Language : Kannada | Runtime : 126 Minutes | Director : Shankar Nag
The most telling memory from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” has been the relationship that Paul Newman and Robert Redford shared on screen. The affable, clever and jingoistic older man with the compendious, athletic young man sharing a camaraderie and chemistry that is both enviable and endearing at the same time. The relationship between the two is easy, they talk with wit and there’s humor in how they behave. It is easy to like them, even if they are cut-throat robbers, looting the trains. Many a time while watching Minchina Ota, I was reminded of this chemistry. When Thatha(Loknath) sits in the wayside, breath heaving, unable to walk, Katte’s(Shankar Nag) response is to laugh the whole issue away.They establish their life’s constant state of upheaval and they then proceed to relieve a couple of their automobile. They move from looting steel plates and utensils to stealing automobiles. They are climbing the crime ladder. Thatha becomes Paul Newman for a moment and Katte becomes Robert Redford. What they lack is the good looks, what they have is a bravado and silliness that’s rapturous.
Minchina Ota, directed by Shankar Nag, is not the Indian version of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. It only reminds one of the relationships that the lead actors share. When Tony(Anant Nag) and Manju(Priya Tendulkar) join them, you see the roles of Paul Newman, Robert Redford being passed around the trio of men and Manju becomes their Katherine Ross, only here she is just as helpless and shrewd as the men.
The story revolves around the men and their desire to make it big. Katte’s youth desires a car, his needs are more materialistic. He craves the company of women, satisfying his desire by visiting prostitutes. Thatha’s desire are more about fulfillment and the basic needs. The contrast of old and young is shown clearly in how they spend their money after the first heist. Thatha is worried about clothing himself and having a good lunch, he tries to hold on to the money, worrying about tomorrow. Katte isn’t one for the long term. He is more concerned about wearing a jacket,borrowing money from Thatha to buy one from a shop. For food, he’d dupe the restaurant. For the next day, there’s always another car to rob. Neither of these men are capable of doing bigger things. They have had a jail stint and it has thought them what their limits are. Thatha restrains whatever little hotheaded impulsive heist that Katte might conceive. They make an ideal partnership.
But then the story halts if it was just about the two of them. Enter Tony, charismatic, in debt and a man who has not been on the wrong side of the law. His first taste of it is an adrenaline rush of a car chase with the cops. He is pulled into the little scheme of Thatha and Katte and like charismatic men tend to, he slowly becomes the leader of the band of car thieves. What really is striking is that there isn’t any animosity between Katte and Tony at this natural order of things. There’s no resentment, not now or later as most films tend to project at some point in Indian film fiefdom. Shankar Nag understands how natural order establishes itself and his characters largely stick to it.
Unlike Thatha and Katte, Tony’s sights are not limited to brothels and food on the table. He is here to settle an old debt and start a comfortable life. Small heists are no longer a priority. He needs something big, like a bank heist to get away from this false sense of security. The bank heist itself is of very little interest here and what follows is very much a timid exercise in selling us how karma gets to you in one way or the other. It also gives one of the clichéd endings that we have so often come to see in our movies. Yet, the way Shankar Nag tells the story makes it compelling enough to sit through and enjoy.
The biggest problem with Buth Cassidy and The Sundance Kid was that it didn’t know what kind of movie it wanted to be, a Western or about two cut-throat, good looking men and a beautiful woman or if it wanted to be about the failed gold hunt in Bolivia. It didn’t have an identity. Many a time, Minchina Ota suffers from the same issue. It doesn’t know if it wants to be a heist film or a jail flight film. It is understandable that the intent is to hit home the point of how one reaps what he sows and how karma always comes back to hurt you. It does put that point across but it is also frustrating that it doesn’t prove to be intelligent with the heists or the jail flight when doing so. Had it managed to provide enough of a thrill in both the scenarios, it might have become an extraordinary film. The heist is reduced to being about car chases and it has a very well shot car chase. The jail flight is set up well but it is too easily done. It culminates well enough, almost making us forget that it didn’t provide us the thrill. Sometimes, there is a farce in establishing the karmic bite, like how Thatha dies. It is too simple and unpoetical. These are issues that plague an otherwise excellent film.
The BGM is both very good and tacky in this movie. It suffers from the reproduced “chase and thrills” sound but also has a very beautiful track being used throughout the film. Prabhakar Badri‘s work is a reminder of what was mostly the norm in the 70s and 80s. Little variation in montage sequences and innovative design in others. It is also very interesting to see Shankar Nag’s filmography and realise how much the usage of BGM and music in general changed after this. In his debut film as director, his style of story telling is evident, the black humor and development of characters is his forte but the technical acumen and brilliance he’d come to show in “Geeta” and his later films are still not very clear here. One can find traces of it in the way the shots inside the jail are shot. They are bleaker than the rest of the images in the film. They have a more dreary look to them than what was seen in most films during the time. The “mood” of the actors and their fates coloured the screen and this is a style that is visible very clearly in “Accident”, Geeta and his other films.
Minchina Ota is a film that’s very much likeable because of how the characters are written and the way the story is told. In present day, it is easy to dismiss the last half an hour of the film for the clichés it contains but for the time it represents it is easy enough to understand the commercial elements it implemented. In a way, the dumbing down is reasonable. The actors – Loknath, Anant Nag and Shankar Nag do a commendable job as the thieving trio and in their company, Minchina Ota is a compelling film, which establishes Shankar Nag as a director who knows how to present a story. He’d tell stories even better in his future films.