The Kannada hit, Kirik Party, is the latest entry in the genre we could call South India’s answer to the South Bombay movie. The vibe is similarly cool, the sensibility similarly young, the air similarly irreverent, but there’s one crucial difference. The feel is grounded, recognisably rooted. The kids in the South Bombay films look like they’re in New York. The engineering college kids in Kirik Party feel like they’re from Hassan, Karnataka. They watch Upendra blockbusters. They wear lungis. They also wear dudish sunglasses, straddle dudish bikes and go on angsty road trips of self-discovery, across very local landscapes. It’s wonderful – in this film, and also in the Tamil (Kadhalil Sopdhappuvadhu Yeppadi) and Malayalam films that birthed this genre (Bangalore Days, Premam) – to see India as most of us urbanites know it, an easygoing mix of East and West.
The filmmaking, too, exists comfortably in-between. The must-haves of our cinema are all there. Romance. Comedy. Songs. Fights. But the director, Rishab Shetty, is stupendously inventive, and these generic elements acquire startlingly specific colours. One fight is structured like a game of cricket – there’s a stumping, a drinks break, there’s even running commentary. Another fight is folded into a song. And the songs – oh my god, the songs. Forget La La Land. This is the most inventive musical of 2016. B Ajaneesh Loknath’s splendid numbers are used to deliver the “song breaks” we expect, but they also – as in a musical – form an intrinsic part of the narrative. People sometimes talk in unison, like a chorus. There’s a post-suspension song, where the suspended students explain their side of things to a teacher, to a car mechanic – a brass band scampers about in the background. There’s a song where people speculate on the contents of a diary – it’s the first “gossip song” I can remember since College ka ek ladka in Saath Saath. The songs are often broken up to accommodate scene-lets, bits, dialogue. You know how seriously a filmmaker takes his cinema by how seriously he treats his songs. Each number feels fresh, alive – not just in the execution (that’s just choreography), but in the conception, in the very why of the song.
The story revolves around Karna (the terrific Rakshit Shetty). At first, he’s a baby-faced underachiever, hardly the brightest of bulbs. When told that the girl he likes (Saanvi, played by Rashmika Mandanna) is three years older, he smiles and says it’s okay, because in three years he’ll be her age. The wooing scenes are a riot. Saanvi teaches Kannada to students from other states, and Karna employs them to deliver his pick-up lines, in class. This is the kind of film where the smile never leaves your face. Until Fate socks Karna in the solar plexus. We get a Premam-like transformation from boy to wayward man. We get a Bangalore Days-like reconciliation, where the ghosts of the past are put to rest. The comedy segues smoothly into tragedy, and vice versa. Rishab Shetty seems capable of moulding mood any way he wants.
The background score helps enormously. Because this is a musical, the music is non-stop. It’s practically a parallel narrative. When juniors declare war on seniors, we hear finger snaps, bass guitar twangs from a Spaghetti Western. When this intent escalates into full-blown war – with hockey sticks! – we hear a… waltz! You know the cliché of the solo violin wailing as a sad story is being told on screen? We get the sad story, we get the solo violin – but we get a sound that’s totally unexpected. The music is the current, and the film just… flows, there’s no other word for it.
There are vignettes that go on too long, but there’s always some payoff – a great line (even from what I could get from the subtitles), a great bit of acting (the cast is superb), or a great laugh. Or even a great bit of staging. You can’t take your eyes off screen because there’s not one lazy shot. Every contributor (and I have to single out cinematographer Karam Chawla) is exquisitely in sync. (There’s a separate essay to be written on how these films use slo-mo to shape our viewing experience.) And amidst the fun, the college frolic, the ragging of eccentric professors, the writing reveals surprising depths. In the first half, in the first romance, Karna finds himself on a church tower – he wants to ring the bell. Saanvi says no. In the second half, after Arya (Samyuktha Hegde) comes into his life, she urges him to ring a bell, a very different kind of bell, one that changes his life. The high that you get from watching a commercial film made by people who know film, who love cinema – it’s something else.
- Kadhalil Sopdhappuvadhu Yeppadi = see here
- Bangalore Days = see here
- Premam = see here
- La La Land = see here
Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.