Readers Write In #530: Kantara: A Socio-Ethical Perspective

Posted on December 12, 2022


By VS Shyam

In the field of art, the more local you dive into, the more international your art will be. Kantara has become yet another testament to this assertion. One more similar biggie which made it to the international stage, was Karnan. The idea of stories based on folklore and the strong oppressing the weak resonated with both the movies, though Kantara’s story was completely woven around the Bootha Kola. Both can be categorised in one way into the ‘lifestyle’ movie genre. That is, the conflict and real villain is not established right from the word go. We get a peek into what could essentially develop into a conflict, and then the movies jump into the lives of people. We become part of that community, by observing their daily lives. True, there are problems that people face, but still the conflict that the movie aims to resolve does not show up. By becoming one in the community, their happiness and their fears are transferred to us. And in the end, when the final showdown happens, even though it is short, it leaves a magnanimous impact on us.

It will be interesting to treat the story of Kantara as an ethical case study, since the central dispute involves multiple stakeholders, and some moral questions. Let’s look at the stakeholders first. As known, the struggle over ownership of the forest land becomes the plotline. There are three stakeholders(actually four, will reveal that one later): the tribals, the landlord, and the government officials. The tribals have resided on the land for generations, and put in their labor towards developing and protecting it. So it is reasonable that they claim ownership to the land. They are also devotionally attached to the forest. The landlord, as any other rich person would normally do, thinks from the perspective of the well-being of his family and his future generations. According to him, the tribals have illegally encroached his rightful land several years ago. So the claiming of land, for him, is not be seen as jealousy, but as a legally sound way of wealth creation. On the other hand, take the government officials. They have no personal interest in owning the land. Their primary objective, is to protect the land from encroachment, either from the tribals or from other individuals. And yes, they also have an additional responsibility of protecting the wildlife inside the forest, the one which unfortunately ignites a spark of conflict between the tribals and officials, and fogging the real villain in picture. Each of them has valid reasons to be right from their own perspective. So who is to get the land?

Let’s for one instance suppose that the government and the law didn’t exist. A society, which is governed by laws of nature, tends to favour the more powerful, the landlord in our case. There is no question of morality, since there’s nobody to ask about what’s right and what’s wrong. But that’s how nature works. The predator triumphs over the prey. Now let government be let in. Initially the forest officials are received with hate and skepticism by the tribals, since the officials try to limit their rights over the forest. But when the real villain is revealed, both of them realize that they have the same objective: protect the land. This is an example of a conventional case which has been seen to take multiple forms over time: a common enemy is necessary in order for a formation of a common goaled society.

Now let me reveal the fourth mysterious stakeholder: true to the adjective, it’s Panjurli. The God was actually right in stating initially that who is to get the land was to be decided later. And the conflict is finally resolved only when Panjurli intervenes. Panjurli has been the protector of that land all these years, and we feel like the final verdict being: this land neither belongs to the landlord, nor the government or even the tribals, but to Panjurli, and hence Nature. This is in a way the central theme of Kantara, the needless fighting over material property by humans, which originally belongs to the nature.

Kantara also makes us question about the modern day materialistic lifestyle. The tribals today are categorised as underdeveloped, and lacking in status and education. But if one knows that nothing in this world belongs to humans in permanence, that nature and God are not different, and that creating a society based on sharing is peaceful, then who is the one that’s truly educated? We have a lot more to learn from the adivasis than to teach them.