The “Kannada pan-Indian film” juggernaut began rolling sometime in 2018 with KGF-1, and seemed to find its potential this year with KGF-2 and Kantara.
However, in a way, the mega budgets and collection were also an impediment for smaller films, because people went to theatres expecting spectacles. Some years ago, these might have done very well and turned out to be sleeper hits. Even leaving out the biggies, the year 2022 was lovely for avid cinephiles in Karnataka — there was a clutch of beautiful films, which might go on to further the cause of Kannada cinema as an entity. They were rooted, set in geographical locations not often seen, and spoke about issues that people of a particular region face. Some were distinctly urban, but were such a mirror to today’s society, and did not bother hiding the warts.
Here’s a list of films in Kannada that earned their place in this year ender — some are holistic frontbenchers, acing every department, while some score very high in either writing or performance or technology or intent. This list is in no particular order and features films that were released till December 20, 2022.
This film is like sweet, hot zingy lemon tea after an arduous trek up a hill. What happens when Suri (Bharath GB) and Shraddha (Siri Ravikumar) from different economic and social strata who are engaged, argue over the colour of the lehenga she must buy because it should go with the colour of the sherwani he’s already bought? Director-writer Rahul PK and co-writer Pooja Sudhir infuse the couple and their families with so much everydayness, it is difficult to not love them. The writing is deeply empathetic and the fingers point inward, and not at anyone. A film where you don’t know if the ending is happy or not, but you don’t dislike or judge anyone. You’re just as pleased as you are after that last drop of lemony tea.
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Sagar Puranik’s National Award-winning film had a brief run in theatres in 2022 before going the OTT route. Sagar does not sit on a high horse and tell people how they must treat traditional art forms — instead, he draws you into the story of Bhadra (a lovely Karthik Mahesh) and his attempt to keep alive the art form of Dollu Kunitha. Sagar does not look at those who move to the cities with disdain, but with a certain empathy — to gain something, they give up a lot. The film does a neat hat tip to women’s empowerment too — without being too loud about it. Sometimes, breaking the glass ceiling using a percussion instrument can be silent too!
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Forget the numbers the film made (Revenues of Rs 400 crore-plus on a budget of Rs 16 crore) or that it was a pan-India craze or that it led to a certain section adopting the movie for their own purposes. At its core, Kantara was intense, primal and celebrated all things people in Dakshina Kannada hold close. Actor, writer and director Rishab Shetty gave his all to Shiva, the man who was born in the Daiva tradition but runs further and further away from his legacy, till he has to confront it. His bond with the local landlord, where he’s conscious of the limits imposed by virtue of his caste, and his altercation with the forest officer Murali, before he turns a corner in the final act… the film had something for everyone. It spoke of the rights of the forest people and ticked many boxes.
It came with some fairly pointed out flaws too, but they were swept away by the euphoria the film left millions with. The first was the appropriation of local gods under organised religion. Shiva’s ‘hip pinching’ scene with Leela (Sapthami Gowda) did raise some eyebrows — but that can be viewed in the context of them being childhood sweethearts, and Rishab’s explanation for the scene. The legal tangle over the plagiarism row over the song 'Varaha Roopam', which Kerala-based band Thaikkudam Bridge says shares similarities with its Navarasa album, was another.
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This is the late Puneeth Rajkumar’s swansong to his legion of fans, who continue to sorely miss their Appu, more than a year after his passing. The docu-drama by wildlife filmmaker Amoghavarsha was meant to be about him and Puneeth taking a trip to some chosen biodiversity hotspots in Karnataka. What it ended up being — because Puneeth died during post-production — was a rare chance to see Puneeth as he is, uncensored, lively, real and full of life. Some conversations leave behind stinging salty tears — like when Puneeth says he wants to get back home safe from snake territory, because he has a family and some films are in the making. Watching a production that ended up being a posthumous tribute is hard on the audience, but Amoghavarsha ensures people get closure seeing Puneeth on screen as himself, one last time.
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If Prashant Neel’s KGF1, starring Yash and Srinidhi Shetty, set the stage for the birth and rise of Rocky bhai, the sequel, with actors such as Raveena Tandon and Sanjay Dutt, was pure adrenalin rush, and traces how Rocky consolidates his position in KGF.
The cliffhanger of a climax in the deep seas only confirms a possible KGF3. Screenplay and direction-wise, the sequel scores above part one. The top-notch tech crew, including art director Shivakumar, composer Ravi Basrur, cinematographer Bhuvan Gowda, the very young editor Ujwal Kulkarni, and stunt directors AnbAriv, elevate the film.
Did anyone at all leave theatres after watching Kiranraj’s film starring Rakshit Shetty (Dharma) and Charlie without wiping their tears? The really long film breathes and takes its time to tell the story of a pup that escapes from a cruel breeder and brings love to the home and heart of a boy who lost his family early and grew up to be a cold-hearted man.
But the film needs that runtime to draw you into the world of a man who works in a steel-and-chrome factory with minimal interaction with anyone. You need to register the rundown house, and fall in love with a naughty Charlie who loves ice cream, watching Charlie Chaplin on television and seeing snow. That is why the long bike ride along the countryside with an unwell Charlie to see a snow-capped mountain hits hard.
There’s no real romance angle in the film, because all the love there is, is shared by Charlie and Dharma. They even play and dance in the snow, utterly content in each other’s company. To be the recipient of the love Charlie showers is a gift, and to love Charlie the way Dharma does is a blessing.
Rakshit Shetty also produced this film, and his portrayal of the tortured soul that Dharma is, is aching.
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Abhilash Shetty’s film finally released in theatres this year, for a very brief run, after doing the festival circuit. The endearing tale of grandparents waiting to receive their grandson home for a chicken curry feast was shot on Abhilash’s family farm. What happens when the chosen rooster goes missing? The film is shot so evocatively and intimately, you almost taste the food being cooked.
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Director Hemanth Kumar’s film is a beautiful philosophical take on life and death and that intermediate thing called living. The film, which travels in a loop, is about a young man Vikram, who dies and finds himself in a mortuary and being taken to the other world by a nurse (Sudharani) and another dead man ironically named Jeevan (a lovely Achyuth). He gets a chance to relive his life and sort things out, but does he manage to do that? The film speaks of family bonds, of relationships and that fickle thing called life. Suneel Rao is fabulous as Vikram, who is immersed in his own world till he learns to open his heart. Special mention must be made of Aruna Balraj, who plays his mother.
Dharani Mandala Madhyadolege
This film by Sridhar Shikaripura is possibly one of 2022’s best written Kannada films. So many strands, so many bonds and all of them come together seamlessly. On the face of it, it looks like a love story gone awry, but that’s just a tease. What happens when a chance incident creates ripples in the lives of so many people, all unrelated to each other? Or, are all of us eventually related? There’s drugs, hallucination (brilliantly translated on screen), gun fights and plain dogged determination aplenty as regular people out to live their regular lives are forced to discover the heroes in them when pushed to the corner.
Thimayya And Thimayya
Sanjay Sharma’s Anant Nag, Diganth Manchale starrer is all things warm and wonderful, if you ignore some bits that seem force-fitted into the narrative. A young man Thimayya (Diganth) plans to sell the family cafe and move to Lisbon with his girlfriend. He meets his uncle to speak about it, and finds himself bringing back his crabby grandfather Thimayya (Anant Nag doing Anant Nag things) for three months as part of the deal. What begins as a deeply acerbic and resentment-filled relationship slowly finds itself thawing and turning fragrant, quite like the food the cafe was once known for. The two women in the film — one who is focused on her career and future and the other who is healing after life’s injuries — are treated with respect and not judged for their choices, which is fabulous.
Jagdesh Kumar Hampi creates a riveting tale revolving around the game of Kho Kho in a village called Bettadapura. What happens when Manohar (Sharan), who is disillusioned with life and has no career to boast of, is forced to go to a village to become a PT teacher? He begins by taking everything lightly, but once the village has to win a match in order for people to retain the land given to them, things heat up on screen. Manohar loses his teacher, the one man who batted for him all his life, and decides to create a winning team in his memory. There’s a soul-less love story with a milk vendor, but if you ignore that, this is a very pleasant watch indeed, with some smartly written moments.
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Years after Kamarottu entered the lexicon of Kannada filmgoers with Rangitaranga, director Anup Bhandari sets his Sudeep-starrer Vikrant Rona in the same lush geographical terrain. The stylishly shot film takes its time to grow on you, but once you’re immersed, you’re caught in the goings-on of a village that seems haunted and where killings are routine. Sudeep plays a suave cop who lands in this cesspool to make sense of what’s happening. Art director Shivakumar goes all out to recreate a mystical place, and the forest sets need special mention. This film has all the potential for becoming a franchise as it marries mysticism, horror, thrills and sentiment in perfect proportion.
This remake of Venkatesh Maha’s Telugu cult classic C/O Kancharapalem is a quiet favourite of mine this year. For one, director S Ravindranath reimagined a film made without any stars into one packed with fine performers — Achyuth Kumar, Suhasini, Dhananjay (at his vulnerable best) and Rachita Ram, among others.
The film moves geographically from Kancharapalem to Malenadu, a region bathed in rain. The picturesque setting lent lyrical beauty and also provided a perfect foil for the tears that fell. Loved how the director used a star like Dhananjay in a role that asked him to blush, love, yearn and pine too.