Watching a Kannada movie was not my idea of the ideal way to spend a Sunday morning. When I last checked, directors of Kannada movies had not yet learnt to distinguish between making a movie and directing a play in a village which had not yet been introduced to electricity. Characters in the typical Kannada movie used to stand shoulder-to-shoulder while having a conversation – something that normal people don’t do, but which makes perfect sense for actors in a play, because they’d need to face the stage. If they wanted to express something, it wasn’t enough to show it on their face – their whole body needed to convulse with surprise, shock or anger – something completely natural when you realise that the typical drama has poor support for close-ups. They also needed to scream their dialogues because the Ram-leelas fifty years back did not have microphones.
In addition to these pathologies, there were some that could not be explained by the village play hangover. Kannada filmmakers seemed to subscribe to the Cargo-cult of filmmaking. They’d look at whichever Hindi or Tamil film last became a hit, pick up whichever aspect of it caught their fancy and decide that the success of the film was caused by that. Then they’d use the same liberally in their next movie. So if a hit Tamil film had a superhit dance which involved a bunch of extras in mini-skirts and exposing their belly-buttons, all Kannada films for a year would have the same. Now of course, this cargo-cultism is present in all Indian movies, but in Kannada movies, there is nothing but.
Even art movies in Kannada suffered from the same defects. I am sure art film directors had a formula which specified pauses between dialogues to the last millisecond.
Therefore, it was with considerable trepedition that I booked tickets for Mungaru Male. (The “Male” is pronounced Muhley and the title means monsoon rain – has nothing to do with the unfair sex.) In my defence, we had not watched a movie since moving to Hyderabad. Given the quality of movies that have come out this year, any decision to watch a movie was necessarily one we’d take only if our other plans fell through, and in Hyderabad, one doesn’t get tickets to a movie at the last minute.
Also, I had heard a lot about the movie when I last visited ooru. Every Kannadiga who has watched a movie has watched it, apparently. So when I saw that Prasad’s Imax had it on the matinee show, I bought tickets, fully expecting to waste my Sunday.
The movie started promisingly. The story seemed to involve a hero who completely lacked common sense. Among his exploits are to jump on to a railway track to “save” a pet rabbit from an oncoming train. Actual dialogue from the movie: “I had thought you were a happy-go-lucky sort of guy. But the way you put your own life in danger to save the rabbit from the train has convinced me that you are a sensitive sort of person. You are really great.”
But after the first half, the movie turned out to be quite good. Ganesh, the lead actor, could really act. There was Anant Nag in the role of the girl’s father who always takes his role to another level. The dialogues and the ending managed to escape the cliche – the one I cited above was the exception rather than the rule. The movie was set in Kodagu and the cameraman did not fritter away the opportunity. Most importantly the movie managed to avoid the faults that I enumerate at the beginning of this post. I don’t know if this is the exception or if the Kannada film industry has truly come out of its rut, but given that this was such a big hit, I fear it is the former.