Director: Raj B Shetty
Cast: Raj B Shetty, Rishab Shetty, Gopalkrishna Deshpande
It is believed that universally there are only seven basic story plots. If we loosely consider plot as the main substance, what differentiates one film from another is the form. Raj B Shetty's Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana is unique and distinct in its form, starting with its classy opening credits which reminded me of Sam Mendes's Skyfall.
Based on Hari-Hara stories in Hindu puranas, Raj sets up the rise and fall of two criminals, Shiva (Raj B Shetty) and Hari (Rishab Shetty) with umpteen references to Hindu mythology set in Mangaladevi near Mangalore.
As per the puranas, on Lord Brahma's insistence, Lord Shiva takes the form of a Vrishabha (Bull) to retrieve Vishnu (Garuda Gamana) from Paatalaloka (netherworld) who is stuck there enamoured by the beautiful Apsaras. In another story, Vishnu takes the form of Mohini to unite with Shiva and they form Harihara. Both of these stories are referenced in artistically interesting ways in this film, starting off with the epic introduction to Shiva.
Just before that, you see a young Hari digging up the ground in front of his house. Both these shots get a fantastic closure at the end of the film by depicting the vicious circle of life. Like Lord Shiva, nobody is aware of where Shiva comes from or who his parents are. He is introduced in the film with a shot of him rising up from a well, symbolic to rising from under the ground,a reference to Paatalaloka itself. The trimurthi (Holy trio) becomes complete with Sub Inspector Brahmayya (Gopalkrishna Deshpande).
The first half of the film builds the 'World of Mangaladevi' and shows the rise of this fire-ice duo of Shiva-Hari. Cinematographer Praveen Shriyan's wide shots, Midhun Mukundan's background score, the actors, the dialect, costumes, showcasing the local businesses, the cricket scenes, 'Pulivesha' (Tiger Dance), adds to the milieu of the film to make it real and authentic.
In the second half, major conflicts are introduced through a never-seen-before triangular love story. Loyalties are doubted, questioned and understood while in the end Brahmayya silently proves that his brain is more powerful than the brawn of these thugs. Eventually, he emerges as the winner who establishes the vicious circle of life again.
Barring the silly constables in the first two scenes of the film, the performances of all the actors is pitch-perfect. Right from the calm, scheming, gold jewellery adorning (like Lord Vishnu) Hari, played by Rishab Shetty to the seemingly innocent MLA who only appears for a few minutes or the kids who are seen playing cricket help in making everything seem believable.
Of course, the hero of the show, the captain of the ship, the Brahma of this film, call him whatever you want, is Raj B Shetty. It is only natural that someone who has written such a solid story wrote a great character for himself. Infact, Raj gets the majority of the slow-motion, massy, elevation shots and scenes. Look out for an interesting character quirk that will make people focus on Raj's footwear more than his face at least for a few weeks now.
Shiva smokes up, cannot tolerate any harm done to his friends and if challenged, replies with extreme violence. He is loyal like a dog but more ferocious than one. He doesn't feel physical pain and doesn't shed a tear but subtly breaks down once and even that only because he's emotionally hurt. Interestingly, all through the film, I couldn't sympathise with him. Was it my conscience or deliberate, smart and responsible writing, I couldn't tell.
The casting of young Shiva is spot on. The shots where a boy with blue paint on his body walks around the streets of Mangalore like a tramp carrying a trident look like paintings worthy of a golden frame.
The writing of the film is solid, ensuring that scenes are not only independently entertaining but also have a purpose in the larger scheme of things. Take for instance, where Hari holds Shiva's hands for the very first time. Both of them are still young boys and Shiva drops the money he had. However, when they've grown up Shiva holds Hari's hands only to bring some money into Hari's hands. Once again, depicting the idea of the cycle of life. The build up to this moment is epic, fantastically supported by the music of Purandaradasa's 'Chandrachooda Shiva Shankara' most appropriately to energize the scene.
However, there's one scene which takes the cake for its staging and execution. Blood soaked Shiva performing the Tiger Dance while getting cleansed in the rain with money at his feet was electrifying. Again, Midhun plays his part by using 'Mahadeva' chants in the background to make it the film's money shot. Another example for Praveen's camerawork is how he places the camera behind Brahmayya's head in quite a few scenes to show to the audience who the actual mastermind is. Watching these scenes made me recall the joy of watching films on the big screen.
A couple of scenes didn't get closure and we are left wondering. It is unclear why Shiva was introduced as someone who couldn't stand women. At another point, Brahmayya's driver admits to his double-crossing and agrees to help his boss. I cannot tell why that was so as the power equation was in his favour.
I might have had some reservation about the glorification of violence. But the joy the craft in those scenes gave me overshadowed it. A slow-paced climax might be the only thing that slightly holds back from complete involvement in the film.
These minor incompletions kept aside, Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana is a film that should make Kannadigas beat their chests and scream from the rooftops that here is a 'Kannada film'.