Guddada Bhootha In The Time Of Corona

Guddada Bhootha In The Time Of Corona

As the world is trying to hang on to the slippery slope called hope in the time of Corona and as Guddada Bhootha celebrates its thirtieth anniversary (a coincidence I didn’t see coming), I thought this is as good a time as any to visit the hale mane (old house) in Kamarottu and discover the bhootha (ghost).

When the series was first aired on DD National, people of all ages gathered in front of the television. I wasn’t born then, so I missed witnessing the growing amounts of fandom that this 13-episode show earned. However, I kept hearing about it here and there through anecdotes. And I always wanted to catch Prakash Raj’s earlier performances – the ones he starred in before K Balachander took him under his wing.

Prakash Rai, his real name and as he’s known in the world of Kannada film and TV industry, is brilliant and easily the pick of the lot. In one of the episodes uploaded on YouTube (12 are available and one seems to be missing), he recalls the period (in a segment called “Flashback”) and says, “I was just a boy who was floating in a running stream of water back then. I didn’t have any idea about the nitty-gritties of filmmaking or the nuances of acting.”

You shouldn’t get fooled by his modesty. Even without taking a moment to fix his gaze on his co-actor, letting his eyes carry the weight of his emotions, and raising his voice (his signature style) to threaten his opponents, he does his job. He has definitely sharpened his skills over the years, but the twenty-something man you see in Guddada Bhootha isn’t merely another work-in-progress actor.

The series starts off with the father, Giriyappa (Udyavara Madhava Acharya), and daughter Rathna (Kanaka) arriving in Kamarottu, from Bombay, to while away their days in the greeny-and-sunny land of Tulu Nadu. As soon as they begin to befriend the townsfolk, sadly, they learn that the house they purchased is haunted. Though, Rathna puts on a brave face and goes on to throw their claims into the dustbin, her father loses the spring in his step.

He bought the big house with the money he got after retiring, and, now, he doesn’t know what to do with it. And the friendly neighbours, who keep checking on him every now and then, make him shell out money in the name of poojas and sacred threads.

While this pot brews on one side, Sreenivas (Prakash Rai) enters the story from another corner and joins hands with Rathna to put a rest to the suspicions around the ghost. An eager-beaver, Sreenivas takes it as a challenge to prove that the myth of the bhootha is just lies. He gets excited about the trap he lays to catch the ghost that sets sarees on fire. He’s pretty sure that all the mischievous activities are being conducted by the same people who are doting on Giriyappa.

If the story had taken place in an urban jungle, maybe the thriller wouldn’t have worked. The hale mane, which has been constructed in the middle of a wooded area, is enough to give you the heebie-jeebies. In a city like Bengaluru, finding such a spot would have been nearly impossible. Moreover, the characters switch between Kannada and Tulu effortlessly. And that happens only in Tulunadu. Along with these two languages, there are a couple of English lines as well that are spoken by Rathna and Sreenivas. And none of it feels out of pitch as most of the actors are polyglots.

Stripped off its nostalgic factor, Guddada Bhootha may struggle to stand on its own. However, when you look at a piece of artwork with the knowledge that you’ve gained in the interim decades, you will view it very differently. Your metrics aren’t going to be the same for series that are made in the twenty first century. That way, it’s a fun watch that sticks to the basics, like a high-school grammar textbook, and writer-director Sadananda Suvarna will always be remembered for two things: 1) the haunting opening track – “Dennana Dennana, Dennana Dennana, Dennana Dennaneeyaey!” 2) for giving Prakash Rai a nice spot under the sun.