With the increase in the number of films, the number of screens and audiences, the Kannada film industry is at the crossroads of great change.

Aa Karaala Ratri to KGF Unforgettable Kannada films from 2018
Flix Sandalwood Thursday, December 27, 2018 - 16:42

Yet another year passes by hoping for great films. The excitement, hype, experiments continued but with all the highs and lows the report card shows that mediocrity is not only accepted but also celebrated. Thanks to the advent of digital technology that has attracted many to become filmmakers, there was a record number of films that got released in Sandalwood. As of mid-December, the count of released films was around 215 and the year is expected to close with approximately 225 films. The huge number has not only hampered the quality of films but also has led to chaos in scheduling releases, with seven to eight films fighting for screens every week.

One major positive that was noticed this year was the tremendous reach of Kannada films. Due to the ease of digital distribution, films could make it for release outside of Karnataka as well as overseas. Also with many of the new Kannada films being made available on VOD/SVOD platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hotstar, there has been a steep increase in the viewer-base for Kannada cinema across the globe. This has paved the path for interesting viewpoints and criticism. Social media has become a great resource where people share their thoughts and reviews. This has established a kind of feedback mechanism and filmmakers directly get to know the audience pulse. All this gives a strong indication that now is the best time to make good films and create a greater impact, as the industry is undergoing a transition and building better audiences.

Out of the 200+ films, only a handful of them make it to the list of memorable films.

Humble Politician Nograj

Humble Politician Nograj, the first film to release this year with a lot of hype, received a mixed response. The film stars the multi-talented Danish Sait portraying the role of a narcissistic politician. Nograj, a popular character that Danish carved out during the IPL season, had created a huge following and there were huge expectations from the movie. The silliness in the narrative was quite evident from the trailer and this was accepted by a set of the audience. The film proved to be a treat for Danish’s fans. It is a tough task to hold people’s attention for 144 minutes with lame jokes and a script that is not tight, however, Danish carries the entire film on his shoulder and shows that he is creatively manipulative and more than just an actor. The film, directed by Saad Khan and jointly produced by Paramvah Studio, Pushkar Films and Lost & Found Films, went on to be featured on Amazon Prime Video, one of the first Kannada films to make it on that platform. Post the release on Prime, the social media wave struck, many wondering how the film really worked.

Tagaru

One of the biggest hits of this year is the action flick Tagaru starring Shivrajkumar and directed by Soori. Many popular filmmakers take up the easy route to woo the audience with the same tried and tested techniques with star-actors, making them play similar roles again and again. But for this film, Soori surpassed these ideologies and convinced a star like Shivarajkumar to believe in an experimental take on a usual cop vs. gangster subject. The film has a non-linear narrative style and people had to actively engage while watching the film. Since the film was shot in a linear fashion and the narrative was made non-linear only on the edit table, the roughness and jerks in the flow were evident. The negative characters were glorified and had unusual portrayals, brilliantly performed by Dhananjaya and Vashista Simha. Mahen Simha’s cinematography gave the raw look and feel and Charan Raj’s background score and music provided the necessary edge to make this a stylish flick. Even though there wasn’t anything new in the storyline, the treatment and style became the USP of the film.

Gultoo

Gultoo, a film made by a new team based on data theft and cybercrime, was a surprise hit. The film was more infotainment, educating people about how easy it is for a hacker to sneak into accounts and steal confidential information. These aspects were interestingly showcased, but there were some other tracks the film had to make it friendlier for a wider set of audience and an unnecessary romantic track with songs coming from nowhere, due to which the narrative fell flat. The film glorified the protagonist as an escapist, which sounded quite unconvincing. The film had some cool visual effects. With this film, Janardhan Chikkanna joined the league of promising new age directors and the lead actor Naveen Shankar, who gave a stellar performance, bagged some good offers.

Aa Karaala Ratri

Dayal Padmanabhan is known for his works that he terms ‘bridge’ cinema. His Aa Karaala Ratri is undoubtedly the best of his works till date. It is based on a Russian short story titled The Return of the Soldier, which has been adapted as a play in multiple Indian languages, with some minor add-ons. The film is a tale of greed which makes people turn blind and fail to recognise their kith and kin. The whole drama is garbed as a thriller.

The film had some great performances, including by Anupama Gowda who was till then seen only on television soaps. This film got a good run at the box office because of word-of-mouth publicity and was selected as the Kannada film entry for Oscars.

Katheyondu Shuruvagide

Senna Hegde has his own style of making films. He finds stories about regular, normal people and makes them interesting. This trait was quite evident from his first film 0-41*, a docu-drama that unfolds in a small town in northern Kerala. The trait continues with a better budget and apt star cast in Katheyondu Shuruvagide, which explores relationships at different thresholds in life. The simple structure of the narrative gives a fresh feel to Kannada film lovers, thanks to the minimal characters and their realistic performances. This is also a visually great looking film with exotic locations and sound-scape to match. The film received mixed response – most cinephiles liked the treatment whereas the bulk of the audience felt that there was no great story that was told. The film is now on Amazon Prime and has been receiving wider appreciation.

Sarkari Hi. Pra. Shaale, Kasaragodu

Amidst all the films made with a clear commercial agenda and proudly carrying the tag of ‘time pass’, Sarkari Hiriya Prathamika Shaale, Kasaragodu stands way apart. The film has a clear intention of providing entertainment touching upon a sensitive subject and succeeds in achieving it despite its flaws and limitations. Closing Kannada schools and enforcement of Malayalam in the linguistic minority region has been an ongoing battle. This film brings in the perspective of the Kannada side.

The foundation was strong in terms of concept but the screenplay wasn’t that crisp and wandered all over before coming back to the point only during the last few minutes. Anant Nag’s swag and his dialogue delivery were a major highlight of the film. Vasuki Vaibhav’s music came in as a huge boost. This indeed is a film that brought together an honest ensemble of cast and crew to show a sensitive topic and blend it with cinematic pleasure. This is the third film by Rishab Shetty, the first under his banner, and was one of the biggest blockbusters of this year.

Ondalla Eradalla

With Rama Rama Re, D Satya Prakash brought Kannada cinema a new voice. He cemented it further with his new film Ondalla Eradalla. It is a misnomer to mark this as a children’s film. Building a narrative with a child longing for something as the anchor point is a great plot. The way the other characters are built around the protagonist has been done very well in the script.

The tag-line of the film – a boy searching for his lost cow – seems simplistic and might keep many of us from this film. But there is something big that is kept hidden which is revealed only when you watch the film. The search for the lost cow carves the path for many other characters to search for the things that they have lost and are longing for. It is the journey that makes the film memorable.

KGF

The biggest and one of the most awaited films of all time, Yash starrer KGF, also supposedly the costliest film to ever come out of the Kannada industry, proved to be a blockbuster. The film released in five different languages, including Hindi. The film opened to highly positive reviews by the audience but also to negative reviews by critics. The film lives up to expectations and within the framework of mass films that celebrate heroism, the treatment was different. For a majority of the audiences, the experience that matters most is provided by the film. Even though it has a done-to-death storyline, the way the visuals mapped and built that story is to be appreciated. The film is brilliant technically, mainly the art direction, cinematography, sound design and background score. The film establishes Yash and the Kannada film industry pan India.

Apart from the usual commercial entertainers, there were some strong content oriented films that made big news this year.

Ammachi Yemba Nenapu showcased some of the best characters created by Dr Vaidehi in her literary works. A sensible and a beautiful film that highlights the culture and roots of coastal Karnataka, it talks about the plight of women belonging to a different age and different paths of life, fighting against our patriarchal society. The film went on to get accolades from a large set of the audiences. This is quite an impressive debut by director Champa Shetty.

Tulu film Paddayi won the national award and is the only film from Karnataka to be featured in the Indian Panorama this year. Directed by Abhay Simha, it is based on Shakespeare’s classic Macbeth, with the narrative set in a fishermen’s community. The film had some great performances with a majority of the cast coming from Ninasam, a renowned organisation dedicated to drama, films and publishing. The film had a limited release and has been featured in several film festivals.

Nathicharami by Mansore, featured in the MAMI festival, touches upon the sensitive issue of the physical desires and needs and loneliness of a young woman who has lost her husband. It is about her struggle to get into a relationship in modern times, where our “progressive” country still has many taboos about sex and desire. The film has Shruthi Hariharan playing the protagonist. The trailer and the songs have received a positive response and the film is slated for a release in the last week of December.

A screenshot from the Nathicharami trailer

Though there hasn’t been any dearth of horror films from Sandalwood, rarely have filmmakers tried experimenting and giving this films of this genre a different tone. Trunk shifts itself from the usual formula of scary visuals and tries hard to be a psychological horror. The narrative as the title suggests revolves around a trunk and how it is connected to the main characters of the film. The screenplay has been given a realistic tone, it is slow, less dramatic and takes time to establish the context and characters. The film is directed by newcomer Rishika Sharma, granddaughter of the critically acclaimed filmmaker GV Iyer.

Few notable remakes that happened this year include Ambi Ninge Vayassaytho (remake of the Tamil Pa Pandi), which featured the veteran late Ambareesh in a memorable role along with Sudeep and Shruthi Hariharan. Another was KM Chaitanya’s Amma I Love You (remake of the Tamil Pichaikaran) starring Chiranjeevi Sarja and Sithara.

Some of the major let-downs this year were Anup Bhandari’s Rajaratha (starring Nirup Bhandari and Avantika Shetty) and Prem’s The Villain (starring Shivrajkumar, Sudeep and Amy Jackson). The films enjoyed a wide release but received a thumbs-down from a majority of the audiences.

With the increase in the number of films, the number of screens and audiences, the industry is at the crossroads of great change. The next year’s line-up, a good mix of strong content-oriented films as well as big budget commercial films, shows a lot of promise. Some of the most talked about films that were in production have been scheduled for release and 2019 could very well be a good year for Kannada cinema.

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