Nagara Haavu (1972)

Nagarahaavu

Nagara Haavu is a classic film from Kannada cinema featuring Vishnuvardhan in his first lead role. Director Puttanna Kanagal based his 1972 screenplay on three novels by T.R. Subba Rao, telling the story of an angry young man, his love affairs and his relationship with his old primary school teacher, who seems to be the only one who has any patience with his outbursts. The film is set in the 1950’s and although many of the social conventions are now outdated, there are some that still apply to-day; while Ramachari’s struggle against conformity continues to be a popular theme in modern cinema. At almost 3 hours Nagara Haavu is a bit of an epic, but it’s an interesting film to watch and essential viewing to anyone interested in the evolution of cinema in Bangalore.

The film begins and ends with the same images of rocks and the sun viewed through a red filter, presumably an indication that despite the tumultuous events portrayed, by the end nothing has actually changed. The young Ramachari of the opening scene is a rude and angry child with terrible hair, who grows into a rude and angry young man, still with a terrible haircut. This time perhaps he has reason for his anger since his teacher instructs him to remove his trousers when he is caught cheating at college. It seems rather extreme, but Ramachari (Vishnuvardhan) has a reputation as being a bad student and his reaction is even more over the top. He decides that if he is considered to be villainous, then he will become villainous, going to his professor’s house and smashing the windows. Not content with this wilful destruction of property, Ramachari then ties Shyamrao (Lokanath) to a lamppost and leaves him there overnight to the horror of Tungamma (Leelavathi), Ramachari’s old schoolteacher’s wife. And me! How he avoids being arrested is baffling!

Ramachari seems to be angry with everyone and everything, but the reason for his apparently all-consuming rage is never fully explained. It may be partly due to frustration with his religious parents who revere God above all else, and seem to have little time for their son. Possibly his anger is a reaction to being forced to study when he clearly has no interest or aptitude, but whatever the reason, Ramachari has a well-deserved reputation for belligerence in his home town.

The only person who seems to have any time for Ramachari is his old schoolteacher Chamiah (K.S. Ashwath) who has practically adopted Ramachari and considers him to be his son. His wife Tungamma also has a soft spot for the troubled youth and between them they act as mentors and advisors whenever Ramachari finds himself (yet again) in trouble. The relationship between Ramachari and Chamiah is well written and excellently portrayed by Vishnuvardhan and K.S. Ashwath through both the good and the bad times. There is real warmth between them, and Vishnuvardhan does an excellent job of capturing the respect and love that Ramachari feels for his mentor. For his part, K.S. Ashwath is compassionate and stern as required while making it clear that he can see beneath the surface anger to the possibility that Ramachari represents. The dialogues between the two are the best parts of the film, as Chamiah tries to instruct Ramachari how he should behave in society, while Ramachari does his best to point out the double standards and hypocrisy that make him rebel against convention.

Ramachari’s best mate is Varadha (Shivaram), a man who knows the value of product, and who happens to have a beautiful sister Alamelu (Aarathi). When Alamelu is harassed by local sleaze Jaleel (Ambareesh) her brother is too much of a wimp to do anything, so he recruits Ramachari to deal with the problem. Ramachari has seen Alamelu, so his price for helping her dissuade her unwelcome suitor is to marry her himself. Neither Varadha nor Alamelu have any problem with this plan but it’s a different story for Alamelu’s parents who have no desire to marry their daughter to the local rowdy.

There is much drama when Alamelu steals away to tell Ramachari of her impending marriage to someone else and it’s up to Chamaiah to persuade Ramachari that Alamelu’s parents should decide her fate. After much emoting, Ramachari is eventually persuaded that sacrificing his love is the noble thing to do although it’s clear that Chamaiah doesn’t believe this at all and is simply bowing to conventional wisdom and the presumed dictates of society.

This has serious consequences for Ramachari’s relationship with Chamaiah when he later discovers that instead of living in luxury, Alamelu has been forced into a life of prostitution. This could have been one of those terribly over-dramatic scenes so common in seventies Bollywood, with Alamelu dying rather than continue to live in shame, but instead Puttanna Kanagal gives her a beautiful song and impassioned speech where she says that she wants to live! OK, she’s not happy, but it’s better than the usual attempt at suicide at least. There is also a lovely moment of symmetry too when this time it’s Alamelu who walks away from Ramachari and sacrifices her love for his sake. It’s all wonderfully melodramatic as Alamelu recites her story to Ramachari beside a red-lit fountain.

After Alamelu is married, Ramachari is pursued by Margaret (Shubha), a girl from his class in college who is determined that he should fall in love with her. She is portrayed as being more modern, chasing after Ramachari shamelessly, wearing Western clothes and declaring her love quite openly. Margaret seems to get away with all this because she is Christian and the daughter of a single mother – which is apparently all we need to know to realise that she is no better than she should be. Once again Chamaiah is recruited to break up the relationship as Margaret’s mother Mary (M.N. Lakshmi Devi) has much bigger plans for her daughter while Ramachari’s parents are mortally offended at the idea that their son would marry a Christian. The question is, will Ramachari listen to his long-time mentor or has he lost faith after what happened to Alamelu?

There is plenty of over-the-top drama in Nagara Haavu and some of the best ‘death stares’ I’ve seen for a long time. Everyone overacts like crazy, Ramachari throws chickens at Margaret after she teases him in class, her mother accuses him of rape, while Chamaiah clambers over rocks trying to find Ramachari to drag him off to apologise to the latest person he has offended. All apparently part of a normal day in downtown Chitradurga!

As well as showing the relationship between a troubled youth and his kindly teacher, the film paints a picture of a dysfunctional society where appearances and prestige matter more than love and happiness. Chamaiah believes that Ramachari just needs time to mature and indeed he becomes a more responsible person when he is allowed to leave college and work for a wage. The rest of the town however brand him a troublemaker and don’t allow him the opportunity to ever become anything else. No matter how much Chamaiah tries to fit Ramachari into the role that society demands, he is never going to conform, particularly when Chamaiah realises just how shallow and self-centred society has become.

Nagara Haavu is deservedly classed as a classic film with good performances, a well-written story and engaging music from Vijaya Bhaskar. Despite the length, the film doesn’t drag and is a fascinating look at times past, society attitudes (and fashions!) and family dynamics of the time. Some thing have changed, but many of these issues are still a concern even now, making the film relevant and not as outdated as it first appears. The dialogues might seem stilted, but the ideas behind them are valid and used to good effect. I enjoyed Nagara Haavu and recommended watching it for Visnuvardhan, Aarathi and K.S. Ashwath, the excellent screenplay plus beautiful shots of Chitradurga and countryside. 4 stars.

Advertisements

Kendasampige (Part II Ginimari Case)

Kendasampige

Soori’s 2015 release is an excellent thriller that skilfully blends a romance, a police investigation and a road trip into a gripping story. Newcomers Vikky Varun and Manvitha Harish are excellent as the young couple on the run from the law, but everyone in this fast-paced crime drama performs perfectly, aided by the clever screenplay and superb cinematography. It’s clever, well-written and has realistic characters that generally behave as expected – all points that ensure this is a film I thoroughly enjoyed.

The story is written by Surendranath and there are three distinct threads with a couple of side incidents that together make up the plot of Kendasampige. This film is called part 2, although Kendasampige is complete in its own right, but there are a number of hints throughout that it is part of a much greater whole. If Part 1 (which is yet to release) and the subsequent Part 3 are anywhere near as good, then this promises to be an excellent trilogy indeed.

The first thread deals with a group of corrupt cops, Narayanaswamy, Chandrasekhar, Govindaraju and their boss DCP Suryakanth (Prakash Belawadi). The film begins with three of them stashing money they have stolen from a drug raid in a well, although one of them appears unhappy with the proposed split of their ill-gotten gains. While these cold-hearted and mercenary police officers are important to the main story, this is where I presume the prequel will clear up some loose ends since Kendasampige starts after the group have stolen the drug money and DCP Suryakanth has executed the gang members involved. Soori paints a bleak picture of corruption in the police force with just a few short snippets of conversation and this perfectly sets the background for the rest of the story to unfold.

The second thread follows the romance between rich girl Gowri (Manvitha Harish) and working class Ravi (Vikky Varun) who are very much in love despite their social differences and the objection of Gowri’s stylish mother Shakuntala (Chandrika). One of the corrupt police officers, DCP Suryakanth, happens to be in a relationship with Shakuntala, so naturally she turns to him to solve her problem with Gowri’s unwelcome suitor. Suryakanth fakes a drug dealing case on Ravi but on the way from the court to jail, Ravi somehow manages to escape, shooting the police driver in the process. With the police on his tail, Ravi naturally turns to Gowri for help, asking for money in his attempt to escape. However, Gowri is determined to support her man despite his claim to have shot a police officer, and decides to run away with him to ensure they can stay together.

Ravi’s shooting of a police officer starts the third thread – a murder investigation by ACP Purandar (Rajesh Nataranga). Purandar is in charge of the inquiry into Officer Govindaraju’s apparent death but as he delves deeper into the case he realises that all is not as it seems. His first task is to find Ravi but as he is starting his search, Shakuntala discovers that Gowri has run away with Ravi and pleads with DCP Suryakanth to get her daughter back. Ravi and Gowri have to evade ACP Purander and DCP Suryakanth’s two corrupt cops Narayanaswamy and Chandrasekhar if they are to have any chance of a life together. Adding to the tension, the two groups searching have very different plans for the couple and it’s a race to see who will get to them first.

The screenplay by Soori and Rajesh Nataranga (presumably the same Rajesh who plays ACP Purandar) weaves these different threads together perfectly and step by step the whole story is gradually revealed. As with any good crime drama, major events only become clear to the audience once the police investigation reveals the truth, while each action causes a reaction that allows the story to move forward. The different relationships between characters are developed naturally and although the back story for most is brief, there is enough to ensure they appear to act realistically as the plot unfolds. ACP Purander is shown discussing the case with his wife, who also appears to work for the police force and this gives more depth and understanding to his character while providing a good contrast to the more selfish DCP Suryakanth, who is having an affair with Shakuntala but lying to her about her daughter.

The chase is thrilling, although there are no car chases or scenes of Gowri and Ravi running through the streets, at least not until right near the end. Throughout there is a sense of suspense which increases as the net closes in on the young couple and the final outcome becomes ever more uncertain. Soori adds in a few twists which help increase the tension while Satya Hegde’s use of the camera to contrast the light and space evoked by overhead drone shots of each city with the confining spaces inhabited by Gowri and Ravi as they attempt to hide adds further anxiety.

The performances too are all outstanding, particularly by the newcomers Vikky (aka Santhosh) and Manvitha although Rajesh Nataranga is also excellent. Vikky ensures Ravi appears as a typical working class guy who rarely thinks outside of his own small world. His panic and confusion as he is arrested and charged are realistic and his descent into stunned acceptance is also well portrayed. Vikky does an excellent job of portraying a man so far out of his depth that just keeping his head above water is the most he can manage. His life has taught him that he has to endure, and that is what he does, completely allowing someone else to take charge of his life when he is no longer able to cope. Vikky is to be commended on allowing his character to fully display his nervousness and fear, rather than simply devolving to standard hero behaviour when faced with a dilemma and he really is fantastic in the role.

Manvitha is also superb as the confident and more worldly Gowri who is able to deal with every problem and takes control of each situation. Gowri is made of sterner stuff than Ravi and it’s her determination that keeps them on the road and one step ahead of the cops. When she does break down it’s entirely appropriate and it’s only after she is separated from Ravi that she loses her self-control. Gowri is an assured and very positive character and it’s great to see such a strong female role in a film genre that is usually much more male dominated. However, Soori ensures that the duo definitely are a couple – each has their own strengths and weaknesses and despite Gowri’s outward confidence she needs Ravi’s dependence on her in order to keep her own anxieties at bay. It’s a more mature and realistic relationship than I was expecting from the opening scenes and it’s well developed and portrayed by the two young actors.

The music from V. Harikrishna is mainly used as background to portions of the road trip and generally fits well into the narrative. Nenape Nithya Mallige is used to show Ravi’s memories of meeting Gowri but it’s also a great song and the sequence sums up their relationship well.

Everything in Kendasampige works to deliver a well-developed story in a convincing screenplay. The performances are excellent and each character skilfully used to further develop the plot. This is one of the best police dramas I’ve seen from the Kannada film industry and it’s made even better by the inclusion of a road trip through cities I’ve never heard of, but which look interesting to visit, and a romance that’s more realistic and better developed than usual. It’s a short film too, little over an hour and a half, which makes it even more impressive that Soori fits so much into the time including enough character and plot back stories and ensuring plenty of plot development too. I loved this film and can’t wait to see the rest of the trilogy when it does release. But even without the prequel, Kendasampige is not to be missed and I highly recommend it as a complete edge-of-your-seat thriller that impresses on every level. A full 5 stars.

Kirik Party

kirik-party-poster

If your only resource was Kirik Party you would think that college in India is a rather different proposition compared to studying in the rest of the world. At Karna’s chosen institution in Hassan there is wide-spread harassment, bullying, plagiarism and various other activities that would see most of the so-called students thrown out after a few weeks if the college was anywhere else. In the happy land of film however, all these excesses are simply high spirits and something to be encouraged while everyone goes home with a qualification despite never appearing to study a day in their lives. I’d hoped for something different in Kirik Party but it follows the same old routine as many other previous campus-based films, even at times coming precariously close to Premam with the back to back romances. However, although many of the situations are clichéd and the students follow the usual template the film itself is reasonably enjoyable. The actors do a good job of creating sympathetic characters and the Kirik Party does manage to touch on some of the unique college experiences that don’t occur at any other time in your life.

Kirik Party begins as Karna (Rakshit Shetty) and his friends start as juniors in college. They’re mainly engineering students with a few studying IT thrown in for variety, but despite their different disciplines they form a tight-knit group of friends. Almost immediately Karna falls for senior student Saanvi Joseph (Rashmika Mandanna) who is surprisingly tolerant of his initial stalking tactics – at least they’re more amusing than usual. Karna enlists his friends as co-conspirators in his pursuit of Saanvi and the romance gradually progresses to the point where Saanvi asks Karna for help to get a pregnant sex-worker to hospital. This seems as if it’s going to be a watershed moment for Karna but at the time he seems to dismiss the incident quickly and it’s not until much later in the film that he starts to think more deeply about the situation. Sadly again this revelation is nothing new, but it’s sympathetically handled and does make Karna a more likeable character. Karna’s interest in popular student Saanvi creates friction with the senior students which allows for some good comedy as the hapless seniors run up against the more organised and ruthless junior students.

The friends indulge in the usual filmi college activities; drinking, skipping class and fighting with the seniors but they do also club together to buy a car which allows them greater freedom and more opportunities for mischief. It also introduces them to a mechanic played by Achyuth Kumar who becomes a permanent fixture in their lives as he is roped in to complete engineering projects for the group. What works best in this half of the film is the easy camaraderie shown between the students who share their love of Upendra films and cool sunglasses. The romance between Karna and Saanvi is also good with a natural progression that makes sense despite their different ages. I like too that she doesn’t immediately fall for the hero, but has to be gradually convinced that there is more to Karna than a superficial glance would suggest. Rakshit Shetty does appear too old to be successful as a junior student but the rest of the group all look suitably youthful and their behaviour is certainly juvenile enough for their supposed ages. Rashmika Bandanna is a real find and is very natural in her role, creating a warm and friendly personality for Saanvi but one who comes across as strong and confident too.

In the second half the group have returned to college as seniors, and I love that this is illustrated by the friends all having grown facial hair. There are signs and posters everywhere in the background proclaiming the desirability of beards since obviously whatever fashion the seniors follow is the only possible trend for the entire college. This is one of the things about life in college that does ring true in the film, as is the complete fixation the students have on small matters while managing to be totally blasé about anything that would imply taking responsibility for their actions. For instance, Karna happily heads off on a road trip, missing weeks of his studies, without any thought of how this will affect his future or that his friends will worry about his absence. In comparison, the outcome of elections for college president is important enough to consume the group for weeks and result in bullying and intimidation tactics to make sure Karna wins.

The tables have turned in the romance stakes too. Now its Karna’s turn to be followed by a junior student who professes her love for him. Samyuktha Hegde is excellent as the happy-go-lucky Aarya who stalks Karna and repeatedly proclaims her love for the now surly and argumentative senior. The events of the first half subtly repeat while in both romances the women are looking for the different side to Karna. Rakshit Shetty is much better in the second half as the older and (possibly) wiser Karna, and he seems to be more comfortable with the characterisation too. The resolution to his own personal dilemma is also well handled and gives Karna an opportunity to mature, just as you’d expect towards the end of college.

There isn’t much time spent on the rest of the friends but they all seem to be a typical bunch of students in film-land, while Raghu Pandeshwar is fine as the college principal. The music from B. Ajaneesh Loknath is excellent and perfectly added to the narrative so that dialogue segues into songs and back into dialogue seamlessly. The songs too are catchy and fit well into the student setting, making Kirik Party more of a true musical rather than simply a film with added song and dance numbers. The action scenes are also well choreographed and apart from one brilliantly called as a cricket game are mostly of the slappy variety that seems more natural for this style of film.

Although the story and the characters don’t break any new ground, overall the film is entertaining with plenty of comedy and enough drama to keep it interesting. I would have liked more realism in the depiction of student life, but that wouldn’t have given Karna and his friends time to indulge in their various vices and ultimately that’s the whole point of the film. Kirin Party is a good, entertaining time-pass, but don’t expect anything more from Rishab Shetty’s foray into student life.