Directors: Shashi Kumar, Chandrajith Belliappa, Karan Ananth, Rahul P K, Jamadagni Manoj, Kiranraj K and Jai Shankar.
Cast: Kishore, Hariprriya, Rishab Shetty, Raj B. Shetty, Pramod Shetty, Avinash, Paravva, Prakash Belawadi
Artistes usually acknowledge their inspirations or the sources of the knoweldge they've acquired, at least once in their lifetime. While some filmmakers blatantly "steal" storylines and dialogues from other movies and call it a tribute, others try to ape the style of their masters. The success, or failure, of these kinds of films depends on how well they've been made and marketed. But, when movies such as Katha Sangama or Mookajjiya Kanasugalu (based on the Jnanpith Award-winning novel of the same name) release, you realise that there are some people in the industry who still care about the "art" called moviemaking.
Every director wants his film to be watched by lakhs, if not crores of people. When the entire industry is rushing to make action masala movies, Katha Sangama stops you in your tracks and makes you look around at the little things that matter.
There are seven short films of varying genres in this anthology. And, just like in the recently-released Amazon Prime Video series Modern Love, the first three shorts are the best. The rest have their own joys and mysteries, but these shine. A beautiful, warm-hearted short called Lacchavva, directed by Jai Shankar, rounds up the list. So, it's a mixed bag, overall, that kind of tilts in favour of the better movies of the year.
While big names such as Avinash, Rishab Shetty, Hariprriya, and Kishore have headlined some films, the actual stars of this anthology are the writers and directors. Take the short featuring Raj B Shetty, where his character gets stuck in a time loop, à la Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) in Russian Doll. When he threatens to take his life in a moment of frustration after an argument with his girlfriend (played by Amrutha Naik) and falls into the sea from a considerable height (due to bad luck), you're taken by surprise that the idea of time-and-space is turned on its head in a small-town in coastal Karnataka and not in the urban jungle of Bengaluru.
Look at how Bengaluru's two important areas – Banaswadi and Basavanagudi – confuse the protagonist of Lacchavva (played by Paravva) and send her on an unending mission to find the house she's recently moved into. She steps out of the house to buy her son's friend a pack of Dharwad Peda and loses her way – she doesn't have the strength to retrace her steps, as she doesn't know where to begin. But, before the short ventures into that chaotic environment, you see her enjoying her day out on sunny streets, walking from one area to another in search of something or the other. When passersby ask her what she wants, she tells them the full story without missing a beat, and not just about what she wants at that particular moment. Those lines speak volumes about her innocence – Paravva is truly the gem you wouldn't have known you'd find amongst such an eclectic cast.
The middling shorts that appear in the latter half are set in claustrophobic conditions: short number four, starring Pramod Shetty and Balaji Manohar, and short number five, starring Avinash as a loyalist who follows the orders given by Britishers in pre-independent times, would have worked, maybe, as short fiction. On the big screen, though, they look out of place since they rely on the presence of the actors and not on the stories themselves. Both build up tension and travel along the path of thrillers and end up going nowhere as the conversations – and mind-voice in case of short number five – are strictly formulaic. They merely scratch the surface of the problems. Unfortunately, Rishab Shetty, the man who wanted to pay tribute to legendary filmmaker Puttanna Kanagal through this anthology stars in the weakest short, alongside his Bell Bottom co-actor Hariprriya.
The sweetest surprise comes from Prakash Belawadi, who plays a regular office goer. The surprise is what he wants to turn into. For a film that's getting a theatrical release, the ending for that short brings in some WTF moments as far as the boundaries of Kannada cinema go, and couldn't have been more explicit. And for those few strokes of magical realism alone, I'd say that Katha Sangama is a successful experiment.