Kantara movie review: A vibrant and mythical tale with just the right drama

Kantara is an important story that is portrayed stunningly with the help of folklore, and art that is native to the Kundapura area. Rishab Shetty has performed stunningly in an affecting film.

Priyanka Sundar September 30, 2022 09:38:35 IST
Kantara movie review: A vibrant and mythical tale with just the right drama

Language: Kannada

Cast: Rishab Shetty, Kishore Kumar and Sapthami Gowda

Director: Rishab Shetty

Star rating: 3.5/5

Hombale Films, the production house that bankrolled KGF films is back with a dynamic film called Kantara. It is a rooted, it is vibrant and it is performed so stunningly, that there are moments that leave you in goose bumps. The most important characteristic of this film — despite its flaws — is how it chooses to encapsulate the fight of the tribal community for their land. This is an issue that persists in India today, but filmmaker and lead actor in the film — Rishab Shetty —  has set the story mainly in the 1990s. The film does span three timelines, going back to 1890. It all begins like a fairy tale, and speaks of Kings and their lives.

One such, who had everything, including the blessings of his people continually felt empty within, and he sets upon a soul searching journey that leads him to the village that the film is set in. His journey ends with him surrendering his weapon and himself to the local deity, who guards the tribal community. He attains the peace that he had been in search of all this while in the presence of this goddess and he seeks the community’s permission to take her back to the palace.

This moment is indicative of how the royal families in the 1890s appropriated the tribal gods, but left the people behind. They went on to oppress these people, continued to enslave them and forced them to stay illiterate purely out of hunger for more power and greed. Caste system was upheld strongly, and the hegemony continued to stay strong for decades still.

However, the community in the film has a guardian angel, and that is their deity. She seeks a promise from the King, in return for his favour, She orders for the surrounding land — forest and all — be bequeathed to the people of the community. She also warns the king that if any of his future generations were to back away from this promise, they would face and unfortunate end. This is where the film gets a brilliant mythical tone. This deity that everyone believes in strongly keeps the community for decades. The film flashes forward to 1970.

This time period reiterates how people in positions of power abuse it. It portrays one of the King’s descendants lusts after the many acres of land. The value of the land has grown manifold in the years since, and all this man can see is money. He takes part in a popular local procession of the community that celebrates their deity. He sees a performance of Bhoota Kola (an animist form of spirit worship that is native to the costal districts of Tulunadu and some parts of Malenadu in Karnataka and Kasargod in Kerala). One wrong move by this descendent leads to his death. Yet, it also leads to the disappearance of the performer. It is his son — Shiva (Rishab Shetty) who inherits the talent for Bhoota Kola. However, after having witnessed his father’s disappearance first hand, he decides not take up Bhoota Kola, and instead begins to work for the dead descendant’s son who goes by “Landlord” in the film.

Shiva is the one who must deal with greed for money and for power in the present. How he grows up from a naive thug on hire for the Landlord, to a responsible adult who stands with his people is well-etched out and entertaining. The region that the story is set in, the people that Rishab has penned about in the film — its all his home ground. He developed the story of Kantara during the pandemic lockdown when he was home, after hearing the story of a performer from his son. So Kantara is as rooted as it can get. Especially, the sequences featuring Bhoota Kola are so stunningly shot by Arvind Kashyap that it induces goosebumps multiple times.

The music of Kantara is also a star of the film that not only supports the narrative but elevates it as well. The inspiration from local folklore of Karnataka, the local artists that were spoken to, and the ones who were also featured in the film add authenticity to the endeavour of adapting a folklore. It is a simple tale about a community reclaiming the lands that were originally theirs, owed to them by a man who bartered with them. It would have come across as uninspired, if not for the introduction of Bhoota Kola, and the myths that surround spirit worshipping.

Above all of this, what really takes the prize is Rishab’s acting. This is something that the director-actor’s friends had hyped up before the release of the film. However, the hype is real. The last 40 minutes of the film is where Rishab has truly outdone himself, and every moment is gravitating. There is no way you could stray away from the screen, not even momentarily.

There is but one complaint that I have of this film and it is the way Shiva woos Leela. It is understandable that the film is set in 90s, but pinching the waist, or using certain situations to touch her left me cringing in my seat. Leela’s character is not really one-note, either. Her struggles are interesting, but she never get the time to unpack it on screen. This is one of the few characters that truly needed more attention, failing which the film has fallen prey to the syndrome of portraying a female character as nothing but an attractive lamppost.

Overall though, this is film that one must watch just to understand the dynamics of a life lived in interior parts of Karnataka. There is Kambala, and Bhoota Kola, and then there is the story itself that rings true which is captured with stunning visuals. All of this, makes for a film that is definitely worth your time!

Priyanka Sundar is a film journalist who covers films and series of different languages with special focus on identity and gender politics.

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