Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu

kiragoorina-gayyaligalu

Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu is a beautifully filmed adaptation of a novella by acclaimed Kannada writer Poornachandra Tejaswi. Director Sumana Kittur has teamed up with screenwriter Agni Shridhar (responsible for the excellent Aa Dinagalu) to give a colourful look at village life in rural Karnataka from the recent past. Various small incidents illustrate the relationships between the different groups in the village, but the usual routine is thrown into disorder when there is a plot to con the villagers out of their land. The situation escalates until it’s up to the ‘rowdy women’ of the title to restore order and deal with the corrupt officials behind the scam. I haven’t read the original story but the film is charming with a balanced blend of drama and comedy that still manages to address a number of social issues, albeit in a light-hearted way.

The film starts by showcasing the differences between the men and women of the village. While the women are out working, the men are lounging around the village, playing dice and utilising the services of the village barber. The women from different castes all work together without any issues but it’s a different story for the men of the village who are more inclined to take notice of someone’s place in society. The higher caste Gowdas negotiate the cheapest price they can for any work done for them by the lower caste Kulavadis although the men all congregate to drink together in the village arrack shop at the end of the day. The arrack shop is a point of contention for the women as they feel that this is the reason their husbands have become lazy and argumentative. All in all, Kiragooru seems to be a typical village with the usual colourful characters, petty disputes and plenty of potential for mischief.

Daanamma (Shwetha Srivatsav) is an outsider from a different village who is married to Subbaiah (Rahul Madhav), one of the Gowdas in the village. Despite being a relative newcomer, the other women look to her for support and she’s the one they ask to break up a fight between Kaali (Sukrutha Wagle) and Rudri (Manasa Joshi) when tempers flare. She’s just as competent at home, refusing to let Subbaiah leave when everyone else runs from a police jeep in the village and ensuring the household runs to her satisfaction, although she does seem to have a genuinely happy relationship with her husband. Daanamma also provides support to Nagamma (Sonu Gowda) whose husband Kaale Gowde (Kishore) is abusing her for failing to provide him with children. Kaale is desperate to marry for a second time and has fallen for Bhagya (Karunya Ram), a vegetable seller in the local market but doesn’t tell her the truth about his marriage to Nagamma. Rounding out the village are the Kulavadi farmers who include Maara (Nikhil Manjoo), Kariya (Sampath Kumar) and their families.

Shankrappa (Achyuth Kumar) is the government welfare officer for the village, but he also runs the arrack shop and is plotting with Bhootha Swamy (Sharath Lohitashwa) to con the villagers out of their land. When Daanamma threatens the visiting Tahsildar and runs him out of the village, Shankrappa files a complaint against her with the police that also accuses the Gowdas of cheating the Kulavadis out of their rightful wages. This results in the Gowda men being taken away to the police station where they endure a humiliating experience at the hands of the drunken Inspector. They immediately turn to Bhootha Swamy for help, but he lies and tells the men that it was the Kulavadis who filed the complaint. This widens the divide between the two groups, further fuelled when Bhootha Swamy lies to the Kuavadis too and the Gowdas fan the flames by employing an outsider to chop up the tree. No reconciliation seems possible until Daanamma takes matters into her own hands and enlists the rowdy women of the village to sort out the problem once and for all.

It’s a well told story with plenty of quirky characters, but the appeal of the film lies in the excellent performances from all the actors. No matter if the character is only on screen for a few moments such as the unethical Dr Appanna (S Narayan), everyone seems to fit their role perfectly. Shwetha Srivatsav has most time onscreen and is brilliant as Daanamma with her perfect mix of compassion, bravery and common sense making compelling viewing. This is very different to her role in Simple Agi Ondh Love Story but she again makes excellent use of her facial expressions and both looks and sounds the part of a rural villager. Sukrutha Wagle is appropriately shrill and combative as one of the Kulavadi rowdy women, while Sonu Gowda provides contrast as the silent but still expressive Nagamma. The scenes between the different female characters also ring true with plausible discussions of their routine chores and complaints about their husbands with the occasional small rivalry thrown in to demonstrate how they got their reputation. Their support for each other is also realistically portrayed along with their determined reactions which are a good contrast to the men’s vacillations and indecision when faced with a problem.

The men all suit their various roles too. Rahul Madhav, Sunder and Anathavelu are all good as the overly trusting Gowda men, while Kishore is excellent as the abusive Kaale. Although the character is mainly comedic, there is a serious side in the abuse he deals out to his wife and it’s a credit to the film that this is dealt with sensibly, both highlighting the abuse itself and giving a solution that shows Kaale to be the one at fault rather than his long-suffering wife. The film also raises the issues of drunkenness and caste division and although these are used to some extent for comedy, there is a serious side as these are shown to be real issues for the community. Naturally the women are the ones to solve these issues too with their practicality and common sense winning the day.

Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu is a film where everything just comes together perfectly. Manohar Joshi’s cinematography is complemented by Saadhu Kokila’s music and Sumana Kittur evokes a village atmosphere through colourful dialogue and fantastic attention to detail. The language is often beeped out but the subtitles are hilarious with the women not afraid to air their graphic opinions publicly and loudly! Each scene is complete in itself but also serves to establish and evolve the different characters and situations. Added together they all build up to a captivating story and satisfying finale. One I highly recommend for the excellent performances, well-written screenplay and some of the best female characters I’ve seen in Indian cinema. 4 ½ stars.

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!

LuciaLuciaLuciaLucia

 

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.

LuciaLuciaLuciaLucia

 

 

 

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.

vlcsnap-2014-04-14-18h16m49s162LuciaLuciaLucia

 

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.

LuciaLuciaLuciaLucia

 

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.

LuciaLuciaLuciaLuciaLuciaLucia

 

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.