Kannada cinema: Year of hope buffeted by uncertainty

For Kannada film industry, a year of hope buffeted by uncertainty

The pandemic stalled many interesting projects in 2020, pushing them into the new year

When ‘KGF: Chapter 1’ completed two years on December 21, and that was when its crew spoke about a sequel. “A glance into the Empire. We are coming stronger, bigger, and deadlier on January 8,” said director Prashanth Neel on Twitter. Even as fans rejoiced, news of a new strain of coronavirus gripped social media. 

It has been that kind of year for the Kannada film industry. In the past nine months, flickers of hope have been buffeted by strong winds of uncertainty. If not for the lockdown, the industry would have seen many releases by A-list directors. Much of the excitement has now been deferred to 2021.

Shivarajkumar has teamed up with the makers of the blockbuster ‘Avane Srimannarayana’ (2019) for ‘Ashwathama’, produced by Pushkara Mallikarjunaiah and directed by Sachin Ravi.

Dr Rajkumar’s grandson Yuva Rajkumar is set for debut with a historical action-drama.  

Interestingly, five directors are part of a yet-to-be-titled feature film. Yogaraj Bhat, Jayathirtha, Pawan Kumar, KM Chaitanya, and Shashank will work in different capacities in a film that is touted to be a commercial entertainer. Sriimurali will be part of two action thrillers ‘Madha Gaja’ and ‘Bagheera’. 

Romantic tragedies 

With people forced to watch films on OTT, romantic tragedies ‘Dia’ by KS Ashoka and ‘Love Mocktail’ by Darling Krishna made a huge impact. Though far from perfect, they had a lot going for them. ‘Dia’ beautifully explored the complexities of relationships and dealt with the mother-sentiment angle with grace. The warmth of the characters and earthy humour makes ‘Love Mocktail’ highly watchable.

Suri, the evolver  

‘Popcorn Monkey Tiger’ (PMT), starring a terrific Dhananjay, was the most ambitious Kannada film of 2020. Like most of the classics, the crime-thriller received a cold reception in theatres and was much loved after it hit the OTT space. If the team hadn’t delayed its small screen release, ‘PMT’ would have definitely generated a bigger buzz.

With ‘PMT’, Suri shows he is here to push himself and grow with every film. Be it in writing or treatment, Suri has shown a constant hunger to be different and outdo himself since ‘Kendasampige’ (2015).

Hits and misses

Pannaga Bharana’s ‘French Biriyani’, with an ensemble cast, was a hilarious ode to Bengaluru. The Covid-19 outbreak stopped its encouraging run in theatres but ‘Mayabazar 2016’, by Radhakrishna Reddy, deserved every bit of its appreciation from the OTT audience. The excellent comedy of desperation was thoroughly entertaining with great performances. As for other OTT releases, ‘Law’ by Raghu Samarth and ‘Bheemasena Nala Maharaja’ by Karthik Sargur couldn’t capitalise on interesting premises. 

Risk pays off 

When theatres opened with 50 per cent occupancy in October, two films that took the plunge were Mansore’s ‘Act 1978’ and Arvind Kamath’s ‘Arishadvarga’. The gamble paid off, and the crowds came back.

What next? 

Dhruva Sarja’s ‘Pogaru’, four years in the making, is gearing up for a Sankranti release. Its outcome could influence the release strategies of other biggies like Darshan’s ‘Roberrt’, Sudeep’s ‘Phantom’, and Rakshit Shetty’s ‘Charlie 777’.