How ‘Kantara’ celebrates the connection Indians have with their land and its rituals

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This land is our land. The daïva gave it to us. We are his guardians. When villagers repeat this repeatedly to homeowners for decades in kantara, he echoes the personal experience of Rishab Shetty, the director-actor of the Kannada film which is currently enchanting audiences across the country. The forest officer who declares the inhabitants invaders and launches an investigation to redraw the forest perimeter does not understand this basic philosophy. The deity/daiva protects the forest and its inhabitants, who in turn care for and depend on it for their lives. It is a symbiotic relationship between man and nature, and the daïva is the bridge.

kantara illustrates this beautifully. As much as Shetty’s Shiva flees his destiny as a performer of Bhoot Kola, something his father excelled at, the more he pursues him, until a glorious finale where humanity, nature and the spiritual world meet to restore the essential order of things. where all the elements work together and the human is just a small cog in the big wheel of life. In a symbolic extension of the hands, the Shetty in his avatar Bhoot Kola shakes hands with the forest officer and the villagers join him, in a unique huddle.

The strong feeling for the land permeates some of the biggest hits of the past two years. In RRR, Komaram Bheem, like the rest of his people, lives in perfect harmony with the jungle. As the song Bheemudu says: “Bheema, the land that gave birth to you / the trees that give you air to breathe / Your Gond tribe that gave you a name all speak to you? Can you hear them?” Bheema, played by Junior NTR, is a child of the forest, and in reality, was one of Telangana’s greatest folk heroes. His stories were among those that SS Rajamouli heard from his grand And it was his father V Vijayendra Kumar, and he, who-co wrote the fiction where Bheema meets Alluri Sitarama Raju, another revolutionary leader, from Andhra Pradesh, in RRR.

In Pushpa: the ascent, again, it is Pushpa’s mastery over the forest that makes him an excellent henchman for any sandalwood smuggler, until he becomes the boss himself. In KGF2it is Rockybhai’s ability to see a “samrajya” (realm) where his helpers can only see “dust and mud”.

Their distance from their village is never too great. Their language, imagination and innovation are all sparked by their surroundings. In Pushpa, when Allu Arjun states the laws of survival in the song “Daakko daakko meka”, he says, “The goat has to find a place to hide, if it doesn’t want to be the tiger’s next lunch.” He knows the forest inside out, from how a dam can stop water flowing, to what pond can be a perfect hiding place for red sandalwood. In KGFRockybhai’s life before coming to town is rich, riddled with poverty but overflowing with his mother’s love.

It is the same memory of another place, of a different land that Vijay would take with him in Deewar (1975), before coming to work in the docks. This is what much of India relates to, the migrants themselves in search of food and work wherever they can find it. Until the rise of multiplexes, which divided audiences in two, Mumbai films maintained a connection with the land, the village, the home of origin, even in a young film like Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989) where Prem goes to a village to earn a living as a construction worker.

In the post-millennium films made in Mumbai, the earth is not a living, breathing being. It’s not even a memory anymore. Most of its directors and producers come from film families or towns and villages. They have very little to do with the ground. In the cinemas of the South, the link with the land that feeds us has not been broken. Shetty shot the film “just two minutes” from where he grew up in Keradi, a village in Karnataka. Several extras in the film are real villagers who were trained in a workshop he held there. As a child, he played small roles in ‘Yakshagana’, the Kannada art form which dramatizes the Ramayana and the mahabharata. Shetty, who directed and starred in the film, used this training to perform the Bhoot Kola dance with great passion. The Bhoot Kola involves elaborate dances, rituals and performances in old Tulu to worship the daiva. Shetty watched over 1,000 videos of Bhoot Kola’s performance to get it right before training. And then he just didn’t think too much, he adds. “I just went with the flow.”

In effect. There is nothing artificial or exotic in kantara. It is faithful to its origins, its roots and its identity.

The author is a veteran journalist and former editor of India Today magazine. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.

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