Forged in Fire: Kantara

Homo sapiens is a storytelling animal that thinks in stories rather than in numbers or graphs, and believes that the universe itself works like a story, replete with heroes and villains, conflicts and resolutions, climaxes and happy endings.

When we look for the meaning of life, we want a story that will explain what reality is all about and what my particular role is in the cosmic drama. This role makes me a part of something bigger than myself, and gives meaning to all my experiences and choices.

Yuval Noah Harari in “21 Lessons for the 21st century”

To stand out in the marketplace of ideas, you need to tell the world about your identity and heritage. If you do a good job, the world will notice your uniqueness and embrace you.

Kantara, the movie breaking many box-office records, has picked on this idea and presented a story rooted in coastal Karnataka’s cultural ethos in an aesthetically pleasing and emotionally provocative manner. I watched the movie this morning and felt like sharing a few thoughts.

The Story (Without Spoilers)

Like many great stories, the movie begins with “once upon a time, there was a king”. The king is unhappy. His void is unexplained. But he finds solace in a demigod’s vicinity. In exchange for the demigod’s idol, the king bestows upon its believers a large swathe of land. However, the faith of his successors in the god and the trade-off made in its exchange breaks down at some point of time. One of the successors asks the believers of the demigod to return the lands.

A still from the song “Varaha Roopam”

Adding to the mix, the government and laws compete to control the same piece of land and its natural wealth. A community’s desire to preserve its way of living and means of sustenance clashes with the dual powers of sovereign power and generational entitlement.

The outcome of this clash is a gripping, intense and powerful story. Faith, innocence, love and betrayal are key emotional pillars on which the movie stands. The narrative thrives on violence and supernatural intrigue. If I say anything beyond this, it will spoil your movie-viewing experience. So, I will stop at this point. You just need to see the trailer and check the rating on BookMyShow if you doubt my aesthetic sensibilities.

Criticism

I came across a variety of reviews after watching the movie. The most absurd one was put across by “The Wire“. Don’t read this before watching the movie. It picks on specific scenes of the movie and the behaviour of the hero vis-à-vis the female lead without giving any thought about the artistic intentions behind it. The response to it is available partly in the interview given by the movie director Rishab Shetty. (You should see the interview to understand how the movie was conceived. It’s very interesting).

Apart from what I’ve read, I personally felt that the movie could give a fillip to blind faith in supernatural entities. It could probably drive us away from science and rationality.

When I double-click on these thoughts, I felt that rituals and gods depicted in the movie are no more fictional than mainstream faiths and holy books. In fact, communities that believe in these demigods are more in sync with nature. Their way of life is more harmonious with nature than the “educated” people who believe in rationality and science.

It might sound like I am gaslighting myself. But, I would like to borrow Rishab’s interpretation of the story. The demigod who drives the story in the movie is an intermediary between nature and man. The deity sets some boundaries in the continuous clash between man and nature (though one cannot really pinpoint practices of the tribe that are prescribed by the demigod in the movie).

Should You Watch It?

HELL YES! When the movie ended, I was left spellbound. I had an other-worldly experience. It was hard to process any other thought for a few minutes. I might be biased in favour of the movie because it has been made in Kannada, my mother tongue. Further, my affinity for coastal Karnataka’s visuals might have deepened my admiration for the movie (because I completed my undergrad in NITK, Surathkal).

I am not sure if the dubbed versions of the movie capture the beauty of the language. Much of it could be lost in translation. But, I think that is not the case considering many positive reviews given by non-Kannada admirers of the movie. If you don’t know Kannada, I would still recommend the non-dubbed version of the movie with English subtitles. That way, you can learn some Kannada while you enjoy a brilliant piece of art.

If you watch the movie after reading this piece, let me know if it was helpful (in the comments section). I would also love to discuss the details of the movie’s characters, the plot and the climax of the movie with anyone who has watched the movie. Drop a mail at nithesha123@gmail.com .

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