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In thought and spirit

K.N. VENKATASUBBA RAO

The Kannada audience has changed. And the industry is quickly tuning into the new situation



BACK TO THE PAST Shivaraj Kumar in the mythological Kumara Rama

The 70-year-old Kannada film industry, these days, is on the lookout for viable themes. So, it is rummaging through mammoth archives for original themes, even as it is disillusioned by its own passion for remakes that has cost it a costly Rs. 35 crore, just in the last 11 months. It also seems strangely encouraged by the "unusual response" to the three original themes, Jogi, Amrithadhaare and Deadly Soma.

The veteran producer and director S.V. Rajendra Singh (Babu) and the newly founded MSR Chitralaya, the cinema production wing of the MS Ramaiah group of educational institutions, is going back to the past, including producers. Under a big banner, again from the past, they seem to take great pride in presenting historical, mythological and social films, three decades old Telugu and Tamil films. Many producers and directors are also sifting through the pages of Kannada novels and short stories in search of themes.

New turn

The mood of Kannada cinema was rather melancholic until it witnessed the unbelievable success of an average remake film Aptamitra, based on the decade old Malyalam film Manichitrathazhu. Stung by surprise, the industry held secret brainstorming sessions to discern the secret of Aptamitra's success, and the lugubrious failure of many other remake films, though rich in production.

Well before they found the right answers to these nagging questions, the release of the much-publicised original Kannada film Jogi took the Kannada tinsel world by storm, and travelled to Tamil, Telugu and Hindi cinemas in no time. Much to the chagrin of the Kannada dream merchants, the theme of Jogi is neither alien nor the making of the film a stupendous effort.

Although the release of many films went unnoticed under the spell of Jogi, writer and filmmaker Nagathihalli Chandrashekhar, ventured to release his ambitious film Amritadhaare, which has drawn public attention, partly because Amitabh Bachhan plays a teeny-weeny role in it. Contrary to the expectations of the industry and its maker, it succeeded in drawing audience to cinema halls purely on the merits of its thematic essence.

As the industry realised that the success of Jogi and Amritadhaare lie in their thematic essence and poignant treatment, another original film Deadly Soma, based on a true to life story of a underworld element killed in a police encounter in Bangalore, also exhibited its strength to stand upto the loud Jogi and the family drama Amritadhaare, despite a brazen narrative. Even as the industry was reeling under confusion in understanding the whims and fancies of the audience and the ingredients they expect at different times, some directors and producers were quick enough to scent the relation between the silent resurgence of Kannada self confidence, awakening linguistic pride, rural exodus to urban areas, rural and urban divide and the commercial viability as future themes.

Of them Babu, was the quickest: Deadly Soma has given a firm footing to his son Auditya. He realised that the taste of Kannada audience is not much different from that of Hollywood audience. The latter has already started looking to the past for powerful themes. Struck by his own ingenuity, this time round, he has picked his theme from the famous Paatala Mohini and Jaganmohini that brought fame and fortune to his late father D. Shankar Singh, when Kannada cinema was in its adolescence.

He has launched Mohini with his son Auditya in the lead role. The modern Mohini is said to be a combo of Hitchcock and Sherlock Holmes narrative, traditional beliefs and a modern outlook.

On the other hand the very making of Kumara Rama now, with Shivrajkumar as the protagonist, at this culturally crucial juncture is more of an accident than a design. Capturing the legendary and historical escapades of Kumara Rama with Rajkumar in the lead role has been in the pipeline for over three decades, as Rama was a passionately revered central figure in the history of the State (1290-1320), prior to the establishment of the Vijayanagar Empire. It could not take off owing to the sensitive and authentic delineation the theme demanded and the compulsions and limitations of the Kannada film market.

According to inscriptions, Rama was the valiant son of the King Kampli Raya of Kummata Durga or Hosamaledurga King Kampila Raya. He was an ideal prince and an embodiment of virtues, who stood by his father in waging relentless wars against the Kakatiyas of Warangal, Hoysala Veeraballalas, and Mohammed-Bin-Tughlaq, and died a heroic death at the hands of "enemies and traitors" at a very young age. Many historians are of the view that it is a challenging task even for a historian to discern where history ends and myth begins. The film is based on a couple of research papers and a novel authored by Su. Rudramurthy Shastri.

However, at this juncture it seems like Kumara Rama is to be viewed as a metaphor for the Kannada pride and self-confidence. Both are on a resurgence in every conceivable field.

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