Kids’ films lead charge at Kannada box office

Kids’ films lead charge at Kannada box office

Sarkari Hi Pra Shaale Kasaragodu and Ondalla Eradalla are drawing huge crowds and setting the tone for an interesting second half of the year

taut narrative Ondalla Eradalla is about a Muslim boy and his pet cow.

A popular film can shape an industry. Take Prem’s Jogi, which produced incredible numbers at the box office. The 2005 release pushed the envelope in terms of grandeur in Kannada cinema and also set a trend. While the mother-son bond is the soul of the film, it’s the premise of an innocent adult drawn into rowdyism that attracted filmmakers. For over a decade since Jogi’s success, numerous gangster films (with heroes wielding ‘macchu, longu’) hit the screens. But not many stood out like Jogi.

The sensational hit Mungaru Male did something similar. Quirky dialogues, rainy romantic moments, cheerful and laidback protagonists and heartbreaks became regular features of Kannada films but few managed to match Yogaraj Bhat’s brilliance in the Ganesh-starrer. Like a rash, these ideas were all over the Kannada film industry.

This year is special for Kannada cinema: it has seen an interesting array of themes. After a decent six months, the second half of 2018 has kicked off with two quality children’s films in Sarkari Hi.Pra. Shale. Kasaragodu (SHPSK) and Ondalla Eradalla.

How has a genre like the children’s film, very sparingly attempted here, garnered good response from the Kannada audience? The secret lies in their being less of a children’s films and more of ‘something for everyone’ offerings. Both SHPSK and Ondalla Eradalla hold messages for people of all ages without diluting the innocence and fun of the children’s film genre.

Rishab Shetty’s SHPSK deals with the identity crisis in Kasaragodu district. A Kannada school in Kasaragodu, now in Kerala, faces threat of closure, leaving the children crestfallen. As a visual experience, SHPSK is a winner. Stunning backdrops and beautifully shots songs are hallmarks of Rishab’s films.

He makes grown-ups think about the importance of preserving language and culture while presenting enjoyable scenes from school for children. Despite the film’s sensitive topic, humour rules the script.

Cinematically, Rishab still has a long way to go. His struggle to form organic plot points to arrive at a solution is visible here. But he comes across as a ringmaster who strongly believes in entertaining the audience. SHPSK is a memorable outing for the little ones and also a trigger for serious discussions about education and identity.

Ondalla Eradalla is an example of the famous saying: cinema is a reflection of society. Director Satya Prakash subtly touches on caste and religion, greed and blind faith through the story of a boy’s search of his beloved cow Bhanu. Child artist P V Rohith’s masterful performance as Sameera is sure to win a lot of hearts. His mischievous behaviour and his relationship with the cow is targeted at children. Satya Prakash throws in a lot of interesting characters and the mostly taut narration keeps us hooked. There is ample comedy but Ondalla Eradalla tries to gain sympathy for all its characters towards the end and that’s a negative. For a film that attempts to reflect reality, it could have been better if some characters retained their shades of grey.

It makes a difference when popular directors decide to take risks. Kirik Party shot Rishab to fame and Rama Rama Re’s put Satya Prakash in the limelight. These two directors have ignored the jaded way of looking at the children’s film genre.

Despite the absence of stars, children’s films can reach the masses as seen in Tamil hits like Pasanga (2009), Goli Soda (2014) and the Malayalam film Manikyakallu (2011). For the Kannada film industry, SHPSK and Ondalla Eradalla are a welcome change.

“The best thing about children is they don’t imitate some other actor. It’s a pleasure to watch them perform,” Mani Ratnam says of his cult-classic Anjali in Baradwaj Rangan’s In Conversation With Mani Ratnam. It remains to be seen if more film-makers in Kannada decide to take the road less travelled.