Kannada movie ‘Kantara’ begins with a fascinating legend of a king that’s reminiscent of tales from Amar Chitra Kathas and Chandamama. The king has everything but peace of mind, so he strikes a deal with a forest community to give him ‘Panjurli Daiva’, the divine spirit they worship, in exchange for a portion of his land. After a few minutes, the focus of the film turns to Shiva, an unemployed man-child, who spends his time hunting, drinking and picking fights in his village, while his mother and brother work hard for their livelihood.

Rishab Shetty dons multiple hats for ‘Kantara’, he is the director, writer and also lead character Shiva, who is supposed to carry forward his father’s legacy of performing the ‘Bhoota Kola’, a ritualistic dance to worship Panjurli Daiva. Instead, his younger brother Guruva (Swaraj Shetty) shoulders those responsibilities. The first fifteen minutes of the movie packs a lot of folklore, culture, traditions of Karnataka, after which the script largely follows Shiva’s antics.

A not very compelling ‘man vs nature’ premise is introduced to give viewers a villain. Strict forest officer Murali (Kishore Kumar G) begins to target the villagers; he accuses them of encroaching upon government land and prohibits them from hunting animals. Landowner Devendra Suttooru (Achyuth Kumar), a direct descendant of the king, hires a lawyer to help the villagers with litigation work, as most of them are illiterate. Can Shiva and his people keep their land or will they become homeless?

The film is well shot, capturing interior Karnataka’s beauty and some of its vibrant art forms. However, plot-wise, the script meanders a lot in the between, with typical jokes and scenes of a mass south-Indian entertainer. An unexpected mysterious murder serves as the turning point for the movie, but the sub-plot isn’t fleshed out well. The second you see the dead body, you would think “why?” and not “who killed him?”, since it’s pretty evident who did it and soon it’s not too hard to understand why either. It’s the last 20 minutes that are absolutely arresting, with Rishab Shetty breaking out of his shell and delivering a goosebumps inducing performance.

I was hoping for more folklore and insights into the rituals and beliefs of the community, but all we get is Shiva and gang gorging on meat, fish and cheap liquor. It was hard not to think about the 2022 Malayalam film ‘Kumari’ while watching ‘Kantara’, because it also has similar themes and is just as good (if not better), but hasn’t received half the attention. Overall, it’s definitely a film that’s made for the big screen. But for now you can stream it on Amazon Prime Video.

It’s a 7/10 from me.

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