Despite the shortcomings in the narrative, Darshan carries the film on his shoulders and delivers a performance that his fans longed for.
Kaatera is a famed blacksmith in Bheemanahalli but beyond that, he is a man known for his integrity and courage. So, when the farmers of his village encounter oppression and abuse of their Zamindars, he is compelled to wield the very machete he made.
Prior to the release of 'Kaatera', Challenging Star Darshan assured his fans that they would get to see a side of his that they have possibly not seen before. It was a tall promise to live up to but one expected the guidance and vision of director Tharun Sudhir to deliver on it and extract a solid performance from the superstar. And now that the film is finally out in theatres, it is safe to say that the duo has kept its word.
At the same time, Tharun Sudhir also manages to put together a bona fide commercial film that appeases the masses and makes the long wait to see Darshan, the performer, worth it. The actor carries the film on his shoulders and exudes solid control of his role, which seems tailor-made for him. In fact, it is he who compensates for the sluggish screenplay and helps the viewer overlook the narrative shortcomings.
A few too many distractions
What are those shortcomings? Well, for starters, the screenplay meanders quite a bit and some of the strokes seem a tad outdated. The romance angle, for instance, could have used better agency on the writers' part and though it is essential to the overall story progression, the way this portion is explored feels template-ish. There were apprehensions among audiences ahead of the release that the duet songs in the film would affect the flow of the film and they couldn't be more right - the back-to-back "costume change" songs in the first half do slow down the pace of the film and more importantly, they stretch the duration by a significant amount of time.
The same could be said about the comic relief bits in the film. A tighter screenplay would have accommodated the "frills" more effectively and not allowed the runtime to suffer. But in 'Kaatera', there are multiple additional scenes dedicated to smaller moments which at the end of it all, don't really add a lot of value to the story. Tharun Sudhir and his co-writer Jadesh K Hampi do somehow tie up the loose ends towards the end, but not without testing our patience.
Brimming with authenticity
What the director does boast, though, is a lot of conviction and the astuteness to not lose grip of the main plot or subject of the film. Kaatera is a film that is centred around how a blacksmith in a tiny village leads a crusade against tyranny and caste-based oppression so that the persecuted farmers get their due. Tharun Sudhir, luckily, doesn't attempt to make a wishy-washy film about this subject or use the opportunity to render a "hero worshipping" exercise. He is in love and awe of his leading man, no doubt, but he ensures that the two abstract aspects, of Darshan's immense popularity and the poignance of the story, function symbiotically. One wishes to see the 46-year-old star in more such collaborations wherein his mass appeal is complemented well by a skillfully etched-out film.
Sure, the tone of Kaatera is slightly over-the-top or melodramatic but Tharun Sudhir, again, seems to be aware of the movie he is making. Certain sequences in the film, particularly those involving female characters, should have been handled with a lot more sensitivity, but the director redeems himself in other places.
Another major highlight of 'Kaatera' is the sense of authenticity that Tharun Sudhir imbues the film with. While the physical location may seem like a set piece, the use of the local culture - be it in the language that the characters speak or the traditions we get to see in the film - is worth mentioning. The dialogues, in particular, carry that heavy punch of a mass film but never come across as cringeworthy or overdone because the writers have a clear and close acquaintance with the milieu.
Darshan gets great support
As far as the cast is concerned, debutant Aradhana Ram delivers an "adequate" performance but the limitations are masked by a well-rounded, important character. Unlike most actresses trying to make their first impressions, Aradhana gets to work with a role of "substance" in 'Kaatera', but one would have liked her to be more at ease while essaying it.
Kumar Govind as Darshan's on-screen brother-in-law is very good and fares as an able supporter to the star throughout the film. Shruti, Vijanath Biradar and child artist Rohith Pandavapura, too, are extremely effective in their respective parts and each helps the milieu or the setting of the film to be more prominent. Baddies Jagapathi Babu, Avinash, Vinod Kumar Alva and others are one-toned mostly but the narrative gives their characters some relevance to speak about.
But there is no doubt that the film is an out-and-out Darshan Thoogudeepa vehicle and the actor is in great form this time around. Be it the body language he carries throughout the film or the restraint or candour with which he dispenses those mass moments, there is a lot to savour for the DBoss fans who also get to enjoy him sinking his teeth into the character.
'Kaatera' could have definitely benefitted from a more taut screenplay and shorter runtime, but the film is certainly worth a watch. As pointed out, the film doesn't mindlessly rely upon its lead actor's star status and instead attempts to drive home a message in engaging, mostly entertaining ways.