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#UKAsianReview: ‘Ulidavaru Kandante’ is a watershed moment in Kannada cinema

Through the LIFF week we have feasted on real gems of independent cinema. Rakshit Shetty’s debut feature Ulidavaru Kandante (“As Seen by the Rest”) is a riveting thriller showcasing a confident new film language in regional cinema (in this case Kannada cinema).

Following his success with ‘Simple Ago Ondh Love Story’, Rakshit Shetty makes this film drawing inspiration from Kurosawa’s Rashomon.

Photo-journalist Regina (Sheetal Shetty) travels to her home town to probe a certain incident which happened on a festival night in a sleepy fishermen’s village called Malpe. Narratives from different perspectives construct the story which is published in six different chapters offering no conclusion.

The open ended nature of the narrative permits the director Shetty to play with form and question truth/fiction, real/false, good/bad. Displaying various stylistic flourishes, the thriller manages to pack a bunch of tributes to influences as varied as Sin City, Pulp Fiction, Scarface, Agneepath and Dabbang.

The fatal incident is carefully hidden while Shetty deftly involves the audience in the lives of different narrators, fisherfolk, doped tigerdancers, village dons, romantic dreamers, allowing a detailed tour of the picturesque village.

Rakshit Shetty plays the bad guy Richi (Richard Gonsalves) who works for a cigar puffing local don and has a case to settle with his childhood friend. With his local accent, his swagger, police belt and Ray Ban sunglasses and Cuban kid jokes Shetty’s Richi holds the viewer’s curiosity through his encounter with Raghu (Rishab Shetty) who has returned to the village to meet his mother after many years.

His face off with the mechanic Munna (Kishore) leads to fatal events revealed only in the last reel.

It is the strength of the script and its visual realisation that takes the viewer through a series of cliff hangers and partial stories. A journey dressed with stylistic cinephile motifs (the animation reference to Sin City) and inventive dialogue play (invoking Agneepath) – allows Shetty to revel in and celebrate his influences.

The inevitable end is held back for two hours while some vivid characters (including a bunch of delightful face-painted children) take us on their journeys. This sleepy village where nothing seems to happen suddenly bursts to life during Janmasthami (a festival celebrating the birth of the Lord Krishna).

Local Yakshagana folk performers drift about in mythological costume and the tiger dancers spend the night getting themselves painted and masked. Festive colours burst onto the screen, pulsating with rhythmic drums, classic frames set to accelerate tension and a furious play of violent acts.

In a puzzle box narrative, the ultimate Mcguffin is not as important as the journey the viewer rides through.

Helmer Shetty takes on a big task of display/disclosure and delivers with cinematic flourish.

His young team support and dress his vision to offer a big screen experience – the way it used to be in the movies.

Richi is unpredictable, larger and louder than life, his dancing with the tigers before two climactic moments, remain enduring visuals from the film. Kishore’s Munna and Tara’s Ratnakka bring weight and emotion to the script and evoke potent/tragic dreams of romance and motherhood.

Well scripted characters are delivered as memorable performances by the ensemble cast. This is a memorable film in every technical aspect, fabulous cinematography (Karm Chawla) heart tugging music (Ajaneesh Loknath) and imaginative editing (Sachin) makes narrative points meet delightfully.

Beyond all cinematic references, Shetty’s is a voice and vision to be recognised in his celebratory love for cinema, his ability to insert best elements which entertain local audiences and reach out to a wider global viewership.

When the trailer was released it created history with fifty thousand hits on YouTube in a few hours. The team cleverly involved the audience in interactive marketing strategies.

Indian regional cinema has a sitting audience. What it needs now is more such fearless voices and team energies.

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