Sometimes a pop culture phenomenon occurs that hints at shifting sociopolitical trends. Kantara is such a phenomenon. Yet, for all the hype, Kantara disappoints. It is not imaginative enough to forsake the masala formula, merely grafting the Bhoota Kola on to a tenuous storyline. It is emotionally crude, construing loudness for intensity, and it is ideologically anaemic.
I found it particularly curious how the film quickly absolved the state of wrongdoing and reinstated the landlord as villain; yet anyone who has worked closely with forest communities will know how much state and landlord work in tandem. But Rishab Shetty is not interested in that; he is wholly absorbed by the spectacular and the godly. His triumph is the creation of the Panjurli deity, whom he depicts movingly as endowed with powerful splendour but also with endless compassion.
It is wholly apposite that the film is, therefore, a spectacular success. For a populace drunk on neoliberal libations, what can be more convenient than a film that says the law can sit back because god will rescue the underprivileged.
The appeal of the mythical is eternal, particularly in India, particularly now, when the lines between myth and history, culture and religion are fading. At such times, custom and ritual become substitutes for real piety, which demands sacrifice and empathy unlike hyper-religiosity.
Understanding Kantara is thus also about decoding the film as a symptom of our times. A fine set of writers undertakes that task in this issue of Frontline.
Elsewhere in the magazine, Peter deSouza, Ganesh Devy, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Tabish Khair, Justice K. Chandru, Kalpana Sharma, and former Frontline editor N. Ram write some excellent pieces this fortnight. Dig in!