Director: Aravind Kuplikar
Cast: Sanchari Vijay, Achyuth Kumar, Rangayana Raghu , Mathangi Prasanna
Of the southern languages, Kannada has had the least number of releases in the post-COVID era. Add to it the audience’s theatre inertia, lack of impactful promotions and ‘the OTT might’, Kannada films have been all but invisible. The fact that two films with Sanchari Vijay released back-to-back in such a lull period is not only unmissable but also seems a tad suspicious given his unfortunate passing away recently.
Fortunately for us, Aravind Kuplikar’s Puksatte Lifu isn’t riding on Vijay’s death. In fact, it is an honourable farewell to the artist.
I define a good film as one that tells me a story and entertains while at it. By that definition, Puksatte Lifu scores reasonably well. It has a generous sprinkling of novelty and thoughtful creativity in its writing. It is clever, staging situations like the one where someone files a police complaint against a police station for not paying rent. It is layered — quite literally — in how an officer unearths a crime buried by the cops of this fraudulent police station headed by Singam Boregowda, played by Achyuth. It is filled with a motley group of well-sketched characters who get purposeful arcs. For instance, Vijay plays Shahjahan, a keymaker who gets locked up due to an act of unlocking. And ironically, even when he gets unlocked, the freedom is, sadly, only momentary.
Despite the weight of the issues Puksatte Lifu concerns itself with, the film never loses its lighthearted look at life. It is concerned about the religious harmony of its milieu, even while mocking the justice system and TV soap operas in the same breath. The film has a subtle comical touch, a delightful trait quite rare in Kannada cinema.
Much of the credit for its success must go to its solid performances from Achyuth Kumar, Rangayana Raghu, Sanchari Vijay and Aravind Kuplikar himself. There are also many theatre actors who bring realistic performances to their on-camera endeavour. Vasu Dixit’s music supports the tone of the film immaculately. The songs carry the montages that push the story forward. It’s a relief that there are no break-away foreign locale songs forced into the film (as we’ve come to expect these days).
In some places, however, the tempo of the film seems off. A few scenes feel repetitive and longer than required. For instance, when Shahjahan is out for the first time “breaking locks”, he’s only partly suspicious of his taskmaster’s intent. When it happens again, he’s desperate. While it appears that Aravind deliberately uses that repetition to build tension, some of these scenes get tedious. The dialogues too, at times, seem unnatural but they cover most of that up later with some smart recalls and closures.
Despite its clever and lighthearted nature, Puksatte Lifu is hardly a candidate for the Kannada cinema hall of fame. However, it’s certainly a worthy one-time-watch — even if you don’t rush to the theatres for it, you’ll certainly be interested when it comes to OTT.
As I finished watching the film, I found myself recalling the opening scene, where an old police jeep struggles its way uphill on a narrow road, sitting in it is a hand-cuffed Shahjahan. What an ironic way to sum up the very talented Sanchari Vijay’s career — strongly built but the journey, always jerky and uphill.