On Hemanth Rao’s ‘Kavaludaari’, and the triumph of treatment over plot

Posted on April 26, 2019


Read the full article on Film Companion, here: https://www.filmcompanion.in/southern-lights-hemanth-rao-kavaludaari-anant-nag-baradwaj-rangan-column/

The Kannada investigative thriller (with slight noir overtones) is brought to vibrant life by the direction.

A traffic cop named Shyam (Rishi) – the protagonist of Kavaludaari (Crossroads) – wants to do more. He wants to be a detective. Imagine his happiness when, on his watch, bones are discovered during a road-widening operation. The scene is beautifully staged. A small boy, presumably the child of one of the workers, is playing with a ball. (A red ball, in case you want to look out for some colour coding. A key scene, later, will play out under red lighting, and the climax will employ shades of red, too.) The ball bounces into a trench, and the boy follows, stepping carefully on the loose sand on the walls of the trench. The crux of this moment is the discovery of three skeletons, from a crime that occurred in 1977 – it’s what sets the plot in motion, and you’d think this is where the big drama will play out. The boy will see the bones. The soundtrack will see the opportunity and go ballistic. But no. We cut to a scene where the boy’s mother steps out of her makeshift hut. She sees him playing with a skull. She screams. That’s when the soundtrack goes ballistic. The camera adds to the drama, going higher and higher, giving us a God’s-eye view of Bengaluru. From this vantage point, all we see are signs of modernity, criss-crossing roads and trains and cars. But deep under the city, secrets lurk – secrets that still resonate, and go all the way up the corridors of power.

Hemanth M Rao’s first film was Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, a moving drama about a father who goes missing (he has Alzheimer’s) and the distant son who searches for him and finds him, not just physically but also emotionally. He finally learns who his father was/is. It was a solid debut feature (it won the Gollapudi Srinivas Award, given to a first-time filmmaker) – but Kavaludaari must have been a far tougher film to write and execute. Godhi Banna is an emotional story, and even if the director Hemanth Rao hadn’t delivered 100 percent, the screenwriter Hemanth Rao would have salvaged the film, made it watchable. Put differently, dramas are about plot, performances, lines. Good direction will always elevate a film, whatever the genre, but dramas can get by on average direction. “Staging” isn’t as important.

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