyond, to take notice of what the vibrant region of Karnataka has to offer.
Debut Voices Taking On The Mantle
One also sees these triumphs motivating many new voices to come forward and present their own unique stories. If you put aside the box office exploits, films of 2023 such as Shri Balaji Photo Studio, Orchestra, Mysuru!, Hondisi Bareyiri, 19.20.21, Gurudev Hoysala, Daredevil Musthafa, Pinki Elli?, and the more recent Hostel Hudugaru Bekagiddare, Aachar & Co. and Kousalya Supraja Rama, among others, have stood out quite prominently. A handful of these have also worked well at the box office, meaning the biggest need of the hour for the Kannada moviegoer is originality. More importantly, all of them - barring a couple - have been directed by debutants.
Though it is possible that not all films would boast the potential of scoring big at the box office, one does see that a good film always helps in creating or strengthening a more conducive and creative environment. As a result, filmmakers and writers who are not necessarily acquainted with the ecosystem of Kannada cinema are able to come forward with out-of-the-box ideas. And it is historically proven that any film industry that ranks filmmakers and writers above actors and stars has always thrived - one simple reason why we still go watch an S.S. Rajamouli film and not a Prabhas/Ram Charan/Jr. NTR film.