Rishab Shetty’s mesmeric blend of action and mythology in Kantara ranks among the best in Indian Cinema.
Kantara Review: A heady blend of history, myth, folklore, high drama, and stylishly choreographed action neatly wrapped in a form firmly rooted in the cultural milieu it has sprung from.
Kantara has earned the whole country’s endorsement, with many more National Awards. The beautiful amalgamation of faith, thrill, action, and mythology in this powerful film stands the best among the efforts of any Indian filmmaker in recent times.
Many felt that Indian Cinema has lost touch with its roots and failed to find original stories from its heartland. This land, being so vast and diverse, is a treasure trove of stories. Kantara shows what is possible when a good storyteller tells an original tale with its roots deep in the land and culture while bringing with him the expertise and technical finesse of good filmmaking. Kantara is a period story of man vs. nature, villagers vs. zamindars, and the thirst for land, money, and power. But it is much more as it incorporates elements from coastal Karnataka’s culture and mythology seamlessly and fluidly into the story.
The story is set around a village in south Karnataka where a king gave the villagers his land 150 years ago. In 1990, an upright forest officer tried to curb hunting and tree felling in that land, which is now a reserve forest. To complicate matters, the villagers believe the land was offered to them as a boon from their Daiva, the demigod protector of the forest. The villagers are in no mood to listen to the outsider. Leading the charge against this is the protagonist, the village strongman, Shiva, played by Rishab Shetty. He is supported by the king’s descendant, the antagonist, the village’s sahib, played by Achyuth Kumar.
It is hard to lay a finger on the one thing that makes Kantara a masterpiece. Let’s begin with the script. It takes a common story which is seen very often, and introduces some unique local flavor. The amalgamation of rooting it in Indian culture makes it stand out from other such tales. Then comes the natural cherry on top, the breathtakingly wonderful cinematography of Arvind Kashyap. The way Arvind’s lens has brought life to the folklore of Kantara is a lesson for all storytellers. Some of the buffalo racing scenes at the film’s beginning deserve special applause, as do all the scenes from the festivities and visuals of the Daiva.
The music and background score from Ajaneesh Loknath complement the camera work. Using western instruments in some scenes depicting Indian festivities was bold, and it paid off quite well. In addition, the score brings out the myths, culture, and feel of the land where Kantara is set, taking you into the heart of the story so quickly that you forget you are sitting in a movie theater in another part of the country.
Rishab Shetty, as Shiva, delivers a powerful performance as this unstoppable force. He will go to any lengths to protect his village and his people. His beautifully choreographed and slick action sequences would be at home even in the best of Hollywood films. Kishore is on the other spectrum as the calm, simmering forest officer Muralidhar, at loggerheads with Shiva. The actor brings so much intensity into his scenes that it’s a treat.
This review would be incomplete without mentioning how colorfully and glamorously the film portrays the local festivities and rituals. The colors are vivid, the sounds melodic, and the portrayal powerful. All the scenes involving the Daiva are compelling, and some are even hair-raising. That guttural scream from the Daiva gives you goosebumps on more than one occasion. The climax, while being a complete masala Indian film offering, elevates the film to another level.
Like Sohum Shah’s Tumbbad some four years ago. Kantara is proof that the earthy, rooted folk tales from India have the power to be turned into compelling Cinema. Kantara takes Tumbbad’s legacy even forward. Despite being appreciated by everyone who watched it. Tumbbad made only ₹13 crores at the box office. Kantara, meanwhile, is hurtling towards the 100-crore mark. It is an essential film because its success will determine if other filmmakers across India will dare to tell original stories.
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