Kaatera review: Darshan springs back into form with violence-heavy drama

‘Kaatera’ may not be the most remarkable film, but it works largely because it doesn’t try to be something else. Tharun Sudhir skillfully remoulds old tropes for the modern audience. More importantly, he knows how to use the Challenging Star.
Kaatera (Kannada)(3 / 5)

One of the earlier scenes of Tharun Kishore Sudhir's Kaatera reveals the film's leading man Darshan in handcuffs, sporting an aged look (shabbily done, to be honest), suggesting that he is paying the price for something terrible he has done. He is being escorted back to his hometown by a police constable (played by Achyuth Kumar). It is during this voyage that the story of the film is told, at its own leisurely pace. 

Kaatera is a film that unashamedly harks back to the days when movies dedicated a chunk of runtime for hero-heroine duets, a comedy track, and if need be, a few sentimental scenes between two family members. The film, along with all that, also includes sensitive social dilemmas concerning farmers, landlords, caste-based oppression, and more, which are ultimately resolved by the hero with the power of his axe (quite literally, in this case). Set in the 1970s, Darshan’s eponymous hero is a blacksmith in Kaatera who can forge the best machetes, sickles, axes, and knives in and around Bheemanahalli. He is also a man who is relegated to the role of a ‘slave’ because of his caste and is forced to withhold his strength for the longest time. 

But what happens at the tipping point? Of course, Kaatera rises to the occasion without batting an eyelid and emerges a saviour, a Messiah to his people. His own sister and brother-in-law, friends, and other relatives are farmers who have been subjugated and abused for way too long by the zamindars. When things begin to go out of control, there is no one but him to restore order and become David to the Goliath of the landlords.

As pointed out already, Kaatera has the workings of a classic '70s or '80s movie in which the roles of each character were set in stone. The villains are in-your-face kind of diabolical, the comedians are extremely naive, and the women too weak and gullible. It's a template whose beats and machinations we are incredibly familiar with, as is Kaatera’s co-writer and director Tharun Sudhir. At the same time, he is aware that a film of this kind is a rare find at the moment and that, if executed well, the aura of the superstar at his disposal is enough to make it work. And he does make it work.

In fact, it is the love for a film of this kind that does the trick for Tharun Sudhir. He oozes the conviction that when a story is told with all heart and is also treated delicately, it will surely reach its intended audience. That isn't to say that Kaatera is a "hack" movie in which the central social subject is just there as a placeholder, for brownie points. On the contrary, the film could be seen as a step forward from the said '70s or '80s template because it remains focused on its core idea and uses everything else – the stardom, the tropes, etc. – to shine a brighter light on the subject. Yes, at certain points, it does get carried away, catering to the needs of the fans of Darshan (one of the three fights in the film is stretched out a bit too long) but it often returns to its centre without causing much damage to itself.

More importantly, Tharun Sudhir knows how to utilise Darshan's star power and how to mould it for his film. The relationship between him and the superstar is of a give-and-take nature, because while he tells the story through the hero, Darshan, he also ensures the actor delivers a strong performance in return. The Challenging Star may not be the most gifted actor out there, nor is he known to work incredibly hard on his roles (at least of late). But when someone constructs a narrative that fits the bill for him, almost everything falls into place — and that's exactly how Kaatera works. 

But that said, the film is also almost too dense and long for our comfort, and that's because of the unnecessary scenes involving the lead couple of the film. One could sense some scepticism in the lead-up to the release of Kaatera regarding whether the pairing of Darshan and Aradhana Ram would work or not. The age gap between the two is quite evident both on and off the screen but beyond that, it's the lack of inventiveness on the director's part that makes things dull. Aradhana has the enterprising role of an educated, strong-willed woman and is also meant to be Kaatera's love interest. In an attempt to make both aspects of her personality relevant, the film dishes out a few too many sequences that are redundant in isolation. And that, in turn, causes the chemistry between the two to be unexciting.

Kaatera nevertheless makes up for all the drawbacks through some exciting action sequences that are staged, choreographed, and executed very well. If counted, one might find not more than four large fight sequences but each of them occurs at the right dramatic moment, lending that sense of catharsis to the audience. The rest of the cast comprising Jagapathi Babu, Kumar Govind, Shruti, Vinod Kumar Alva, Vijanath Biradar, Avinash, Rohit Pandavapura, and others is impressive and fits well into the make-believe world imagined by Tharun Sudhir. 

There is probably nothing distinctive about Kaatera, but the film works because it doesn’t try to be anything else. It would be unfair to call it a rehash because even though Tharun Sudhir and co. use an old formula, there is a lot of originality in the way they employ those tropes. Moreover, for those yearning to see Darshan in his element, this one's a must-watch.

Watch trailer here:

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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