Lucia (2013)

Lucia

Kannada film Lucia premiered at the London Indian Film Festival last year and went on to win the Audience Best Film award.   Watching the film it’s easy to understand why it created such a stir with a story that keeps you intrigued and guessing right up to the last frame.  Writer/director Pawan Kumar has made an intelligent non-linear film, where the boundaries between reality and dreams blur and nothing is really as it seems.  Even more surprising is the fact that the film was crowd-funded and made on a tight budget – hard to believe when every scene drips quality and attention to detail.

The film charts the story of Nikki (Sathish Neenasam), a torch shiner, or what I would call an usher, in a small run-down cinema.  The owner Shankranna (Achyuth Kumar) mostly treats Nikki as a son, getting involved in his search for a bride while Nikki similarly feels an obligation to look after Shankranna. When we first meet Nikki he is suffering from insomnia, perhaps not surprising as he lives with 4 rather large guys in a small single room.  The cinematography here is excellent, conveying a sense of claustrophobia, sweltering heat and the difficulties of living in such close proximity just with a few brief moments and a shot of a washing line!

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One night, on one of his restless meanders, Nikki meets up with two men who introduce him to Lucia.  Lucia isn’t a person, but rather is the name of a sleeping tablet which has the added bonus of causing lucid dreams.  Soon Nikki is falling asleep anywhere and everywhere, and just as we follow his life while he is awake, we also follow his lucid dreaming.

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Needless to say, in his dreams, Nikki isn’t a torch shiner in a run-down movie theatre, but instead he’s a film hero with a successful career.  Just as often happens in the world of dreams, various people from Nikki’s waking life also show up in his dream world.  Shankranna is his manager for instance, while his room-mates are cameramen and assistants and his real-life fiancée is his girlfriend.  But in this alternate reality Nikki is being chased by some men for money, although it’s not exactly clear who is behind the extortion attempts or why they are after Nikki.  This echoes his waking world, where Shankranna is being threatened by some gangsters who believe he owes them money.

The two stories, waking and dream-world are kept separate and distinguishable as one is filmed in colour, and the other in black and white.  Torch shiner Nikki is an uneducated guy who lives a simple life, but from his interactions with the people around him he seems like a ‘nice guy’. The other Nikki is a star and expects all the privileges that go along with his status, like his own private home theatre and being able to rent an entire bar for a night out.  Pawan’s Kumar’s script and Sathish Neenasam’s acting make the two personalities seem quite different at the outset, although both obviously different sides of the same person, but as the story develops the two Nikki’s become more and more similar.  Star Nikki is clean shaven but adopts a scruffy beard for an item number which makes him look more like torch shiner Nikki, while torch shiner Nikiki shaves off his beard and starts to look like star Nikki to try and impress his fiancée.

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The linking thread is a murder investigation being run by the local Kannada police and a special investigator (Sanjay), who has come from Mumbai.  Concurrent to the two stories, this third narrative shows Nikki lying in hospital in a coma.  There is no information about how he ended up on life support but there are clues along the way with the various violent threats and the way the police investigation focuses on the drug Lucia.  I was impressed to see a more realistic than usual approach to medicine, even spotting the chief investigator using functional MRI scans as part of his research, although much of the diagnoses belong firmly in the realm of science fiction.  However it all fits with the rest of the story and the theme of drug addiction suits the more outlandish sequences.

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One of the reasons the film is so compelling is the way the two worlds blend together while still being completely separate. The same people appear in each although they have different roles.  However the people who support Nikki in one are also supportive in the other, and the bad guys are always the bad guys. There is also the intrigue of wanting to know how Nikki ends up in hospital and who was responsible as the murder investigation slowly builds up clues into a possible solution.  The screenplay is excellent and balances the different tracks perfectly to ensure that there is always something new added to the overall picture but enough mystery to keep up the suspense.

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I also can’t praise cinematographer Siddhartha Nuni enough for his amazing camera work and clever framing.  There are some great effects too as the camera slides from one world to another or when the worlds meet through a mirror.  The film looks stunning and there are no signs of the low budget on the technical side.  Another plus is the clever integration of Poornachandra Tejaswi’s excellent songs into the film.  These vary from being part of star Nikki’s filming to standard road trip songs, and yet they all add another dimension to the story.  In fact it’s hard to find any fault with Lucia.  The performances are all spot on and Sathish in particular is very impressive in his portrayal of the two Nikki’s.  His arrogance and selfishness as the star are perfectly balanced by his humility and kindness as the ordinary man.

It’s not just the storyline of the film that’s enthralling.  There are many nuances and issues raised with the theme of drug addictions and references to the loss of self with stardom.  The difficulties of a small single screen cinema are also raised against the backdrop of crime and extortion in the industry.  There is so much going on at many different levels that I seem to see more and more in each scene every time I watch the film, which makes the fifth watch just as captivating as the first.  Lucia is a rare gem of originality and sheer brilliance in an industry that more often relies on stock storylines and formulaic plots.  There is quality in every frame, every performance and every line, making this a film that really shouldn’t be missed. 5 stars.

 

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10 thoughts on “Lucia (2013)

    • Hi Dinesh,
      I’ve just been able to watch it in the cinema as it showed here as part of the Indian Film Festival Melbourne. Its an excellent film and I love the ambiguity of the story. Waiting now to see what Pawan Kumar comes up with next 🙂
      Cheers, Heather

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    • Hi Deepak,
      Thanks for the recommendation – I haven’t been able to track down a copy with subtitles yet, but will watch it just as soon as I do. I think I missed it at the cinema here unfortunately, and reelbox only seems to be available in the US at the moment. I’ve put it on the list for me to find a copy somewhere though 🙂
      Cheers, Heather

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  1. Hi Dinesh,
    I’ve copied your comment over here on the Lucia page as I think you make some very good points about the film.
    I completely agree that it’s a multi-layered film, and that is exactly why I enjoy it so watch. As you say, I see something new ever ytime I watch the film.
    The technical aspects are also excellent – particularly when you consider that Pawan Kumar made the film through crowd funding – I really can’t wait to see what he comes up with in C10H14N2 🙂
    There are so many good films coming out of Bangalore at the moment – there seems to be an a new generation of film makers with great stories to tell and a novel way of looking at the world. Long may it continue!
    Cheers, Heather

    Comment from dinesh014sathu

    Well Lucia is one of my favorite Indian films. And I being a Tamilian bought up in Bangalore learning Kannada throughout my schooling and knowing the language was great. However, Lucia is an International film it needs no language at all.
    Its really an awesome film actually. I had actually written a kind of a short story on Induced Lucid dreaming inspired from one of the episodes of Batman on Cartoon Network years back. And I think nobody has touched upon Lucid dreaming and its influence as much as Lucia does.
    I feel the film has so much layers in it that on repeated watch you’ll get so much out of it. It touches upon how stars or people at the top are so lonely, even though they are surrounded by so much people. It talks about how stars like to become invisible and blend with the society.
    The technical side of the film is very sound considering the films Budget. I love all the songs in the film especially the Pathos songs. The background score by Santhosh Narayanan is also awesome. The cinematography by Sunil Nuni is also nice.
    The lead pair Sathish and Shruthi along with Achuth is also good in their respective characters.
    I have watched the film a few times now and now I just go about watching the favorite scenes in the film.

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    • Hi Heather,
      Thank you for having my comment here where it is more relevant. I’m sorry for the typing mistake the DOP of Lucia is Siddhartha Nuni. I’m also waiting for the next Directorial of Pawan Kumar Nicotine. Its a really interesting title.
      As suggested by Deepak above you should watch Ulidavaru Kandanthe (As seen by the Rest) a very interesting film. Actually its one of the films that released with English subtitles in India as well.
      The other films I’m looking forward to this year are Vikram’s Ai by Shankar, Thalaivar’s Lingaa by KS Ravikumar and my favorite hero Ajith’s Yennai Arindhal by Gautham Menon. Not to forget the International Director Biju Vishwanath’s Orange Mittai which has Vijay Sethupathi acting and producing the movie as his 1st Home production

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      • Hi Dinesh,
        I’m waiting for Ulidavaru Kandanthe to release on DVD – hopefully very soon now! Thanks for the list of upcoming films to watch out for as well. Hopefully we will get them here, although it just depends on what the distributors think will fill the cinemas 🙂
        Cheers, Heather

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  2. Hi Hither,
    It’s nice that people from other parts of the world are able to view the movie because of your effort to review these kind of movies.
    Another movie from Kannada which is creating a huge buzz in foreign countries is ‘Rangitharanga’.
    I’m pretty sure you’ll be thrilled when you finish watching the movie.
    The Reasons why it’s so much successfully in foreign countries rather than our native place is that it’s not a normal love story or a cinema which shows a hero with usual machetes and other weapons who fights for his heroine.
    The DOP of this movie are Lance Kaplan and William David who had done a couple for short films (which included the short film ‘words’) with the director Nirup Bhandari.
    Watch out for BGM and the scenic locations.

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    • Hi Vasuki,
      Thanks for the recommendation 🙂 I saw RangiTaranga a few weekends ago and loved it. I agree the locations are stunning and the music is excellent. It’s a great film and definitely something a little different.
      My review is here
      Cheers,
      Heather

      Like

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