Director: Senna Hegde
Cast: Pooja Devariya, Diganth Manchale, Ashwin Rao Pallaki, Shreya Anchan
Tarun (Diganth Manchale) is one of those US-returned types. You know the type. Great job. Great salary. But he felt like a robot. Before you can say “First World problems,” he flew back home and opened a resort. Now, he faces Third World problems. The butter chicken prepared by his chef left a guest with an upset stomach – or so the guest claimed, in a low-star online review. Plus, the place isn’t paying for itself. So when Swarna (Shreya Anchan), Tarun’s very able receptionist, says she might get married and leave, he’s annoyed. Instead of congratulating her, he behaves as though she fed him some butter chicken from their kitchen. Senna Hegde’s Katheyondu Shuruvagide (A story has begun) charts Tarun’s journey. It’s perhaps no accident that half his scenes see him driving a car. He’s… in transit, on his way to becoming the person he came back from the US to become.
Tarun is the film’s protagonist, but this isn’t just his story. It’s the story of Swarna, who is forcing herself to like the self-made entrepreneur in Dubai she might end up marrying, because she thinks love is overrated. It’s the story of Pedro (Ashwin Rao Pallakki), the resort’s driver who loves Swarna and thinks learning English will help his cause. It’s the story of Tanya (Pooja Devariya), who becomes the newest guest at the resort. We think she and Tarun will fall in love, but there are complications. They see a shooting star. She wishes she could have her old life back. He wishes for a new life. If all this sounds like a Cameron Crowe movie where little epiphanies are just around the corner (and accompanied by a series of emo songs that are practically a parallel narrative), you aren’t far off the mark. The director is a self-confessed fan.
And I think he uses a Crowe moment – the you-complete-me circularity from Jerry Maguire – as a stylistic device. That shooting star completes the name of Tarun’s resort: Under the Stars. Words like “constructive criticism” and “compliment” loop their way around different characters, linking them thematically. An early scene where Tarun sees Tanya crying finds an echo near the end — it closes their relationship arc. Tarun speaks to a photo in a frame; sometime later, he also speaks of photos in frames (as opposed to digital pictures on a smartphone memory card). “Find someone who completes you,” Murthy Uncle (Babu Hirannaiah) tells Tarun. Does someone locking their arms around you from behind count as… completing? Indeed. It’s literally so. Even the first time we meet Tarun, it’s when he’s mind-voicing a circuitous sort of philosophy: “There are stories that end before they begin. Mine isn’t the first. Mine won’t be the last either.”
Tarun is the film’s protagonist, but this isn’t just his story. It’s the story of Swarna, who is forcing herself to like the self-made entrepreneur in Dubai she might end up marrying, because she thinks love is overrated.
Everything locks in, including the music — and I am not just talking about Sachin Warrier’s warm, indie-vibe songs. In the resort’s kitchen, we hear the famous kitchen number from Maya Bazaar. After Tarun picks Tanya up from the airport and drives home, we hear Raah mein unse mulaqat ho gayi. Behind a loving older couple, we hear that classic older-couple song from Waqt, Aye mere Zohra jabeen. This is another kind of circularity, a cosmic kind – the airwaves are tuned in. This sort of thing can become very precious very quickly, but Hegde handles his conceits confidently. The pace is deliberate, but not slow. Most of our mainstream cinema thrives on event. Hegde, instead, builds a series of “nothing” moments, where not much seems to be happening until you look back, a few scenes later, and see those moments were actually about something.
The beats are generic, but the lovely cast and the freshness of the filmmaking, I think, could make Katheyondu Shuruvagide the Pelli Choopulu of Kannada cinema. Hegde isn’t out to cross every T, tie every story thread in a neat bow – and yet, there are no rough edges. There’s not one ill-considered frame (the cinematography is by Sreeraj Raveendran), and the aesthetics add to the experience, which holds you in the mood of a folk song hummed around a campfire. Like O Kadhal Kanmani, the plight of young people is contrasted with the deep, committed bond of an older couple – Murthy Uncle and Radha Aunty (Aruna Balaraj); just looking at these marvellous actors feels like a warm hug – and it’s from them that we get the best bit of advice. Sometimes, what you get from life may turn out better than what you want from it.