What is it about a hero’s journey that fascinates a storyteller? Is it the fact that they are willing to go where nobody’s ever gone before, or their perseverance in staring down odds that might deter one even slightly lacking in spirit? With Ugramm, director Prashanth Neel made a rather impactful debut, and ensured that he’s a talent to watch out for.
Therefore when he decided to helm the most expensive Kannada film to ever be made, one did sit up and take notice of the fact. But the question remains, will the 1st chapter of KGF put Sandalwood back on the map, or is it just an attempt to cash in on the pan-India success of Baahubali, Robot etc?
The tale begins in the present, with a bombastic news anchor (Malavika Avinash) wanting to interview a veteran journalist (Anant Nag) over a book of his, banned by the government, her rationale being that the tale sounds too good to be true.
During the interview, the journalist takes us into the world of Rocky (Yash), a gangster with a heart of gold, and his rise to the top, set in a dystopian version of the 70s, with the Cold War forming the backdrop of this tale, and Rocky’s attempt to fulfil his mother’s dying words about being a rich and powerful man.
Most South Indian filmmakers have a tendency to go down the road of hero worship, and while there’s nothing wrong if it’s dished out in small doses, too much of it can get a wee bit tedious, and that is exactly what’s frustrating about the first half of KGF.
One can give director Prashanth Neel who’s also the writer, the benefit of the doubt here and assume he is trying to build a world around the protagonist, but it gets extremely frustrating when other characters are given short shrift and scene after scene only goes in telling us how epic the hero is, and how he’s gonna make short work of the villains in no time.
Thankfully, things begin to pick up just before the interval, and once the 2nd half begins, the audience is in for a breathtaking experience, as once the action moves from the badlands of 70s Bombay and Bangalore to the dusty dystopian nightmare that are the Kolar Gold Fields, the screenplay not only picks up pace, but doesn’t slow down right till the end credits begin to roll, making sure you are pumped for Chapter 2.
Adding to the experience is the stunning cinematography by Bhuvan Gowda that really makes the audience feel like they are breathing in the dust of the mines, and feeling the heat of the merciless sun beat down on them.
Yash absolutely burns up the screen in a role that’s tailormade for him and stakes his claim on the spot of the next Superstar of the Kannada industry. Debutante Srinidhi Shetty is not given much to do in an underwritten role, except for 1 small scene in the second half where even she gets to deliver a whistle-inducing dialogue.
Anant Nag adds some much needed heft to proceedings, but the rest of the supporting cast like Achyuth Kumar, Vasishta Simha etc are wasted in minuscule roles. A mention however must be made of Archana Jois who plays Rocky’s mother. Her expressive face speaks volumes, and makes you wish she had more scenes in the movie.
To sum it up then, KGF is high on budget and style, but a little more substance and it might have been a gamechanger. That being said, it’s done enough to make sure the audience comes back for Chapter 2.