There is a strong logic behind the seeming absurdness of the film, and the climax is certainly worth the wait.

Review Kahi weaves strong narratives into a surprisingly good ensemble filmScreenshot/ YouTube
Features Film Review Saturday, November 05, 2016 - 10:52

What could a marijuana peddler with a penchant for writing poetry, an aspiring novelist in despair about not getting pregnant, the angsty son of a well-to-do couple with a tendency towards psychopathy, and a dancer with kleptomania have in common?

That’s the question that “Kahi”, directed by Arvind Sastry, raises as it weaves the narratives of these four lives together. And it answers that question with excellent competence, purposely breaking some of the key genre conventions of multi-strand films. Although the experience seems frustrating at first, the manner in which the narratives resolve themselves more than satisfies any doubts about the film’s unusual storytelling style.

The film certainly takes its time bringing its narratives together. Indeed, for the most part, the possibility of connecting lives seems too much to ask. Instead, director Arvind Sastry pushes us almost violently from one story to the next, as events occur in each of these four lives that take them further down somewhat unexpected paths.

The novelist, Akhila (Krishi Thapanda), receives catastrophic news just when things seem like they might turn out for the better.  The dancer, Vidya (Matangi Prasan), is almost caught on one of her kleptomaniac excursions, and is rescued by the poet/drug dealer, Hari (Harisharva). But just as you think this might blossom into a deeper relationship, things take a turn for the worse. Meanwhile, the angsty son of rich parents, Raghu (Suraj Gowda), goes off on an abrupt streak of violence.

Both visually and aurally, the film also jumps between these various stories, as the cinematography and the soundtrack shift according to the different story threads, constantly reinforcing the distance between them. The genre-bending soundtrack composed by Midhun Mukundan, in particular, marks itself off as one of the stars of the show, setting and unsettling moods with equal rapidity.

In terms of the dialogues too, it often seems that the various characters do not have conversations so much as talk at each other, conveying just enough information for the story to move forward. It's only when director Arvind brings his narratives to a resolution of sorts that the rationale of the film unfolds wonderfully. That rationale, and the climax it brings, are defined by a resistance to any easy unifying meaning.

 In many ways, “Kahi” is the exact opposite of the ensemble film genre, which connives implausibly with events to discover underlying unities in all our lives. Instead, this film resolutely avoids hackneyed resolutions that could give audiences the happily ever after that they supposedly want.

Perhaps the main weak point is the way Raghu's character is written. While the other three protagonists are scripted with texture and contradictions, Raghu feels too one-dimensional. Still, Suraj gives Raghu just the menacing darkness his character needs. But it is Harisharva, who steals the show, giving us the most substantial character of the film in Hari. Mathangi and Krishi are almost as good, though perhaps their characters are not given the same immediate life and death urgency that Hari is.

Not all of the film’s narrative jumps and juxtapositions work well enough, and there are portions that could have done with more finesse. But to see such a narrative attempt coming out of Kannada cinema is indeed a welcome surprise.


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