My Favorite Kannada Film Yet “Aptha Mithra”

I had nearly lost faith in Kannada movies, but luckily we saw “Aptha Mithra” this past weekend and faith was restored.  “Aptha Mithra” was very entertaining and we both enjoyed the movie very much.  Also, Kannada movies are starting to make some sense-words are more familiar, as are some of the actors and actresses. 


Plot: I’d call “Aptha Mithra” a suspense film.  It isn’t gory and there is not any blood or guts.  The film does have a ghost, though.  In a city in Southern Karnataka there is a large, beautiful bungalow that had been abandoned for years.  A young couple comes to rent it out, even though others try to dissuade them.  One day the curious young wife goes up to the haunted room and opens the door.  The ghost is released.  The ghost is the mistress of a king.  She was a dancing girl.  Her lover lived in a small house on the property and when the king found out she had a lover, he killed her by lighting her on fire.  Her angry ghost was locked into a room of the bungalow.  How will the ghost leave? 


One of the interesting subplots in the movie was how the ancient and modern work together.  For example, the character of the holy man seems to me to represent the ancient.  Vijay’s character seems to represent modernity.  Only by working together can they force the ghost leave. 


Another unique fact is that the story first appeared in a Malayam movie (the main language spoken in Kerala in South India), and afterwards was made into a Tamil movie (main language of the state of Tamil Nadu also in South India) and even in 2007 was made into a Hindi (Bollywood) movie, Bhool Bhulaiyaa.  I’d like to see the other versions some day to see what remained the same and what got changed to fit the different cultures. 


The film seemed to be like a “who’s who” of the Kannada film industry starring popular actors like Dwarakish, Ramesh, Soundarya, and Prema, .  My favorite character in the film was Vijay, the psychiatrist played by Vishnuvardhan.  I thought his cool guy, always in control character was a little funny.  This actor reminds me of Chuck Norris of Walker Texas Ranger fame.  I guess it is that they are both so over the top?  Both have reddish hair?  Both look to be the same age and both have over the top fight scenes?  His character was definitely larger than life… many psychiatrists can you think of that could fight 5 or more guys at the same time and win? 


This film was a huge hit when it came out in 2004.  It ran in movie theaters for over a year and broke all sorts of records.  The movie also won lots of awards- Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Music Director.

I will be watching more Kannada movies after this.  Unfortunately, we are nearing the end of Netflix’s Kannada selections.  Soon we will have to find another way to get our Kannada movies.

Learning the Kannada Alphabet, Part 3

Yesterday I made good on my promise to renew my efforts to learn Kannada.  I went through the alphabet and now have all my flashcards made for the alphabet.  I think the count is 16 vowels and 34 consonants.  My heart fell when I discovered that all does not end there….there are more combinations that must be memorized-all the combinations of consonants and vowels.  Those are called “kaagunitha”.  I’m trying to look at the bright side though…maybe written Kannada matches up better to spoken Kannada than written and spoken English?


Besides memorizing a new alphabet, detecting and reproducing the sounds is tricky too.  For example, there are two “l” sounds that sound very much the same to me.  The example words for those letters are “lathe” and “kalavu”.  For “lathe” the tongue is straight and goes right up to the front of the mouth.  For “kalavu” the “l” is made by curling the tongue at the top of the middle of the mouth.  I am still working on making that “l” sound.


I’m a little optimistic because that things are starting to make sense.  For example, many syllables have hard and soft versions ( “soft dha” and “hard Dha”).  They are the same character except for a dot at the bottom of the character.  Some words are very telling of the culture too.  The word for “cow” and “wealth” are the same except one is hard and one is soft.  I guess it points again to how beloved and sacred cows are to Kannadigas.  (There is also a compliment for a person that says, “tame as a cow”)


I think I will skip ahead to the lessons on phrases though.  I think it helps to see how the letters fit together.  Satya will become important for this part though because some of the phrases are laughable to him and his family because they are overly formal.  Already, with the alphabet lesson there are some words that are completely unfamilar to him and some words that are pronounced much differently.  My plan again is to rely on flash cards.  I’ll have the phrase written on one side in Kannada and then on the back will have it transcribed to English with the translation. 


Besides flashcards, listening to Kannada songs, and watching Kannada movies what other language learning techniques are there?  I suppose after I master some phrases Satya and I can do practice conversations.


My main motivation now is learning as much as possible before we get to India.  I do not want to just smile dumbly at his elderly aunts.  Another question…what kinds of phrases will be most useful in talking to elderly aunts from Karnataka or is it universal (“how are you?” “isn’t the weather nice?” “you have a beautiful house”?)?

Malgudi Days

I took Ashwini’s suggestion and watched “Malgudi days” (through NetFlix).  Earlier, I  had checked out the book “Malgudi Days” from my local library.  So far, I highly recommend both the book and tv show.  Malgudi Days focuses on a small village in South India named Malgudi circa 1935.  Both the book and show are made up of short stories about everyday people-the mailman, a young boy, a local shepherd, a miserly grandfather.  For Satya, “Malgudi Days” reminds him of his mother’s village.  He also remembers watching “Malgudi Days” in school.  For Westerners, the closest thing might be the James Herriot books and tv show-universal, everyday stories about a specific region and time.


The stories are not very sugar-coated or like a glossy Bollywood movie.  Some stories are funny or cute like the story of young Swami and the thief.  Some are sad like the story of the dog and the blind, elderly beggar.  One episode poked fun at wealthy American tourists.  Some pose great dilemmas-should the postman deliver a letter and thus possibly destroy a young girl’s chance at a good marriage?  Another was a ghost story…was the mechanic possessed by the ghost of the elderly temple caretaker?  (I thought that was one of the best ghost stories I’ve seen-enthralling because of the storytelling and not any over the top gore or effects.)


One aspect I thought was a little strange was that in the show, nearly everybody spoke in English.  Only the old man with the two goats spoke in Hindi which made sense as the whole point of the story was that he couldn’t understand the American tourist and the American tourist couldn’t understand him.  Was this because the author of “Malgudi Days” R.K. Narayan wrote in English?  Was the remake in English too? 


We’ve gotten through the first disc of episodes and have gotten through half of the second disc.  I’m looking forward to more great stories and heartily recommend “Malgudi Days”!

My First Kannada Movie Jeevana Chaitra

How we found it:  Last week Satya and I rented “Jeevana Chaitra” (Satya said it translates roughly to “Cycle of Life”) from NetFlix.  We were both surprised that NetFlix carried Kannada movies because when we would type in “Kannada” in NetFlix nothing would turn up.  Eventually, Satya just typed in some popular Kannada movie titles and was surprised when a few turned up.  We also found some by clicking on the actors in the movies to see what other movies of theirs NetFlix carries.


Plot Summary:  This movie traces the adult life of a man played by Dr. Rajkumar.  The movie opens with him and a young woman falling in love at first sight at a wedding.  They eventually marry and have three sons.  While the sons are growing up, the man is a benevolent leader of a few villages.  Villagers come to him with their issues and he tries to help.  Quickly he discovers that alcohol is a major problem in the villages—men buy alcohol and get drunk using up their few rupees and not working while the wives and children get neglected and abused.  He shuts down the store and factory and thus creates an enemy, the owner of the liquor store and factory.  Later in the movie, the three sons all make disappointing matches thus breaking his heart and his wife’s heart and leading to her death.


What I liked:  the songs, seeing more of Karnataka, and hearing Kannada. 


What I didn’t understand:  The relationship between Dr. Rajkumar’s character and the villagers seemed very feudal.  He seemed like a king listening and solving the problems of his subjects, the villagers.  Is that how villages still operate?  I thought that there was a village council, not just one person or one family.


I didn’t quite understand the heartbreak over his sons’ choice of wives.  One married the daughter of his enemy and didn’t want to live in the family compound and become a doctor in the village.  I can understand his disappointment that the dream he made for his son didn’t come true, but he should have consulted with his son first.  The other son carried a photo of a girl which his mother discovered.  They soon married.  The man and his wife planned to marry the last son to their niece (daughter of the wife’s brother) because she was willing to live in the family compound and because she got along well with the man and his wife.  The last son instead snuck off and quickly married a girl he had found himself.  He snuck off because he didn’t want to face the anger of his parents, he called himself “a coward”. 


I can understand him being shocked at first, but the movie didn’t show him trying to get to know the girls and what they value.  Perhaps this question is answered near the end of the movie…after a very long time the man returns to his home and walks in on his sons and their wives hosting a party with dancing and drinking and loud music  (sounded to me like the instrumental part to Rod Stewart’s “If you think I’m sexy song”).  Satya joked that the only thing that could have made it worse was if they were also eating meat.


The ending was positive.  The sons and daughters-in-law have a newfound respect for the man and will respect and uphold the values of the man.  I guess the movie could have shown the older generation in Karnataka that the younger generation will listen to them if they provide a good example.


Cultural Background:  This movie was made in the early 1990’s when India was still mostly closed to the world economically.  Dr. Rajkumar’s character offered the liquor factory workers a deal: a few acres of land if they would leave the factory.  The tech explosion was still in the future.  The movie resulted in many liquor store owners closing their shops, although Satya says that Karnataka is still one of India’s leading manufacturers of alcohol.  Within his family, alcohol consumption is still a taboo.


What I didn’t like:  Why were all the young men in the movie so ugly?  Has anybody else noticed this?  They weren’t even average looking-very chubby.  Of course the bad ‘90s hair didn’t help. I also didn’t like the film quality.  Even though it was made in the early ’90s, the picture looked like one from the ’60s or ’70s which was too bad since there was some gorgeous scenery.


Also, the movie was a lot like a morality play because some parts were very melodramatic and unbelievable (esp. death of Dr. Rajkumar’s wife).  Basically, the message seemed to be that people should uphold traditional family values, not drink, and should farm rather than work in factories.  I wish the characters had been more fully developed. 


Conclusion:  The movie was ok.  The songs and scenery were gorgeous.  I’m looking forward to seeing some more Kannada movies.  Right now we are watching Malgudi Days.

Kannada Update

Last night I showed Satya and his parents some of the phrases from the ICC Kannada lesson.

One lesson was entitled, “Polite Phrases”, which from our perspective just teaches you how to apologize in many various situations.  The lesson has a clip art picture, the phrase written in English, phrase written in English characters, phrase written in Kannada.  The accented voice will read the phrase in English, and then read it in Kannada. 

Satya and his parents thought this was hilarious.  I asked, “Does anyone actually talk like this?”  His dad said, “Only people like you” meaning those who don’t know Kannada well.  They said the accent was all wrong and the phrases too bookish.  Satya was annoyed because the translations didn’t exactly match up. 

On the bright side, I now know how to say sorry in Kannada, “Kshamisi”.

Another error was in the Greetings section.  It had an example of someone saying “Goodmorning child” which they translated to “Namaskara _____” (forgot the word for child).  Anyway, Satya and his parents said that you never say that because it is giving too much respect to the child.  The child says Namaskara and adults say Namaskara to each other, but that is it.  What do others think about this?  Would you ever say “Namaskara” to a child?

My thinking is now that I will still use the program, but will have Satya sitting beside me to say what is right or what his family uses.  I am thinking I will also need to tape record him or his parents so I can copy  their accents.

I do think that from the program I can learn to decode signs and learn basic vocabulary.  I’d like to complete the ICC program and then complete the Mysore University online course, but know it will take a year or two and lots of discipline.

Learning the Kannada Alphabet…Vowels

Yesterday I finally had the opportunity to start using the ICC Kannada online course.  The first lesson was 15 vowels…Wow!  My ears are going to have to adjust to the subtle differences between letters. 

The lesson introduced the letter, showed a word with a picture with the vowel, and then showed how to write the vowel.  Writing was fun-the letters are beautiful and intricate.  A lot of the letters involve the same written motions (loops and curliques), so I think by the end I was starting to get the hang of it.  I will definitely need to stock up on index cards to make flash cards!

The last two vowels were confusing for me…the “ahm” and the “ahuh” (or something like that).  The example for “ahm” was “angi” (shirt) and the other was the word for sorrow.  I was confused because in the written word I couldn’t find the vowels written exactly like the alphabet letter…they morphed somehow.  Satya explained that the word for sorrow has the same hiccup sound people make when they are sobbing…it will be easier to remember now with that explanation.

I’m looking forward to learning actual phrases and sentences.

This weekend I am definitely going to get some index cards!

More Kannada Words

My mother-in-law has decided to help me learn Kannada.  The current plan is to learn 2 words a day.  Yesterday I learned 1 (onedu), 2 (erdu), along with the word for fruit (hannu), and banana (balahannu). 

“Hannu” is the general word for fruit.  In Kannada, most words for fruit end in “hannu” so it is like saying “peach fruit”, “banana fruit”, etc. 

Both mother and father-in-law agree that more English is starting to creep into Kannada creating “Kanglish”.  People will say “apple” instead of something in Kannada.  My guess is that is because apples are exotic to Karnataka.  Also, apples don’t seem to be popular.  Satya dislikes apples-he says they are too bitter. 

The in-laws also say that the English word “milk” is used often too.  This one I can’t figure out.  Milk and dairy seem to be key parts of the Lingayat Karnataka diet.  Why do people use “milk” instead of the Kannada word?

No Leh, Jose

Kannada seems to place a lot of emphasis on respect.  There are many ways to show respect and many ways to take it away.

Recently, Satya was communicating via Instant Messenger with one of his younger cousins.  This cousin is 7 or 8 years younger and has a reputation for being mischievous (one time he destroyed a project Satya had taken all day to create).  This younger cousin wrote “leh” (pronounced roughly “lay”) which immediately annoyed Satya. 

“Leh” or “le” translates roughly to “buddy” or “guy”.  It can be used when speaking to close friends or to people below you-not to elders.  Satya also says that in Bangalore, in Southern Karnataka, men sometimes use it to refer to their wives and wives can use it with their husbands, if they are nontraditional.  (I’m not too sure about this as he’s from Northern Karnataka and hasn’t been back in nearly 8 years). 

As I learn more I will be writing more posts about Kannada. 

If I get anything wrong, please write a comment below! 

What are other subtle ways to give respect and take it away in Kannada?

Trying to Learn Kannada

I’ve been searching for a good, affordable way to learn Kannada at home.  I thought this would be so simple.  Kannada is afterall, the 27th most spoken language in the world and one of India’s major languages.  A lot more people speak Kannada than speak, let’s say, Swedish or Greek.  These are according to Wikipedia. 

One site that had a nice preview is the India Community Center at  Unfortunately, the site seems defunct as nobody has replied to my e-mail about the Kannada course and it doesn’t look like the site was updated recently.

A site that looks much more promising is Kannada Online at  This site is done by Mysore University in Karnataka.  One of my favorite parts of the site is how they carefully and slowly show you how to form Kannada letters by using a little chalkboard icon.  This course seems intensive and very well thought out.  The biggest stumbling block is that the course costs $50 and must be mailed by check to Mysore, no credit cards accepted.  Satya isn’t sure of the security of this method.  We are thinking of sending money to one of his cousins in India and then asking him to send the money on to Mysore. 

My motivation for learning Kannada is to prepare for our trip to India next spring.  Some of Satya’s older relatives do not speak English.  I’d like to be able to communicate with them.  Also, I’d like to be able to read common street signs and decipher the alphabet.  Thankfully, Satya says that Kannada is much more phonetic than English.

Kannada Movies

Does anyone know why it is so difficult to find Kannada movies in the U.S.?  I’m able to find Hindi, Bengali, Tamil and Malayam movies, but Kannada ones are proving difficult.  I’d like to see them just to get some idea of the culture and to try to pick up a few more words. 

Anybody have any tips?  Short of asking his family to send us a bunch, I’m stuck.

Also, do the movies usually have English subtitles?

I have heard that some of the movie industries of the lesser known languages are being swallowed up by Bollywood and are having trouble competing.  Any truth to that? 

What are some of your favorite movies?  I want to try to stay away from movies with lots of blood and violence.