The film squanders wonderful possibilities for a good period story.

Bablusha A historical drama high on melodrama and low on historyFacebook/ bablusha
Features Film Review Saturday, September 03, 2016 - 12:40

When director Venkat Bharadwaj’s first film “A Day in the City” hit the screens, it garnered quite a bit of attention for its novel treatment of a subject that doesn’t often find its way into Kannada cinema –urban governance and the water crisis of our cities.

So when Venkat’s next film “Bablusha” – touted as a historical drama that would look at the life of commonfolk in the Vijayanagara kingdom instead of taking the route of royal pomp – released, it naturally caught one’s attention.

Ahead of the film’s release, interviews focused on the special place of kusti (wrestling) in the film, and the visual depiction of rural life in the historical kingdom, all of which added to this interest. To see relatively unchronicled lives and an ignored sporting history on screen seemed like a lovely possibility.

Sadly, however, the film squanders these wonderful possibilities for a story and returns to quasi-religious elements that have played themselves out in South Indian cinema ad nauseum.

“Bablusha” begins on a fairly promising note, focusing on a family who take in a stranger (Mani Shetty) claiming to be a victim of courtly machinations and eager to remake his life. It also turns out that this stranger is a master of the martial arts, and has trained soldiers in kusti and other arts in his earlier life. The generous landholder (Harsh Arjun) who has taken him in, has always had a secret yearning to learn wrestling and earn acclaim and royal blessing through this martial art.

So the training in wrestling begins, and the stranger soon becomes a part of the family and a companion and tutor to the landholder’s young daughter as well.

This first segment of the film runs fairly well, with some excellent locations, visually well-captured, and suffused with interesting colour palettes. There are also a few well-written songs that give the film a rich, warm hue.

And when the local master wrestler hears that a foreigner is teaching the landholder wrestling, and comes to contest his turf, one begins to feel that the film is establishing its main plot

.However, a fairly well-choreographed wrestling bout later, kusti disappears entirely from the film, and the tables turn abruptly, when the child and stranger disappear together one morning.

Suddenly, the film is the story of the pursuit of a kidnapper. Along the way, the landholder seeks aid from a famous painter, the 16th century version of a police sketch artist, a sage of unknown provenance and a random companion picked up along the way.

If at this point, you find this synoptic retelling of the story, rather abrupt and confused, that’s because the film progresses in much the same way. There is no explanation for why different elements appear and disappear from the story. It simply lurches on to whatever twist and turn comes along, until finally it reaches a dismally predictable end involving dark rituals and attempted child sacrifice.

As for its depiction of common life in a historical period, outside of the absence of modern amenities, and the use of a slightly old-fashioned Kannada, there is nothing to give us a sense of a concrete historical period.

In the end, one comes out of the film feeling cheated - that what was promised, was not delivered. And wondering what might have been, if only the director had stuck to his original premise. 

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