K.G.F: Chapter 1

K.G.F: Chapter 1The first Kannada film I saw in a cinema was Ugramm, where I loved Prashanth Neel’s style and approach to story-telling, so it is reassuring that he has kept to a similar form for his latest epic KGF. The violence is bloody and excessive, the story ultra-masculine but with plenty of reference to the importance of mothers and the soundtrack is an important part of the film. But KGF has a grandeur and magnificence that comes with working with a larger budget and with a number of the Kannada industries top talent involved, KGF is an impressive venture indeed. There are a few issues, the lack of a decent female lead and some OTT and excessively dramatic dialogues for example, but Prashanth Neel has kept his eye firmly on the story, making KGF an excellent addition to the world of Kannada action cinema.

The film uses a framing device where TV journalist Deepa Hegde (Malavika Avinash) interviews ageing reporter Anand Ingalagi (Anant Nag) about his book, which was banned and burnt by the government of the time. Prime Minister Rimika Sen decreed that all mention of a certain ‘criminal’ should be wiped from history but Anand is prepared to share the story, although he jumps around in time which adds a non-linear aspect to the tale. In this way, Anand acts as a narrator of events, which span from 1951 to the present day and start with the seizure of land rich in gold by Suryavardhan (Ramesh Indira). Suryavardhan clears the land and establishes an illegal gold mine, worked by slaves and disguised as a limestone works. At the same time, local villager Saraswathi (Archana Jois) gives birth to a son she names Raja Krishappa Bairya who later becomes the infamous Rocky (Yash).

The story spans Rocky’s life from his birth to his infiltration of the mines in an attempt to assassinate Suryavardhan’s son Garuda (Ramachandra Raju). In between is the tale of Rocky’s rise to fame as a gangster in Mumbai and his desire to own ‘the world’ which eventually leads him into the gold mines. Along the way, Rocky has flashbacks to his childhood and to his mother’s words of advice which have helped to make him the man he has become. Since these are mainly words to make her son the richest and most aggressive man in India, they have stood Rocky well in his attempts to become the pre-eminent gangster in all of Mumbai. Rocky is a man who thinks nothing of killing anyone who stands in his way, often in the most bloody and gory ways possible. Luckily for our hero’s welfare, the thugs never manage to co-ordinate for more than two at a time to attack, and even when armed with guns they seem to forget how to aim to kill. However, I did appreciate stunt choreographer Anbariv’s goal of finding the most imaginative way to impale, garotte and otherwise dismember Rocky’s opponents – one of the best being with a handy anchor although Rocky’s prowess with a shovel was also superb!

Yash powers his way through his role as Rocky without ever demonstrating much emotion as the strong silent type who wades through rivers of gore to reach his objective. Although there are the flashbacks with his mother (featuring an excellent Anmol Vijay as the young Raja Krishnappa Bairya) and a rather uncharacteristic but brief romance with Reena (Srinidhi Shetty), for the most part Rocky is as stonyfaced as his nickname implies. However, to ensure that we know he’s not quite as much of a villain as his actions would suggest, Rocky is also shown to have a softer side, usually when faced with young mothers in extreme situations or when faced with gangs of poverty-stricken children. Nothing new or ground-breaking then, since this is typical Southern Indian hero behaviour, but it suits the character and storyline well, so there’s really no need to break the mould. 

The non-linearity of the story is one of its strengths and also works well to set up expectations for KGF:Part 2 as we are given tantalising glimpses into the next of Rocky’s adventures along with the puzzle of why the government decided to suppress his story with such assiduousness. Jumping around from the seventies (with flares and wide collars – love it!), where the action in the Kolar gold fields plays out, to adventures in Rocky’s youth explains much of his motivation and firmly establishes the other characters in the film. This is really helpful since there are multitudes of minor characters who are important to the story but who are all introduced quickly by Anand, making it difficult to remember who exactly is a gangster, who is a politician. And then decide if it even matters given they are all nasty pieces of work. This does allow for major complexity in Prashanth Neel’s world and he paints a grim picture indeed of corrupt politicians, lawless gangsters who have the police on their side and a poverty-stricken and joyless existence for the rest of the population. Into this dark world, it seems to make sense to inject some light by adding a romance, but the introduction of Reena with the usual stalking = love trope always feels like an add-on extra.

Reena is the daughter of Rajendra Desai (Laxman), one of Suryavardhan’s accomplices in the goldmine and as such she is portrayed as arrogant and heedless of the general population. Rocky sees her and is instantly smitten, following up his initial advances with some terribly cheesy dialogue while Reena does her best to let him know she isn’t interested. Until she sees his compassionate side, which is apparently enough to change her mind. Sigh. Srinidhi Shetty doesn’t have enough screen time to make any impression, but for the most part she too is fairly dour, grim-faced and like Rocky, prone to making declarative speeches. Rocky doesn’t have much dialogue at all, but when he does speak it’s generally overly dramatic and interspersed with plenty of threats and promises of violence. Even the minor characters rarely seem to speak normally to each other and instead there are bold announcements of bravery and threats of violence that do start to wear after a while. The narrative from Anand is in stark contrast and is more minimalistic and factual although this is occasionally confusing when characters are only briefly mentioned once.

Ravi Basrur and Tanishk Bagchi provide the music which suits the atmosphere of the film well. There is one introductory dance number with Yash which is appropriately exhilarating and an oddly placed dance number with Tamannaah, but for the most part the songs are used to help drive the narrative forward. Along with the soundtrack, they succeed in adding emotion and suspense to the film, and unlike Ugramm the music here is kept to a reasonable volume. Cinematographer Bhuvan Gowda keeps the film to grey and dark tones, and doesn’t have much opportunity to vary the colour palette, although scenes in the mine and at a temple ceremony are beautifully done to add red tones to the darkness. Kudos to the fashion designers for recreating the seventies in a relatively subdued fashion and not dressing the characters in ridiculous costumes. The sets and clothes are set in the right time period but not ostentatiously so, and as such don’t take away from the action unfolding onscreen. Thanks to the distributors for ensuring reasonably good subtitles, although the white text was often obscured by the background. Still very grateful to have Kannada films subtitled – even the songs!

KGF is basically another gangster action drama, but what lifts it above the rest is the sheer scale and complexity of the narrative along with standout performances from Yash and the literal cast of hundreds that add depth and texture to the plot. Be warned that the film is incredibly violent, and the fight scenes are frequent, fast and furious but they do fit the story and act to showcase a world that is brutal and uncaring. The story points out that power is the only thing that matters and Rocky’s power is that of his fists. Throughout, it’s those with power who dictate events, and Rocky is determined to control the gold and therefore the money, giving him all the power in the world. There is a lot to take in with the story but the mixture of fast-paced action and slower framing narrative works well to bring it all together. Overall Prashanth Neel has crafted a good story, told it well and pictured it beautifully to draw out the desolation and despair of the gold fields, and the gritty underworld in Mumbai. After all the excitement of Chapter 1, I’m definitely looking forward to Chapter 2!

KGF

Advertisements

Gajakesari

Gajakesari

A very big ‘thank-you’ to Roopesh and Kannada Movies Melbourne for the opportunity to see Gajakesari in the cinema here in Melbourne.  This is the first time I’ve seen Rocking Superstar Yash, and I have to say he is pretty rocking!  However the real star of the film is an incredibly well trained elephant called Arjuna, who not only steals every scene when he appears but also perfectly defines the meaning of ‘on-screen chemistry’ with his co-star.  Noted cinematographer Krishna has stepped out from behind the camera to write the screenplay and direct this action adventure, which does mean that there are beautifully framed shots throughout even if the screenplay does drag a little at times. On the plus side there is an excellent flashback to a past life which helps lift the film out of the ordinary, and the combination of good fight sequences, an entertaining storyline and a charismatic elephant make Gajakesari better than average.

Gajakesari

The story opens with the introduction of chief villain Rana (John Vijay) who intimidates the local politician into giving him the right to develop a tribal area somewhere in Karnataka.  After establishing that Rana has the nastiest henchmen and also the most googly eyes in SI cinema, the film moves location to a temple in Mysore to introduce Krishna (Yash).  Krishna is a modern guy who rides a Royal Enfield and likes to hang around with his two friends, but is about to discover that his freedom is coming to an end.  As a child Krishna was promised to the temple and is supposed to take over leadership from the current Mutt (Anant Nag), not something he has any real desire to do.  However there seems to be an escape clause – Krishna just has to donate an elephant to the temple and will then be free of his obligations.  Now I can see some of the logic behind this since an elephant would no doubt be much less trouble than a rowdy young man.  Still it seems to me that a herd of goats would possibly be more useful and easier to house than an elephant.  Regardless of convenience, the temple wants an elephant, so Krishna obediently heads up into the hills to find his pachyderm.

Gajakesari

Luckily for Krishna he easily finds a small tribal village where there are plenty of elephants and the villagers are keen to help him in his quest.  However the local elephants don’t appear to want to leave their cosy jungle and since their leader is the particularly angry and intractable Kalinga (Arjuna!), it seems likely that Krishna may have to enter the temple after all.  Krishna though, is a man who seems especially blessed by his temple gods and he manages to calm Kalinga just in time to enlist his aid in fighting off Rana’s thugs.

Gajakesari

This is the start of a beautiful friendship, based (according to the village shaman) on the circumstance that Krishna is the reincarnation of hero Baahubali and Kalinga the reincarnation of his elephant.  This leads into an excellent historical flashback with plenty of heroism and action, although the low budget costuming for the attacking army is a little disappointing.  Baahubali and his elephant look awesome though!

In the village Krishna also meets Amoolya, who ostensibly is there to record birds but really just seems to be looking for trouble.  She has a tendency to wear inappropriately short shorts around the village and while tramping around the jungle, and to add further insult indulges in patronising photography of the villagers.

GajakesariGajakesari

Sadly her character is poorly conceived as she looks nothing like the scientist she is supposed to be and instead is a 2 dimensional throwaway heroine with little apparent rationale for her romance with Krishna.  Amoolya does her best but there is very little she can do in such an unconvincing role while looking uncomfortable in most of the outfits.  Her best moments are in the songs where she does get the benefit of pretty and dance-friendly shoes, but it’s not enough to justify her presence in the rest of the film.

This really is Yash’s film and he is excellent in his role as Krishna.  He’s lackadaisical and perfectly casual as Krishna but takes on a completely different and more martial role when we see him as Baahubali.  The relationship between Krishna and Kalinga is the lynchpin of the plot in the second half and the two carry it off perfectly – excellent acting by Yash and great screen presence by the elephant combine to make an impressive duo.  Forget Amoolya, this is the real relationship that matters in Gajakesari!

Yash also looks great in the songs, and not just because he always matches his shoes to his outfits.  He has plenty of charm and while his Krishna appears to be a lovable rogue, he also manages to convey an innate honesty and sense of moral integrity.  No wonder his elephant loves him and the villagers rely on him to defeat Rana and save their village.

Gajakesari

Overall Gajakesari works due to Yash’s strong screen presence and a good story.  It doesn’t need the added burden of a romance, particularly when it fails to ignite and the heroine seems so completely out of place.  The scenes set in the past are definitely a highlight, but the action in the present day is almost as good, and the inclusion of an elephant as a fighting partner is inspired.  Definitely one to catch in the theatre if you can and appreciate just how much star quality one elephant can bring to a movie.