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Why Does Kantara Strike An Emotional Chord?

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

At the risk of sounding like a movie snob, it's not often that I come across a movie that really wows me. Kantara is one of those movies and in Kannada no less! What does this mean for the future of Kannada movies in general? And what can we expect?

The King in Kantara

The Bhootha Kola

Part of my childhood involved visits to villages and towns where my relatives resided. I used to witness a phenomenon where a person would don grand clothes to invite a divine soul into their physical being. At the time, of course, I could not understand what was happening. All I could make out were loud drums, scary costumes, and unnatural gyrations. Time passed, and I forgot about them completely.

Then came Kanthara, and it all came rushing back. I was blown away by the cinematic brilliance of the whole thing.

Rishab Shetty has himself been a vessel for divine force, performing Bhootha Kola in real life with true devotion.

Caution: Loads of Spoilers ahead!

Hombale Films Kantara

How it Starts

The plot begins as all great stories do - a long time ago, in a place far, far away...

There's a king who has everything in life except peace of mind which eludes him despite being married to a beautiful woman and having a wonderful child. He keeps searching for calm and peace that seems to be so far from his grasp.

Kings Lack of contentment in Kantara

So begins the quest of the hero, searching for peace and contentment. He goes into the deep and mysterious forest and comes upon something that suddenly fills him with peace and contentment.

King on a quest in Kantara

He is so overwhelmed by the experience that he puts down his armaments and begins to pray to the mysterious entity whose presence fills his consciousness.

The King surrendering to a deity in Kantara

A few seconds later he is confronted by the residents of the jungle, people living off the land, in harmony with nature. A trade is struck between the King and the people, allowing the ruler to take their diety back to his palace in exchange for land that spans a wide area.

The King happy and  Triumphant in Kantara

The King returns triumphant and joyful, going on to lead a fulfilling life with his family and kingdom.

How greed destroys

Cut to current-day life where Kingdoms have given way to governments and people who value money and power over peace and contentment. The King's heirs now watch the sacred Bhootha Kola honoring the Deity that brought peace and prosperity to King's lineage. But the greed of the King's successor gets the better of him and tries to bribe the sacred Kola performer to return the land given to the people in the jungle.

Bhoota Kola by Rishab Shetty as Shiva

Panjurli, the powerful Deity that inhabits the Kola performer isn't pleased with such irreverence and warns of impending doom should he continue on the path of greed. The performer still possessed by the Deity rushes into the forest, only to disappear in a ring of fire, as discovered by his son who chases after his father.

Panjurli disappearing in a circle of Fire

As expected, the successor disregards Panjurli's warning, only to die violently on the steps of the court in which he was seeking "justice."

Bad Karma finishing off the Heavy

The concept of Karma is referenced here, where acts of good and bad are always balanced out by consequences in this life or the next.

Cue the next generation of Bhootha Kola with Rishab Shetty's Shiva being the cousin brother of the performer Guruva. While Shiva is rash, immature, and happy-go-lucky, he is also repressing the staggering trauma of his Father's mysterious disappearance into the woods.

This is why Guruva takes on the mantle of Panjurli while Shiva is content to watch on the sidelines. Guruva is calm and collected and clearly personifies the contented nature of the Deity he allows to inhabit his corporeal form.

Shiva crosses paths with the hot-blooded and idealistic forest officer Murali who is tasked with converting the jungle land into a forest reserve. Amid these clashes, Things take a turn for the worse when Guruva is murdered and the news reaches Shiva when he is in jail.

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Indian and Greek Mythology

What follows is an epic set of scenes that are packed with so much that a single viewing won't be enough to absorb all the incredible details.

Shiva with his friend Mahadeva in Blacksmith shop

While talking to his blacksmith Mahadeva and high on marijuana he discovers that the true killer was someone he trusted all along. This whole scene reminds me of the rapport between Hephaestus and the greek gods (especially Ares).

Mahadevas Divine weapons

With Mahadeva (also meaning Shiva - the God who destroys) representing the Weapon maker of the Old Gods (As Steppen Wolf says in Justice League). The ganja reminds me of Indra ( The Indian Zeus) indulging in Soma rasa and other intoxicants to strengthen themselves.

Shiva on ganja

The scene where Shiva inhales the weed smoke and feels his world expand looks very surreal with not many movies showing it the same way (or any movie for that matter).

There is a fight that ensues with hints of comedy and visual tones of fire, water, and earth that is simply beautiful. Nothing in Kantara is just crammed in to increase run-time. Everything is carefully scripted to convey a message that sticks in the viewer's mind.

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Running from your destiny

Shiva is haunted by his destiny throughout the movie with scenes of the Varaha Avatara playing heavily on his mind. The more he avoids it, the stronger his visions get. Once he faces his destiny head-on and takes up his responsibilities, he is in harmony with the world around him and everything falls into place.

Shiva in the landlords house in Kantara

There is also the passing of the torch from the father to the son that is referenced each time Panjurli exits the physical plane of existence. You can see similar scenes in Marvel with elements of the Bi-frost in the Thor movies and the ancestral plane referred to in the Black Panther movies.

Panjurli meeting with its next generation

Panjurli and Guliga can be likened to the ego and id referred to by Sigmund Freud and the Self, the Persona, and The Shadow referred to by Carl Jung. They are the aspects of a personality that exist within a person.

Guliga, Panjurlis darker side

What could have been different

One thing that could have been done differently is that Guliga could have only attacked and not killed the Landlord. They could have built more on the premise of Karma, having the Landlord being ended by something that he himself has done. It might be a vice such as alcoholism, a genetic aberration exacerbated by a decadent lifestyle, or poetic justice served up through coincidental misfortune.

That way, the probability of encouraging vigilantism in real-world situations would be reduced and an ethical and moral outlook could be presented to the viewers.

Spirituality was the focus of the movie and the fact that Guliga had to surface and break the law seems like overkill. I would call it pandering if I were not a bit superstitious about forces beyond my ken. But I think divine powers are more subtle and leave fewer fingerprints that can be seen with one's eyes, let alone make people break the law of the land.

Parting Thoughts

For any writer out there it will be clear that Kantara is written by a single person, and it happens to be the lead in the movie. Rishab Shetty has done a great job of storytelling here and I would be bitterly disappointed if it does not win the Best Non-English Film at the Oscars in 2023. It is clear that this movie is a labor of love and an homage to the God(s) that created us, and I hope we get to see many more movies with the same amount of heart and soul in them.

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