Director: Srikant Katagi
Writer: Srikant Katagi
Cast: Naveen Shankar, Archana Jois, Achyuth Kumar, Rahul Ainapur and Krishna Hebbale
Duration: 157 minutes
Available in: Theatres
For commercial film audiences so used to the organic farming trope, the mandatory hat-tip to farmers and lush fields brimming with produce, Srikant Katagi’s Kshetrapati is a breath of fresh air, even if the subject it discusses is stark and dark.
Starring the fabulous Naveen Shankar, an effective Archana Jois, and the ever-dependable Achyuth Kumar, among others, the film sets out to speak about farmer suicides, but does not stop with seeking change — it actually lays out a framework for change. And, even this path is not just filled with daredevilry and bravado, but reasonably well-thought-out moves that don’t seem preposterous.
Basava (Naveen’s on a purple patch, with one good performance after the other), a farmer’s son, is an engineering student in the city whose daydreams in class always feature him in the United States of America. A phone call informing him of his father’s suicide changes everything. Suddenly, a boy who straddles a life in the city with his roots in rural India, is made aware of the inequities back home. A home he’s never really been involved in, because there’s a stepmother in the picture. He eventually goes back to his village, to never return to college.
At times, the film might seem like a lecture, especially when Basava speaks about the ills of farming for corporations, but I saw it more as an educative experience. For a generation that does not know where vegetables grow, these celluloid classes are necessary. One question Basava asks seems to change the villagers who are caught in a horrible debt trap, buying seeds and pesticides and weedicides from corporations and with no idea about when they will be paid, and how much — how long is it since we saw earthworms?
The corporations are hand-in-glove with the government and the local legislator, who gets a hefty commission for getting farmers in his belt to sign up with the multinational corporations who want vegetables that look and feel a particular way.
Will those in power ever listen to the genuine cries of farmers in distress? Or will they crush every movement in the fledgling stage? Predictably, it’s the latter, but how they do it is not just by brute force, but by killing spirits.
An entire ecosystem, helped by a pliant media, helps further the cause of the politicians and corporations. What happens when someone refuses to play ball? The rising number of YouTube news channels is proof of the shrinking space for honest voices in media. Something similar happens here too.
The question the film seeks to raise is simple: For every product, the manufacturer or service provider determines the rate. Why then must a farmer not be given that privilege?
Kudos to director Srikant for not just taking up a subject that desperately needs the spotlight, but for doing it with a certain earnestness that is endearing. Be it the dialect or the land, they are rooted. There’s violence, but more of the believable kind. No flying in the air or taking a hundred bullets and living to tell the tale. There’s love too but of the quiet kind. Kshetrapati says that revolution need not always be fiery and fierce, it can also be quiet and understated, it can happen in every home, street and village, and not necessarily just on the highways and in State capitals.
I’m quite looking forward to what Srikant and Naveen come up with next.
Will all this reflect in real life? Possibly not. Is this a flight of fancy? Most certainly not. Hopefully, the spark lit by the film will give farmers the respect they truly deserve, and not the platitudes that come with their being called the backbone of the nation.
The film boasts fine performances, including those played by Rahul Ainapur and Krishna Hebbale and everything looks lived-in. The earth is not a moist terracotta, but dusty and dark brown, in keeping with the region it is shot in. Cinematographer YVB Shiv Sagar captures this land in all its searing, stark beauty. Music by Ravi Basrur is sublime — the songs transport you to North Karnataka and the dirge is especially haunting.
It is especially aching that the film releases at a time when the price of tomatoes have hit the roof — in the film, it sells at Rs 40. You come back wondering, how much of this actually reached the farmer?