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Once Upon a Time in Jamaligudda review: An intriguing romance that lacks depth, finesse

Debutant Kushal Gowda's film stars Dhananjaya, Aditi Prabhudeva, Praanya P. Rao, Yash shetty, Prakash Belawadi, Bhavana Ramanna, and others.

2.5/5rating
Once Upon a Time in Jamaligudda review: An intriguing romance that lacks depth, finesse
Once Upon a Time in Jamaaligudda Poster
  • Swaroop Kodur

Last Updated: 11.58 AM, Dec 30, 2022

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Story:

More than two decades ago, little girl Chukki's merry road trip with her uncle Hiroshima is brought to a sudden halt when she learns that he is actually a convict on the run. Despite the circumstances, Chukki believes that those couple of days with Hiroshima were the best moments of her life, ones that have had a lasting impression on her. Cut to the present, the adult Chukki is walking down the same memory lane but in the same vein, she is pursuing Rukmini, Hiroshima's forlorn lover who lives in the quaint town of Jamaligudda. Does Chukki's search give her the answers she seeks?

Review:

It's difficult to categorize Once Upon a Time in Jamaligudda in a genre. While the film boasts elements of a road movie, an ethereal romance, and even a thriller, writer-director Kushal Gowda's vision transcends it all because he sees his film as folklore, a kind of fable that one recounts again and again with a hint of exaggeration. That's exactly what Chukki, one of the three protagonists, does and we see the entire story unfold through her memory of what occurred many decades ago. She even gives us a disclaimer at one point, saying that she doesn't fully remember why and how things took place, but we believe her nevertheless because her retelling is poignant, beautiful, and very effective. 

And to make things more interesting, Kushal Gowda uses the fable trope in two different ways: in the first iteration, we hear the older Chukki navigate a first-hand encounter that she had with her "maama" Hiroshima many years ago, sharing vivid details of their short-lived but very memorable road trip. She tells us about their little visit to a lake to fish, about their brushes with violence and danger along the way, how she came to meet her maama in the first place, and how, even though he was a convict on the run, she found him to be the kindest and most giving of souls. In the present, when the older Chukki drives around alone in her car seeking remnants of that journey, we understand the impact that Hiroshima has cast on her and begin to look for him through her eyes, wanting to know how it all ended. 

In the second retelling, Kushal Gowda makes things more meta and further accentuates the folklore qualities of his story. Chukki's jog through memory lane slowly leads us into an unnamed coastal town where Hiroshima works as a bartender. This is the birthplace of his love story, we are told, and Chukki's own rendition is borrowed because she is only recounting what Hiroshima told her. Also, Hiroshima is Krishna here and to make things evidently epic and ethereal, Kushal Gowda names the love interest Rukmini. Krishna and Rukku, played by Aditi Prabhudeva, meet at a massage parlour where the latter works as a masseuse and the former pays a visit in search of "heaven". She says it isn't "that kind" of a massage parlour and a few minutes later, he finds her shedding tears secretly in a corner. In the scene after, Krishna is guilt-ridden for making such a gross faux pas and as he decides on making amends for it, he also realizes that he is in love. 

As far as meet-cute moments in films are concerned, Kushal Gowda drifts away from the routine and lends a new edge to the Krishna-Rukmini romance. He also enunciates that this is a kind of romance that always lives on the perils and that when two innocent and naive souls meet, it is the world around them that decides their fates. As troubles loom large around Krishna and Rukku, we learn that this is the missing piece of the puzzle that Chukki initially laid out and as the story backtracks further, we understand why and how Krishna becomes a convict.

Dhananjaya stands out...

One of the main reasons Once Upon a Time in Jamaligudda works is Dhananjaya's earnest performance as Hiroshima/Krishna. The actor channels a most tender and vulnerable side of his for the role and manages to shed all kinds of vanity in his pursuit - he is potbellied, uncouth, and heavily impeded by a speech defect. Be it in the genuineness of the maama to the young Chukki or the reluctance with which he courts Rukmini, Dhananjaya exudes warmth and honesty. In the same vein, Aditi Prabhudeva as his Rukku is delightful and effortless and Praanya Rao as Chukki (Mayuri Nataraj as the adult Chukki) shines bright. 

The rest of the cast, including Prakash Belawadi, Yash Shetty, Nanda Gopal, and Bhavana Ramanna, is effective and adequate.

Screenplay and Direction

As much as Kushal Gowda tries to fill his film with sincerity, the narrative of Once Upon a Time in Jamaligudda lacks the required amount of depth and finesse to make a story of this kind work. There are many genuine moments in the film, no doubt, but Gowda's ambition to marry genres is undone by the lack of nuance in the script. The fictional world he creates is a tad superficial and one expects a more layered approach to enhance its traits.

J Anoop Seelin's background score is one of the major highlights of the film and so is Karthik S' cinematography which captures the lushness of the Malenadu region quite beautifully. 

Verdict:

Once Upon a Time in Jamaligudda is a novel attempt, no doubt, but the film needed a clearer perspective and a more defined approach from the director to fare better. Dhananjaya delivers yet another strong performance and he is ably supported by Aditi Prabhudeva, Praanya P. Rao, Prakash Belawadi and others but the ensemble is unable to hide some of the shortcomings. Karthik S' cinematography is a major plus and so is Anoop Seelin's music but at the end of it all, the viewer is likely to walk out of the cinema hall wanting a bit more than what they got. Once Upon a Time in Jamaligudda has its heart in the right place but, sometimes, that may not fully suffice.

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