Kannada (Amazon Prime Video)
Director: Rohit Padaki
Cast: Dhananjaya, Umashree, Pramod, Anu Prabhakar, Shruthi, Reba Monica John
In films on adoption, the most important scene is when the adopted person finds out the long-kept secret. In ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’ (2002), Mani Ratnam had a tough task as he had to deal with a child. A straight-faced and sensitive Madhavan telling the truth to his daughter is a scene tough to beat I thought.
Director Rohit Padaki (of 'Dayavittu Gamanisi' fame) delivers a superb scene on the same scenario in ‘Rathnan Prapancha’. As it unfolds, there is tension in the air but all the characters behave like adults and appear real, closer to life. Actors Umashree, Dhananjaya and Ashok Sharma are in terrific control, avoiding exaggerated reactions. A tinge of comedy adds flavour to the scene without disturbing its emotional core.
This is perhaps the first major twist in the story which till then was in cruise mode thanks to Umashree, who owns the whacky character called Saroja like a boss. She is a hot-headed, hilarious and possessive mother of Rathnakara (Dhananjaya), an insurance agent struggling to come out of the rut.
Rathnakara and Saroja get into verbal quarrels at the drop of a hat leaving the viewers in splits. But beneath their Tom and Jerry-like fights, you feel the warmth of a mother-son relationship. The film’s trailer, filled with such scenes, projected itself as a laugh-riot.
That’s far from true as Rathnakara’s journey to find his biological parents and siblings is poignant and emotional. We are invested in this journey because of solid writing. Rohit has sprinkled reasonable dose of comedy into this serious narrative.
The idea of a vulnerable hero who goes looking for his roots and birth giver is extensively explored by Malayalam veteran filmmaker Sathyan Anthikad. His slice-of-life stories had lead characters setting off on unknown journeys and getting closer to uncomfortable truths.
Most importantly, he broke the traditional and strong sentiment around blood relationships. His films said that ‘your loved ones are those who care and be with you forever’. ‘Rathnan Prapancha’ beautifully conveys this message.
Rohit breaks the pattern of a family drama. For long, a family drama had a template which filmmakers were happy sticking to. The idea was akin to a full meals menu. Four-five fights, as many songs, a love story and grand happy ending were the side dishes to a jaded main course.
He is helped by a brilliant cast. The film shows the importance of ensemble culture in cinema. Seasoned actors like Umashree, Shruthi and Anu Prabhakar were around us, perhaps waiting for solid roles or getting perished in forgettable ones.
‘Rathnan Prapancha’ isn’t without flaws. Reba John as the journalist Mayuri helping Rathnakara is fine though her character needed better handling. Rohit gives a solid reason for her break-up with her fiance but closes out the scene in a hurried fashion, leaving us emotionally detached from her decision.
The film tries to develop a love story between the leads with characters around them trying to tell us that they are the ‘perfect pair’. Rohit adds couple of cutesy quarrels between them to make us think that a romance is brewing between them. The idea perhaps required a more organic approach as it’s jarring to see Rathnakara blaming Mayuri for every problem and forgetting about his journey.
There is a pacing issue as some scenes lack energy. The peppy number ‘Gicchi Giligili’, sung by Puneeth Rajkumar, might have worked well in a theatrical atmosphere because in an OTT space, it feels ill-timed.
These minor quibbles apart, Rohit’s writing deserves praise. Many filmmakers, obsessed with the mother-sentiment angle, don’t look beyond lazy ideas. Rohit instills fresh hope into the concept.
He exposes the lack of good, engaging, emotional films in the industry, which mostly mistakes extreme melodrama for realistic emotions. There is a sense of satisfaction watching long, well-fleshed out emotional scenes. The serious dialogues are a perfect blend of creativity and relatability. Inventive wordplay in humorous scenes is icing on the cake. All this makes ‘Rathnan Prapancha’ a wholesome family drama. Hope this film inspires more solid emotional dramas in Kannada.
Rohit is also a director who believes in consistency. He shows us that people from all groups have a nice soul. Thankfully, he doesn’t adopt an in-your-face approach to showcase this. Even his characters are consistent irrespective of the situations. Saroja is always whacky, Rathnakara perennially angry and Mayuri is serious with a playful mind. So craft here gets as much importance as the cause.
There is some joy watching Pramod Panja (who plays a thug) walking in and out of every scene with confidence. As for Dhananjaya, well anybody could have done this role. But you don’t see many doing it. He is there, being angry, learning new lessons and carrying a heavy heart. He is that kind of a star! The actor comes into his own in the final ten minutes and moves you to tears.
‘Rathnan Prapancha’ is a must-watch family drama. It’s a journey worth taking with your family.
(The film is streaming on Amazon Prime Video).