Director: Vijay Naagendra
Cast: Dhananjaya, Amrutha Iyengar, Naveen Shankar, Mayuri Nataraja
Gurudev Hoysala, Dhananjaya’s 25th film directed by Vijay Naagendra, sets out to tell a story set in a universe inspired by many cop movies across languages. The performances and the tech crew try their best to rise to that task but fall short. Because, in the process of paying homage to those seminal films, Gurudev Hoysala loses track quite a few times, and forgets to put in the work needed to become one of those iconic films. Everything is resolved too quickly before you even engage with what’s happening.
As always, Dhananjaya is sincerity personified as Gurudev, the trigger-happy, oft-transferred cop with anger on the tip of his tongue. Naveen Shankar, who charmed so much in Dharani Mandala Madhyadolage in 2022, is cast as Bali, a killing machine. One understands his loyalty to Nana and Dadaji, but why does he kill a wild boar thus? Why is his hate so visceral? No one knows. BS Avinash of the KGF universe plays the vicious Dadaji, for whom caste takes precedence over everything else.
The film, set in North Karnataka, begins with an inspector who is out to protect the Karnataka flag during a protest. Soon, he’s tasked with investigating sand mining and the case of an inspector who has gone missing. You hope it is the beginning of a thriller. No sir. Suddenly, a young couple enters the picture, and the film makes a sudden diversion to an anti-caste film. But, to the film’s credit, it goes all out in this angle and takes a solid stand, and does not dither.
Ambedkar and the Constitution and philosophers from Karnataka are mentioned often and director Vijay makes a solid case — when we teach students that everyone is equal and they grow up believing that and fall in love with someone, why are we telling them caste lords over everything else?
I understand the first thing Dhananjaya looks like is rough and tough, but peel the layers and you have a deeply sensitive actor whose face can crumple with angst and turn warm with love (We saw that in Ratnan Prapancha and Monsoon Raga). Sadly, you see very little of the latter. Gurudev gnashes his teeth, uses brute force to vanquish his enemies and his revolver comes in handy ever so often. There are also some dialogues that make you cringe — they belong to the 80s, not today. This is not a message movie, so why such lines?
There are some twists and turns that work and they’ve got the Kannada speckled with Marathi diction right, but some is the operative word. If I have to lay blame somewhere, I’d go for the writing. It is so predictable, you can see things from a mile away. Blatant disregard for hierarchy, something so important in the forces, is startling. Which subordinate officer slaps the boss?
Among the portions that worked is the one where Gurudev realises he’s committed a wrong and does his best to resolve it. That’s possibly one of the two times he shows he’s fallible.
The film’s women, barring Mayuri Nataraja as Bhoomi, fall terribly short in characterisation. Mayuri is achingly lovely as Bhoomi, the girl who falls in love with someone from a lowered caste and pays the price for it. Watch the fleeting expressions on her face. She’s the only one with an arc. Amrutha Iyengar is Ganga, Gurudev’s wife, and there’s not much the script lets her do but dance or look angry or afraid.
The cinematography by Karthik S suits the mood of the film and the music is by Ajaneesh Loknath. The stunts are by Dhilip Subbarayan and Arjun Raj, and they have their work cut out, with the numerous stunt sequences, some of which make you sit up.
Police excesses have long been glorified on screen, and been the subject of much debate. Because, reel often spills over to the real — just as easily as people lap up a Singham on screen, they forgive such excesses in real life. Remember, it is hardly two days since a cop in Tamil Nadu faced suspension for human rights violations. I’d really like to see a film where the cop follows the rule of the law and brings the bad guys to justice, following due process and not using bullets like popcorn.
What happens when that is not written into the script is sheer bravado. And, even if a film is taut (editor: Deepu S Kumar) in just a little more than two hours, it becomes a case of too much bravado.