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Kshetrapati review: Naveen Shankar's film is well-meaning, but feels over sentimental

While it is true that the film's heart, so to speak, is in the right place. the issue with Shrikant Katagi's Kshetrapati is that it refuses to view the problem at heart from a distinct perspective.

Kshetrapati review: Naveen Shankar's film is well-meaning, but feels over sentimental
Naveen Shankar plays the lead in Kshetrapati

Last Updated: 09.29 AM, Aug 18, 2023



Basavaraj, a final-year engineering student, daydreams of moving to the US one day but his hopes come to a screeching halt when he learns of his father's suicide. Upon visiting his village, the young man realizes that his father is only a speck in the massive agrarian crisis faced by the entire community of farmers. With systemic corruption and the threat of corporatization looming larger than ever, Basava must now take matters into his own hands and lead a crusade against evil. Can he do it single-handedly with very little backing? Or does the antagonist prove to be too lethal in these pursuits?



The agrarian crisis in our country has been the subject of many films of the past, ranging from the arthouse kind to full-blown commercial films. It's a familiar narrative wherein the protagonist, mostly a reluctant male hero, stumbles upon the prevailing issues and sets out to find a solution through any tough means necessary. The template has been excessively tried and tested over the years and has almost reached the done-to-death scenario at this point in time because it offers nothing new or novel. The tone is largely over-sentimental and though the filmmaker's empathy is apparent in these films, their broad-strokes solutions often leave us underwhelmed.

Of course, you do have exceptions with films such as Do Bheega Zameen, Shyam Benegal's Manthan (technically about the white revolution) and the more recent Peepli Live, but it is to be noted that the gaze in each of these gems is unique and unorthodox. If Bimal Roy's seminal film carried the ethos of neo-realism to drive the message home, Anjum Rizvi's Peepli Live is a searing satire on modern media's hypocrisy, its exploitative nature. 

I suppose the issue with Shrikant Katagi's Kshetrapati is that it refuses to view the problem at heart from a slightly distinct perspective. While it is true that the film's heart, so to speak, is in the right place and that the writer-director has imbued it with the intensity of a personal experience, you still cannot overlook the fact that it has nothing new to offer in terms of 'form'. Form, here, could mean either the narrative/screenplay structure or a visual palette (or both) and Kshetrapati does not attempt to create something new on both fronts. Of course, it's not necessary that one must be unconventional just for the sake of it, but considering the plenitude of films already belonging to this 'subgenre', you do wish for young filmmakers to think outside the box so as to present their subject matter in a new and more engaging light.

Consequently, Kshetrapati feels a little too verbose and dense with sentiments, with Ravi Basrur's score being a prominent feature. We encounter far too many monologues in the 157-minute-long narrative, with Naveen Shankar delivering almost all of them. Naveen is spirited and evidently raring to step up to the occasion, but a lot of his zest and intensity feel misplaced in the narrative. Buried under the core issue of farmer oppression is also a coming-of-age angle, wherein we see Naveen Shankar's Basava foregoing his foreign plans for the sake of his people. The small subplot featuring him and his father, a farmer who triggers the social crusade, is endearing and also emotionally stirring, making it one of the main highlights of the film. The young actor delivers a restrained performance in these portions and you would have liked the entire film to be as subtle and composed. 

But in the same vein, Basava's soaring into an action hero felt abrupt and sudden to me. As much as Kshetrapati is centred around the present reality of farmers, the approach to tackling such an overwhelming problem is a tad too loud, too unimaginative. Yes, it is a commercial film, after all, but what you see on the screen is pretty much a rehash of countless other films. The antagonism is extreme and simply unredeemable like in any run-of-the-mill "mass" film and every other character in the film, aside from the hero and a couple of others, is incredibly frail.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the film has nothing engaging about it. It's rare to see a film that is so well aware of its surroundings and you see that in how Shrikant Katagi and co. navigate the North Karnataka terrain. Each crevice of the film is proud of its identity and it's extremely refreshing to see that. Be it the uncompromised use of the dialect or the decision to cast local, lesser-known actors, Kshetrapati's charm results from these specificities. I also liked how Archana Jois' character of a popular news anchor Bhoomika is employed and that she isn't cornered to play just the 'love interest'.

The rest of the cast, including Achyut Kumar, Rahul Ainapur, Krishna Hebbale, Shailashree Urs, Natya Ranga and others, performs well but feels under-utilized by the script. As already pointed out, the writing limits each character by identifying them as one of the two moral binaries and thereby, makes them look like archetypes. Still, actors such as Rahul Ainapur, Shailashree Urs and Natya Ranga deliver compelling performances.


There's no doubt that Kshetrapati carried a lot of promise, especially because it marked Naveen Shankar's return as a solo hero. The actor, who has had a good run so far in 2023 with two credible performances in Hondisi Bareyiri and Gurudev Hoysala, shines bright here, too, but the problem is that the latest film feels a bit outdated. There are bright spots, sure, but they are few and far in-between because the overbearing tone of the narrative eclipses them. Regardless, if you want to understand the plight of farmers, particularly those in Karnataka, then do pay a visit to the theatres to give Kshetrapati a chance.

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