A year of despair and hope for Kannada cinema

A year of despair and hope for Kannada cinema

Kannada Year End review

Raj B Shetty in 'Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana'

Santhosh Ananddram’s ‘Yuvarathnaa’ was far from perfect. Yet, the film attracted people of all age groups when it hit the screens in April.

At the peak of the second wave of the pandemic, the Puneeth Rajkumar-starrer ran in front of packed crowds for a week before an OTT release became inevitable. The entire episode reiterated one fact: Puneeth was Kannada cinema’s biggest star.

He impressed multiple generations like no other actor. The family drama genre in Kannada lost its driving force with his untimely death at 46 years of age.

It’s an irreplaceable loss as he was more than just a star. With his PRK Productions, he dreamt of consistently bankrolling content-oriented films helmed by fresh talents.

Consistent quest for quality should be the biggest tribute the Kannada film industry must give to Puneeth. Apart from the unfathomable tragedy, Sandalwood had an encouraging year with Raj B Shetty’s ‘Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana’ (GGVV) being the standout movie.

Best ones

The gangster drama set in Mangaluru, also starring Rishab Shetty, was an intelligent film with a broad appeal. Raj B Shetty, who made the simple yet enjoyable ‘Ondu Mottey Kathe’ (2017), focused on technical superiority in his sophomore effort. The actor-director formed a fine team with cinematographer Praveen Shriyan and composer Midhun Mukundan.

Duniya Vijay’s directorial debut ‘Salaga’ and Tharun Sudhir’s ‘Roberrt’ were smartly made commercial ventures. ‘Salaga’ wasn’t in the league of Suri’s underworld films but it was watchable. The makers banked on eccentric promotional tactics to come up with trumps.

‘Roberrt’, despite being a mishmash of several blockbusters, was mounted on a big scale with chartbusters and action set pieces doing justice to its star (Darshan).

Way forward?

‘Ikkat’ and ‘Rathnan Prapancha’ ended Kannada cinema’s dry run in the OTT space. They showed how clever writing can give a fresh spin to traditional genres such as comedy and emotional dramas. Both the films impressed non-Kannadigas. Going forward, it will augur well for KFI if more films perform well on streaming sites.

The duds

Among the many underwhelming films of 2021, ‘Pogaru’, ‘Kotigobba 3’, ‘Bhajarangi 2’, ‘Mugilpete’, and ‘Madhagaja’ were the notable ones because they carried immense expectations.

‘Pogaru’ was steeped in misogyny and reeked of toxic masculinity. ‘Kotigobba 3’ was another example of a director’s ineptness in making an enjoyable ‘masala’ film. Sudeep, an actor on par with the country’s best, featured in yet another mediocre film.

‘Madhagaja’, a colossal mess, was a wannabe ‘KGF’. Manuranjan Ravichandran tried to cash in on his father’s legacy in ‘Mugilpete’, which lacked freshness for a love story. A wafer-thin story and terrible writing didn’t do justice to the improved VFX of the Shivarajkumar-starrer ‘Bhajarangi 2’.

Flurry of releases

The backlog of films waiting to release post the second wave of the pandemic was huge. Once the cinemas opened with 100 per cent occupancy, there was a big fight for screens and decent attempts such as ‘100’ and ‘Premam Poojyam’ got lost in the crowd. The stiff competition from neighbouring industries and unavailability of theatres in the Christmas week might have forced the postponement of Rakshit Shetty’s ‘777 Charlie’, Sharan’s ‘Avatara Purusha’ and Yogi’s ‘Ombattane Dikku’.

Dhananjaya: A ‘star’ is born

Dhananjaya emerged as the versatile star actor the industry desperately needed. ‘Pogaru’ and ‘Yuvarathnaa’ wasted his talent. He latched on to a meaty role of a cop in ‘Salaga’. With ‘Rathnan Prapancha’ and ‘Badava Rascal’, he has become the face of ‘middle cinema’, which has rooted stories that appeal to the common man.

Lack of experiments

‘Hero’ was the first film made during the lockdown. Rishab Shetty, an artiste always open for off-beat thinking, backed the film, which had the feel of a slasher genre sans the horror elements. Apart from ‘Hero’ and ‘Ikkat’, the Kannada industry didn’t dare to create content in an unprecedented situation. The other Kannada artiste who finished a product in the pandemic was director Pawan Kumar. He made ‘Kudi Yedamaithe’, an intelligent Telugu web series on the time loop concept, for Aha.

Women still playing second fiddle

Sandalwood lacked stories of women. In commercial films, heroines weren’t central to the plots. Aditi Prabhudeva’s ‘Aana’ was a pretentious female superhero film while Dhanya Ramkumar, Dr Rajkumar’s granddaughter, debuted in a middling live-in relationship drama. The saving grace was to see Ganavi Laxman (in ‘Hero’) and Umashree (in ‘Rathnan Prapancha) excelling in complex characters.

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