Director Raj B Shetty’s deeply atmospheric gangster saga, co-starring Rishab Shetty, is rooted, well-written and performed.

Poster of Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana
Flix Review Friday, November 19, 2021 - 10:42
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It takes some very clever writing and filmmaking to ensure you don’t allow your eyes to wander off the screen for 151 full minutes. Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana, presented by Rakshit Shetty’s Paramvah Pictures, does just that, backed by some brilliant performances by director and writer Raj B Shetty (Shiva), Rishab Shetty (Hari) and Gopal Krishna Deshpande (Brahmayya). With his 2017 Ondu Motteya Kathe and now this, writer-director-actor Raj shows what a precious breakthrough talent he is for Kannada cinema. And lending more sheen to his work are music director Midhun Mukundan, whose background score is evocative, and editor and cinematographer Praveen Shriyan, whose camera follows every little small road with moss-lined compounds in Mangaluru, and takes you along. His framing is exquisite, placing the subject in context. That montage of Shiva and his footwear will leave you chucking in a terse gangster drama.

On the face of it, Garuda Gamana might be about two unlikely friends and their brotherhood even as they rule over, with an iron fist, large swathes of Mangaluru from narrow alleys, but it tells a larger tale — of loyalty, of what is right and what is wrong, and that thing called karma. If Rishab plays Hari with a certain cool — his lips smile even as his mind plots, and his eyes are cold — Raj’s Shiva is one of the most beautiful characters on screen in the past few years. He’s loyal to a fault and is ruthless, but he loves cricket and the boys who he plays with, with equal fervour. He’s their Shiva Anna. It is this innate love for him that moves the final piece of the puzzle called Garuda Gamana.

Raj relies less on words and more on body language, as it happens in real life, to let you understand the changed relationship dynamics. The way Hari’s eyes follow Shiva initially… oh to be admired thus!

The story is narrated by a police official Brahmayya, who is transferred to Mangaluru, as a sort of punishment for speaking to his daughter while on duty. A warm welcome greets him, from two friends who were once selling snacks before they are forced to discover there is money to be made while being gangsters. He is initially terrified, but then, when pushed to a corner, he figures out a way to get even. That scene with the driver is so beautifully written — power equations change in minutes, a humaneness steps in and outward respect makes place for real respect.

Watch: Trailer of Garuda Gamana Vrishaba Vahana

The world Shiva and Hari occupy is a masculine space, devoid of women. The only one woman you really see is Hari’s mother who discovered Shiva, while slicing fish for a meal. In a way, it is quite a relief to see that women are not present as mere props. The boys play together and work together and a stoic Shiva is constantly picked on by the world, before Hari realises one bloody day how much Shiva cares for him, and what anger resides within him.

Eventually, conflict strikes. Sometimes the most life-changing decisions seem innocuous. That’s what it is like when Ravi Anna, who operates a betting syndicate, enters their lives. The same melting look Hari once gave Shiva is now transferred to another. And their lives are never the same again. Hari’s gait changes, his style of living changes, and he moves far away from the world he once occupied with Shiva and his boys.

Raj Shetty is a very physical performer. And so, Shiva’s silence, joy, disappointment and sense of being betrayed reach us not through words but through looks. Raj can occupy a window ledge, draw himself in and still create an illusion of more space. The next minute, he can expand and fill the entire screen while doing a vigorous pili vesha or tiger dance. His face is a blank canvas, unless something forces him to react. And, when he’s on the cricket field, he’s one of the older players who refuses to accept a wide or keeps castigating the others, liberally throwing around swear words. His chosen taunts are reserved for his favourite Kishore Kumar, and when something happens to him, something snaps in Shiva. That stretch on the steps of the Kadri temple, where his mind is processing what Hari has turned into, is elevated by the background score that mirrors his confusion. You’re almost grateful this film hit the big screen. It deserves to be seen in theatres.

Garuda Gamana has good subtitles that convey the overall flair of Mangaluru Kannada and the smattering of Tulu you hear. If you’re a local, then, Jeppu and Mangaladevi and Kadri are not merely names, but places you’ve walked in and travelled to. Pili vesha is an emotion outsiders might attempt to understand, but not really ‘get’. Here, it is life itself. The geographical and linguistic proximity left audiences hooting in the hall I watched the movie in. Just like how Raj’s Ondu Motteya Kathe did.

This gangster film has enough and more killings, but there’s a certain poetry in Praveen’s visuals. There’s little gore, but you sense the horror anyway. To think a shot of a person’s feet left you with dread! Look out for the scene near the paan shop, where crimson and green and the grey of the ground meet, in unusual ways.

To its credit, the film does not set out to glorify violence. It is all very matter-of-fact, either by force of circumstances, or to keep oneself alive. But, ultimately, the film is about how loyalty triumphs power. And about the cycle of violence, and how one always pays for it. And how, one always goes back to where one began. Like the saga of Hari and Shiva, the creator and destroyer, who are eternally linked through action and the things they possess.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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