Directed By: Rishab Shetty
Screenplay By: Rishab Shetty
Cast: Rishab Shetty; Sapthami Gowda; Kishore; Achyuth Kumar; Pramod Shetty; Shanil Babu; Prakash Thuminad; Manasi Sudhir; Naveen D Padil; Swaraj Shetty; Deepak Rai Panaaje; Pradeep Shetty; Rakshith Ramachandra Shetty
Genre: Drama; Action; with Supernatural elements
Run Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Set in a fictional forested land called Kaadubettu, Kantara fuses myth, magic, horror and the supernatural in a film that is a commentary on land politics. It starts with the story of a king who looked for peace and comfort and found it in a forest god. However, his descendants looked to soothe their greed by taking back the land bequeathed to the gods and the people they protect.
Shiva (Rishab Shetty) the son, of the erstwhile Bhoot Kola performer, who disappeared during a particularly charged performance, carries trauma from that incident. His response to it? Distance himself from his calling. He and his friends are known as the vagabonds of the community. He participates in the annual Kambala competition, goes hunting and generally lives a free life. He also seems to enjoy an easy relationship with the benevolent landlord Devendra Suttooru (Achyuth Kumar). Despite his unwillingness to fulfil his calling, he does enjoy the respect of the community who knows that whatever his antics, he is the one to turn to if the people need help.
The primary antagonist seems to be a rigid forest officer Murali (Kishore) who wants the forest protected and puts a stop to animals being hunted, bursting firecrackers for celebrations, and people cutting wood. Now, all of this sounds perfectly reasonable but forest communities have practised sustainable living for centuries. The aim is to live alongside the land, the animals and not in opposition.
There are internal restraints in how they consume. Shiva’s mother Kamala (Manasi Sudhir) tells him off every time he goes hunting. It is not out of fear of government retribution but because animals are sacred and must not be indiscriminately killed. Most certainly not for sport of to prove some ability. They are to be consumed only on occasion. Also, the forest god Panjurli is a boar god and hence one must not ill-treat his likeness. In fact, there is a rather significant moment when Shiva himself acknowledges how his people are satisfied with a frugal meal and do not give into excess.
Greed is a running theme within the film which ties with the ideas of land ownership that settled communities, that claim rights of being civilised by mere virtue of land possession, believe in. The lack of consideration for forest communities is shown playing out on one hand by feudal forces and on the other by government systems. One is not claiming that the communities that have lived by the land are repositories of complete knowledge but that their expertise is not even considered, is problematic.
The story is rather simple but the simplicity of the story is layered with much symbolism about identity and space. The characters in the beginning seem like stock representations of certain ideas but it curves making the characters more rounded figures capable of growth and learning. This is not just for Shiva and Murali but others as well. For instance, Leela (Sapthami Gowda) is the female love interest and does fulfil certain traditional romantic frameworks but she doesn’t just retire into the scenery but holds her own in how she expresses her autonomy in everything including desire.
The film is aware of the changing socio-political and ecological climate and anticipates it in how it seeks to communicate its resolution. It also uses supernatural horror to drive the action of the story, making the viewers fall deeper into a mystical experience.