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.