When mass comes with a tight storyline, it delivers a class that sets it apart from the rest. The complete name of the movie is “Kantara Dhanta Kathe,” which loosely translates to the legend of the forest. True to its title, it brings together legend and magic with the lives of the people in a narrative that manages to expertly comment on the insidious nature of the caste system itself. The intelligence of the movie lies in how easy it makes it for the viewer to accept its genre-breaking storyline. Not to mention the visual treat that it delivers, which is a treat to watch on the big screen. This film can be praised endlessly but let us get to the events of it first.
The Conflict Between The Villagers And The Police
“Kantara” starts in 1847 when a King grants the forest land to the local tribes in exchange for peace and protection by their God-the Panjurli Daiva. He is warned that though the families will continue to serve the God, any attempt to go back on his word will incur the wrath of the God. Cut to 1970: The descendant of the King wants the land back. He asks for it at the Bhoota Kola festival. It is essentially a coming together of music, dance, recital, and costumes. The person performing it is Shiva’s father, and it is indicated that he is possessed by the God himself at this time. In the discussion between the King’s descendant and the vessel of the God, “Kantara” made the creative decision to keep the latter’s dialogues in Kannada while translating only the former’s words. We could understand that in their exchange, Shiva’s father had warned him about the consequences of withdrawing from the promise of his ancestor and had subsequently run off into the forest and disappeared in a burst of flames. A few months later, the man dies while in the middle of the process of reclaiming the land.
The storyline jumps forward by 20 years. Shiva is all grown up and is the local Kambala (bull racing) champion. But this doesn’t sit well with the henchmen of Devendra Suttooru, who is referenced as “Dora” throughout the movie, which means the head or the caretaker. He is the current descendant of the King and is the go-to man for village affairs. Dora settles the fight by schooling his guys and telling them that they must stand together as one village. Back to Shiva: he is just someone without a real purpose in life and takes every day as it comes. His life starts to change with the entry of the new forest officer, Muralidhar. He has to make sure that the conversion of the land to “Reserve Forests” is done, but he lacks the tact to deal smoothly with the occupants. This often puts him and the villagers, mainly Shiva, at loggerheads. Things come to a head when the police force fences off the forest land, which turns a large chunk of the villagers into encroachers. This is especially troubling because Leela, who Shiva is in love with, is one of the forest guards, and this happened on her first day of work. She is shunned by Shiva and the villagers alike, but things only get worse from there on. He and his friends start operating in the middle of the night to escape the watchful eye of the inspector. However, things don’t go as planned when, on one particular night, when Shiva and his friends are in the middle of felling a tree, it accidentally lands on a police vehicle, gravely injuring the people inside. This causes the group to go into hiding. One night, when they all come back to meet their families, they are caught, one by one, except Shiva. He goes to make up with Leela. They reconcile their differences and spend the night together.
The next morning, Shiva expresses that he wants to surrender to ease the troubles of the village, but as his luck would have it, the police are already waiting for him. He is arrested, and in the process, Muralidhar is gravely injured due to his own folly. We would like to take a moment to point something out here: the movie has received a lot of praise for its storyline and imagery, which has been called path-breaking in some spheres. But none of that could manage to save it from the tired trope of using women as nothing more than the hero’s love interest, who is objectified as much for the audience as for the male lead. Seriously, Shiva has no problem touching her without her consent or being violent toward her. Sadly, the “Arjun Reddy/Kabir Singh” school of thought is deeply embedded in South Indian cinema, and it is all entirely acceptable as long as you are the “hero.”
Anyway, the story starts unravelling further once he is behind bars. Dora has some not-so-good intentions for the village. He tries to convince Guruva to relay the word of the God as wanting the villagers to sell their lands to him. When he refuses, Dora stabs him and disposes of his body in the village. Elsewhere, Murali is having a discussion that it is necessary to cover the land to reserve forests soon enough as Dora has registered all of the lands under his name, and this could lead to the villagers getting exploited. Dora comes to know of this. Raghav gets Shiva out on bail, but Dora convinces him that he has ulterior motives behind this. He also instigates Shiva by lying to him that the person to kill Guruva is Muralidhar.
Shiva is engulfed in a fit of rage, but he goes to meet the local blacksmith instead and does some recreational drugs for clarity. The man tells him that he saw Guruva with Dora right before he was killed. Unknown to them, Shiva has been followed by Dora’s henchmen, and they plan on killing him. What follows is an example of why “Kantara” deserves the praise it’s getting. The action scene where Shiva thwarts the goons is pure art. It’s been a long time since we saw such raw emotion executed with such style.
‘Kantara’ Ending Explained: What Happens To Shiva? Is He Dead Or Alive?
Back in the village, the people have come to know Dora’s true nature. Shiva comes on the scene and informs them that he is also responsible for the death of Guruva. It is time for the final act, for the final battle, as Dora comes armed and ready to take down everyone in his way. But the villagers are no less geared up for a fight. What follows is a pure visual splendor, which is executed with such grace that it leaves you breathless. But it doesn’t come with a happy ending. Dora manages to kill Shiva, and the villagers lose all hope. But tides can turn anytime, sometimes for no other reason than to prove a miracle. Shiva has always had nightmares about a boar that attacks him as well as hallucinations about a God in the forest. But that day, he had conquered his fears. He was the descendant of the host of the God, and in times of need, he came to protect. The God possesses Shiva and wreaks havoc on the assailants. He kills Dora and all of his henchmen, removing every obstacle to the village. Cut to a few months later, and Shiva, who is still possessed by the God, is performing at the festival. He brings together the hands of the villagers and the officials in a gesture telling them to protect the forest with each other’s help. At that exact moment, he hears the shriek from the forest and runs towards it. It is the shriek of his lost father and the God, who are one and the same as they have been for years. They meet again in the circle of fire and disappear without leaving a trace, as their job is done. Years later, Shiva’s son asks questions about his father’s disappearance, and he gets a smile in return, maybe predicting that he is going to have a similar fate.
Final Thoughts: What Works For ‘Kantara’?
You really cannot go wrong when the hero of a film is the story. There was a certain authenticity and rawness in the elements, like the Bhoota Kola festival and the Kambala competitions, that added to the movie. The biggest plus point for the movie is that it did not shy away from showing its imperfections. The actors looked believable as their characters, which strengthened the narrative. They were not just acting, but they had to shed their inhibitions at a level that is a testament to their expertise in their craft. By the looks of it, it is a mass entertainer, but you know immediately enough that it is just a cover. It certainly seeks to entertain, but it does not cater to anyone, and that is a movie with spirit. “Kantara” is one such film, and it also comes with a high rewatch value. If you had to watch one good film this week, month, or year, let it be “Kantara.” Your life will be all the more enlightened for it.
“Kantara” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Rishab Shetty.