Directed by: Raam Reddy (a 26 year old “Stephenian”), Written by: Ere Gowda (his school-buddy)
Starring: Villagers from the Mandya district of Karnataka
Few experiences are more magical for a film-lover than to unearth a hidden gem from the realm of the lesser known independent/ parallel cinema which surprises the viewer with its freshness. Add to that the fact that the film entirely casts villagers with no professional actors among them. Add further the indigenous realism the movie brings that would make Iranian film-makers and Vittorio De Sica (father of neo-realism) proud. And finally add several European film awards (including 2 prized awards from the prestigious Locarno film festival) as the icing on the cake. The biggest irony is – the film is yet to have a full release in India. Well of course the wait ends today as it makes it to Mumbai, Pune and Delhi/NCR.
Yours truly was among the fortunate few to have seen the film’s premiere in India during the Mumbai Film Festival’15. And amidst a plethora of great films from different countries, Thithi managed to stand out. Not due to some art-house quality, cinematic brilliance, daring or controversial depiction or even some technical mastery, but for presenting a simple film on simple people using simple players, while never forgetting to keep the audience constantly engaged. So it is indeed heartening to see that the Indian film Industry has finally acknowledged the film (which also won the National Award for best Kannada film) with a much-awaited commercial release (even if it’s a limited one).
At its core, the film is a light-hearted, satirical story about three generations of men reacting in contrasting ways to the death of their 101-year old patriarch (“Century Gowda”) resulting in a comedy of events. The film’s story arc covers the 11 days following his death to the day of the final funeral “celebration” (called Thithi). But beyond a simple story, what the film really brings forth is a village with memorable characters, which as interestingly pointed by one reviewer, could probably mirror the quirky indomitable Gauls in Asterix (minus the crazy Romans and magic potion, but with a generous dose of reality). Century Gowda’s materialistic grandson, Thamanna, tries to sell his grandfather’s property, even though the land belongs to his father. Thamanna’s son, Abhi, is the “suave” one in the family who is happy to eschew his duties and watch the supposedly “more mature” elders indulge in petty squabbles following his great-grandfather’s death (while he focuses on more important matters, like winning the heart of the local shepherd girl).
But the highlight of the movie is Century Gowda’s eldest son, Gadappa (“Beard Man”) – he is the Dude with the swag that would make Mr. Lebowski aka “The Dude” green with envy. Played by a local villager (in a performance so natural and spontaneous that professional actors would find tough to emulate), Gadappa is a little old man who has seen the world and is himself a septuagenarian. Life hasn’t been easy for him bringing up his kids. He ought to be world weary at his age. Instead with his kids grown up, he has taken a permanent vacation from roles and responsibilities, spending his time casually wandering across the village fields, smoking bidis and guzzling whisky. His initial reaction to his father’s death, is to shout “No big deal!” complete with bottle and bidi. But it would be wrong to say that he has become indifferent. When he does go to attend his father’s cremation, his internal pain is evident for a fleeting moment, but it is soon internalised, like he has internalised all his past sorrows. He just couldn’t care less about worldly matters. He is the hip Sadhu who has attained moksha from the bottle rather than from chanting hymns. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that in Gadappa, Ere Gowda has created one of the iconic characters in Indian Cinema of the last few years.
Amidst the playful satirical style of the film, the theme of how age alters one’s perspective towards materialism and life in general is subtly played out across the 3 generations of Century Gowda – from the naivety of Abhi to the world weariness of Thamanna and back to the care-free attitude of Gadappa. The film’s style is earthy and refreshing at the same time, the audience is immersed with the characters, the fields, the cows, the thatched huts, the highways, the crowded buses, the herds of sheep and the local village band playing a tune to which one eighty-year old villager spontaneously starts to show his moves.
Ere Gowda had taken Raam Reddy to his childhood village as his choice of venue for shooting the film. Call it an inspired idea (or simply adjusting to a limited budget!), to decide upon using the local villagers as actors, many of whom knew the film’s writer from his childhood days, was a work of brilliance. Also, kudos to the film for using a simple, “untrendy” village setting and transforming it, bringing out its colourfulness, liveliness and variety. The ending is chaotic but that blends so easily with the entire quirkiness of the village, we feel we are no longer looking at a world we are not used to seeing, and certainly not in the way the film portrays (gone are the days of Ray’s Pather Panchali, which was once criticised for showing the drab poverty of the Bengal villages!). Life continues to be tough, but the villagers just get along with it, and find the simple pleasures that it brings.
Raam Reddy dons the director’s cap for the first time as effortlessly as a duck takes to water; his pacing of the movie and presentation is near flawless, which is quite commendable for a first movie. It is really tough to criticise any major aspect; if I was to nit-pick, I would’ve wanted to see a bit more of Century Gowda’s character, who after all influenced the 3 generations after him in being what they are.
It’s unfortunate that a film like this doesn’t get a wider release – this is one low budget Indie film which can appeal to a larger audience because unlike some “art-house” films tend to be, this film is unpretentious in its treatment and deals with simple subjects and simple circumstances, it is humane and remains effortless in its style.
I would simply conclude by saying don’t miss this limited opportunity to watch this hidden gem before it disappears into oblivion (then again hopefully not!).
My rating: 4.5/5 (0.5 added for getting such performances from non-actors)
(a self-proclaimed cinephile)