Kavaludaari

Kavaludaari

Hemanth M Rao’s début film was the excellent Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, and he’s followed it up with another gem that’s just as good. Kavaludaari is a crime drama that moves between a thriller and a character-rich neo-noir drama as a traffic cop tries to solve a decades old murder with the help of a retired alcoholic police officer and a journalist with a fixation. It’s beautifully directed and shot, cleverly written and with excellent performances from the entire cast, definitely one not to miss.

The film opens in flashback to the seventies in the immediate aftermath of a robbery and murder in an archaeological office. There is a body on the floor, missing antique jewellery and a raft of suspects, one of whom disappears with his wife and daughter on the night of the crime. In the present, traffic cop Shyam (Rishi) wants to move into the Crime Branch but is met with a firm refusal every time he asks. But then bones are discovered in a construction site, and Shyam is drawn into the mystery. The bones are found to be old, and no-one is interested in investigating a cold case which may not even be a crime. But when Shyam finds a journalist, Kumar (Achyuth Kumar) at the discovery site in the middle of the night he’s drawn into the mystery, despite being warned off the case by his boss.

Shyam has connections and in a beautifully shot scene, he starts going through old case files abandoned in a storeroom. Evocatively, Hemanth M Rao shows a classroom full of shadowy people sitting on the benches who slowly get up and leave as Shyam finds, reads and rejects their file. Finally only one family is left, Gurudas Naidu (Sidhaartha Maadhyamika), his wife Vijayalakshmi (Samanvitha Shetty) and their young daughter Vaidehi (Naila). Mr Naidu was the archaeological officer who disappeared on the night of the robbery and murder, and it seemed as if he was the most likely culprit. But when the bones are confirmed as being the Naidu family it seems as if they were likely murdered as well.

In an effort to find out the truth, Shyam tracks down Muttanna (Anant Nag), a retired police officer who has turned to drink after the death of his own family. Muttanna was the original investigating officer who knows about the other potential suspects in the earlier case, driver Fernandes (Sampath), the Naidu’s servant Bablu (Bharath Gowda), the family cook and the office caretaker to name just a few. But Muttanna has his own problems and is not interested in helping Shyam until his persistence finally cracks through Muttanna’s armour. At the same time, Kumar is investigating Naidu’s disappearance but he’s also on the run from a couple of loan shark heavies who’re looking to call in the loans. With Kumar drip-feeding Shyam information when he can and Muttanna’s reluctant assistance, Shyam gradually starts to uncover more of the puzzle. But when Kumar’s daughter Priya (Roshni Prakash) reports him missing as the real culprit send out thugs to muddy the waters, Shyam appears unlikely to be able to crack the case.

Shyam is introduced by a series of interviews with prospective brides, which is a good way to find out he’s basically a very ordinary bloke. He’s nice enough but has little social life and just isn’t particularly charismatic with women. He is determined though and Rishi portrays this stubborn obsessiveness brilliantly while still allowing his character to appear unsure and out of his depth. Rishi was excellent in Operation Alamelamma and he’s even better here where there is a good mixture of character development, action and drama to get his teeth into. Anant Nag is equally good as the retired cop with a drinking problem and reluctance to get involved. He’s a loner by choice and happy to stay that way until the night Shyam climbs over his wall and forces him to help. The developing relationship between the two men, mentor and mentored is an essential part of the story and yet is so understated and natural appearing thanks to the excellent writing. Achyuth Kumar does a great job with a complex character despite limited screen time, while Roshni Prakash and Suman Ranganathan are very good in small but essential roles.

What really stands out here is the writing. The film is long but at no point is it boring, and nothing on screen is wasted. There is a point to every character and every single action, while the twists unfold perfectly to slowly reveal the plot. Just as in Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, Hemanth M Rao slips some humour in to his characters and there is even a whiff of romance but the story is key and he never loses sight of the plot threads. Advaitha Gurumurthy was a cinematographer for U turn and he captures some of that same unworldliness here, while keeping up the suspense with good use of shadows and different camera angles. The film looks slick and polished but still very realistic thanks to good attention to detail and smooth editing. Even the subtitles are well done, although sometimes hard to read, but the English is good and makes perfect sense. The soundtrack is also excellent. Charan Raj’s music is wonderfully expressive and emphasizes the more emotional elements of the story. Ide Dina, for instance, is a beautiful song that portrays Muttanna’s sense of loss exquisitely while still retaining some of the joy from his previous life.

Kavaludaari was recommended to me by a number of people, and although it took a while before we finally had a few shows in Melbourne (thanks Roopesh!) I’m so glad that we did. This is a brilliant film, beautifully shot, cleverly written and with a great cast who all do an excellent job. Crime dramas are one of my favourite genres which  means I am a tad biased, but this really is one of the stand-out films of 2019 so far. Don’t miss it!

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Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu

GBSM poster

The past few years have seen a number of promising new directors appear in the Kannada film industry and Hemanth Rao is another to add to the list. His début film Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu has the benefit of an excellent cast, but the well-written story is beautifully developed and the blend of emotional drama, suspense and humour is perfect. At first glance it may appear rather dark as Anant Nag plays an Alzheimer’s patient who goes missing, with Rakshit Shetty as his increasingly desperate son, but there is plenty of joy in the film too and the emotional highs and lows are cleverly balanced. This is one of the best films I’ve seen this year so far, and as icing on the cake, it even has grammatically correct English subtitles!

What makes Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu such a good film is that Hemanth Rao tells a simple story exceptionally well. It’s just a bonus that the characterisations are superbly done and the dialogue is moving and funny while still sounding realistic and plausible. Venkob Rao (Anant Nag) is a widower who has developed Alzheimer’s and although he can remember his long ago past, his short-term memory is gone. Venkob’s son Shiva (Rakshit Shetty) has moved to Mumbai to work and placed his father in a nursing home since Venkob can no longer live by himself. The pressures of work and the distance that separates them mean Shiva rarely sees his father but when he comes back to Bangalore to seal a business deal he takes Venkob shopping for new clothes. The frustrations of dealing with an elderly and confused man while trying to buy him clothes and simultaneously talk business on the phone is eloquently portrayed here in just a few short scenes and Siva’s impatience is just as authentically portrayed. It’s nicely done and while Shiva comes across as an angry and harried man, Anant Nag gives Venkob dignity and occasionally lets a hint of mischievousness peek through that gives an insight into his personality before the Alzheimer’s disease took over.

After reaching breaking point, Shiva bad-temperedly drops Venkob off outside the nursing home and speeds away for a business dinner, but in the time it takes for the security guard to reach the front gate Venkob vanishes. Shiva immediately takes his frustrations out on his father’s doctor at the home, Dr Sahana (Sruthi Hariharan) threatening to ruin her career and sue the home although he was the one who didn’t take proper care of his father.  Dr Sahana is no pushover and hits back with Shiva’s abandonment of Venkob and his lack of engagement despite her calls and emails about his father’s progress. The dialogue is perfect, the reactions genuine and both Rakshit Shetty and Sruthi Hariharan are completely believable in their roles as they start the search for Shiva’s missing father.

Elsewhere a government official has been murdered and Ranga (Vasishta N. Simha) and his assistant Manja (Ravikiran Rajendran) have been given the job of disposing of the body. However their path crosses with Venkob when a brief stop along the way allows him to slip into the back of their truck. Unfortunately the truck crashes and when a good Samaritan Kumar (Achyuth Kumar) stops to help, Ranga and Manja steal his car and haul both Kumar and Venkob along as hostages. With Kumar and his family locked up in their house with Venkob and the two villains, tension starts to rise as Ranga’s boss tells him to kill everyone and move on. Meanwhile Shiva is still searching for his father with the help of Dr Sahana and through her eyes Shiva starts to see his father in a new light. The physical search becomes a way to reconnect with his past and possibly his father too if he can ever manage to find him.

Anand Nag is absolutely brilliant as a 66 year old man with Alzheimer’s, but the rest of the cast are just as good. Vasishta Simha is superb as a career criminal who is fine with disposing of bodies but struggles with the idea of cold-blooded murder. Since his potential victims include Kumar’s wife and young son as well as the effectively harmless Venkob, his reluctance is perhaps rather understandable. Ranga is not a killer and his emotional turmoil is perfectly shown, particularly when Venkob starts to confuse Ranga with his son Shiva and tries to give him advice. His memory may be gone, but Venkob can recognise a soul in distress and his attempts to console the man who is trying to kill him are heart wrenching. Despite this, Hemanth Rao keeps everything from getting too emotionally bogged down by including small moments of perfectly nuanced humour that fit surprisingly well into the story. It would be easy to use Venkob’s condition to generate some cheap laughs, but instead we are laughing with Venkob rather than at him, and it makes all the difference to the mood of the film. As well as the sudden lapses back into confusion by Venkob, the excellent performance by Achyuth Kumar makes this part of the film memorable for all the right reasons and the mix of tension, drama and humour created is spell-binding.

Although some of the scenarios are rather far-fetched (it’s hard to believe for example that Sahana has time to go jauntering off searching for a patient and abandoning her case load at the home), nothing about the film feels too contrived and the story moves smoothly between the search for Venkob and  the cooped up criminals. Rakshit Shetty puts in another commendable performance after Simple Agi Ondh Love Story, with an accurate portrayal of a man searching for his father and finding himself along the way. Sruthi Hariharan is just as good here as she was in Lucia and I thoroughly enjoyed her performance here as the down to earth and practical Dr Sahana.

The music was a little too loud at times in the cinema, but the songs from Charan Raj are all lovely and at the right volume suit the mood of the film perfectly. The cinematography too by Nanda Kishore is good with some great visualisations of the mental distance between Venkob and Shiva. This is one of those rare gems where everything just comes together, with story, cast, characterisations and all the technical aspects flawless and perfectly executed. It works because Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu is quirky and different but at heart is a tale that will resonate with audiences. The story jumps between father and son and between present and past. There is the contrast between one man’s search for his father and a relationship that appears to be lost, and another’s search for his conscience and a way out of a bad situation. This is film-making at its best and I can’t wait to see what Hemanth Rao comes up with next. Highly recommended – you don’t want to miss this one!