Director: Rohit Padaki
Cast: Dhananjay, Reba Monica John, Umashree, Ravishankar
Rathnakara (Dhananjay) lives an ordinary life. He is an ordinary employee at an insurance company. He has an ordinary mother, who he thinks is an annoyance, so much so that he’s waiting for her to drop dead. He also has a brother and sister-in-law, for whom he has no particular affection. He is transphobic, winces while walking past meat shops, refuses to take any responsibility for his situation — you know, Rathnakara is your garden variety self-absorbed and bigoted man.
One day, a stranger, Mayuri (Reba Monica John) tells him that the mother he hates isn’t his birth mother at all. This sparks an existential crisis in Rathnakara. He wonders if he hates his family because he doesn’t belong in it. To answer that question, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery — along with Mayuri — across the country. Whether Rathna’s world changes at the end of this journey makes the rest of Rathnan Prapancha.
Writer-director Rohit Padaki appears more interested in the journey than self-discovery. So, the film is more in line with the travel genre than a coming-of-age film. From Bangalore to Kashmir to Gadag to Gokarna, Rathnan Prapancha maintains the gaze of an outsider — more touristy than introspective. We see the usual cliches like losing luggage, festivals, locals eager to show them around etc. Rathnakara complains more than once that he doesn’t like the Kashmir Kahwa they serve him. There is even a scene where Mayuri is seen dancing in well-fitting local couture and jewellery around a bonfire.
By extension, Rathnan Prapancha is rather callous about the places it visits. Just as they get to Kashmir, article 370 is scrapped and the state is under siege, but the film isn’t interested in what it does to Rathnakar’s sister Tabassum (Anu Prabhakar Mukherjee) or her life. In this film, this major political event is simply a meek plot point to introduce Mayuri’s mother. As soon as he gets out of Kashmir, both the state and his sister are long forgotten.
This kind of indifference feels more stark in Gadag, the next pitstop — a brown, dusty, rural contrast to the white, snowy paradise that Kashmir was. The film spends a little bit more time here than it did in Kashmir, but caricatures people just the same. Udaal Babu Rao (Panju) is an uneducated, tobacco-chewing, gun-wielding ruffian whose biggest need is to learn English to propose to his love interest. His father, Basappa (Achyuth Kumar) is an old man spouting inane jokes. His mother, Yellavva (Shruti) is a mother unlike none other — there are multiple scenes of her serving food to the men in the family.
The film takes such a disinterested outsider view that, even as Rathnakara and Mayuri live in the family’s home and eat their food, they speak in hushed tones and judgments about their hosts. The film stresses more on the superficial differences between Rathnakara and his brother than it celebrates the fundamental similarities. Despite all the talk about the two men being brothers, there is little by way of brotherhood. Rathnakara doesn’t seek to connect with his brother, as much as count his blessings. In fact, we see more of a transformation in Udaal Babu Rao than we see in Rathnakara — it helps immensely that Panju’s performance is earnest and heartfelt, whether its emotional scenes or the dance number.
The sore thumb in the film is Mayuri. She accompanies Rathnakara across the country on a rather feeble excuse. Rathnakara himself shows no gratitude or compassion towards her. There are awkward scenes here and there, but they hardly have a romantic moment with each other. Reba Monica John tries her best to belong, but the film offers her no scope.
The biggest emotional failing of Rathnan Prapancha is that the ending is foregone. Instead of exploring the relationship between a mother and her adopted son, it sings paeans about the sacrifice of motherhood. For instance, the most endearing thing about Saroja, Rathnakara’s adoptive mother (a fantastic and real Umashree) was that she isn’t an ideal. She is flawed, irritating, even bigoted in her own way. Without embracing that idea, and finding a renewed balance in her relationship with her son, the film puts her on an unnecessary pedestal. It takes an easy route to elevate her to god-status.
Worse, it doesn’t give Rathnakara true redemption either. By the end of the film, he is neither less self-absorbed nor less bigoted. He is just the same guy who now buys peppermint candies for his mother without complaining. So, Rathnan Prapancha becomes too long a way to go for too short a transformation.