The Best Regional Film (Kannada) at the National Film Awards is the debut production venture of Googly and Natasarvabhowma maker Pavan Wadeyar.
Story: A Dollu Kunitha performance for Lord Shiva is the main event at a temple in a quaint little village in Karnataka. It’s a tradition that’s been followed over generations, where young men learn the art of rhythmic drumming and synchronized dancing and perform it in the service of god. But when the new crop of performers give up on it in the hope of a bright and prosperous tomorrow in Bengaluru, it appears that the tradition at the temple will end. Can Bhadra, one of the members of the now disbanded group, bring them all back and revive the art form and the tradition?
Review: When you can’t afford even the basic necessities for a decent livelihood, there’s no way to hold on to the dream of following a passion in the hope of getting that big break someday. It’s what you need today that counts and not what you maybe able to achieve in the future. And when that need takes centre stage, the artiste/sportsperson within you is hidden away so deep there may never be a comeback.
Debutant director Sagar Puranik’s Dollu, is one such story – one in which a group of young Dollu artistes struggle to make a living off of their art. The better gigs don’t pay well, so they are forced to perform even at weddings, much to the dismay of the elders in the village, for whom Dollu Kunitha is a sacred dance form meant only for the gods. The art form should not be for sale, but how else do they sustain themselves? So, off they go, one by one, in the hope of a better life in the big city, Bengaluru. Of course, it is not as rosy as any of them imagined. There’s hardship there too; only this time, their near-and-dear don’t see them as they silently toil away. But the beauty of Sagar’s film is that there’s so much more to it than just this bit.
Migration from villages is a very serious subject. Just like a farmer would rather send his children to the city in search of better jobs and living facilities, so also is the case with most traditional professionals. Obviously, an art form like Dollu is not far behind. Here, it is not only the question of making art a sustainable livelihood, but also about taking it forward to the next generation. What will you do when no one wants to learn it, especially when it is limited by statutes of religion, caste and gender?
Traditionally, Dollu was supposed to be performed only by men of a certain community. This is not the case anymore and Sagar presents his tale as a symbol of that change. How and why these age-old barriers are broken to save an art form from dying is the crux of this film. Dollu’s biggest strength is that it is not what one would call art-house cinema, even though it is this year’s best Kannada film. It’s almost baseline commercial, with some emotions, drama, and romance too. Equally important is the characterization of the two women in the tale – Bhadra’s sister Lacchi (Sharanya Suresh) and girlfriend Priya (Nidhi Hegde). They are the pillars on which Sagar builds his sub-narratives of consent and inclusivity, both of which have been handled deftly.
A film about Dollu Kunitha has to, of course, have a few performances and boy were they scintillating to watch. The rhythmic drum beating and synchronized dance moves will have you stomping your feet to the beat. Abhilash Kalathi’s camera not only captures the brilliant choreography beautifully, but also makes you feel like you are amid all the action, and the greenery, in this tiny village.
Dollu is Kannada filmmaker Pavan Wadeyar’s debut production venture, along with his wife Apeksha Purohit, under their banner, Wadeeyar Movies. The production house is Pavan’s way of supporting the Kannada industry and ensuring good cinema is made - the kind that he himself doesn’t know to make, but is more than happy to fund. The National Award, of course, is the right encouragement for this effort and one hopes that he and Sagar will keep up the good work and continue to make such heartwarming films.
Verdict: At its core, Dollu is a predictable tale – one of a conflict and its resolution. It’s the why and how that make for a good viewing. Dollu is in theatres this week and while you can wait for it to drop on OTT sometime, the recommendation is to watch it on the big screen – the performance scenes are worth the money and the effort.