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.

Kannada Movie-Joke Falls

This weekend Satya and I watched another Kannada movie-“Joke Falls”.  This movie was very, very popular in Karnataka about four years ago.  It is a comedy.  I am beginning to lose heart with Kannada movies.  I think I assumed that since I like Bollywood movies that I’d like Kannada movies.  Of course this is not a fair to anyone.  This movie just didn’t make any sense to me and I didn’t think it was very funny-well, except for the 3 wannabe gangsters.  Their ridiculous appearances made me smile.


Plot:  The movie opens with an ode to Karnataka and to Kannada.  The scenery is extremely beautiful, particularly of Jog Falls.  Jog Falls is the highest “plunge” waterfall in the world, according to Wikipedia. 


A goodhearted (he lets the caretaker of the botany center visit his family by taking over his duties) botany professor marries a botany student.  I couldn’t figure out why she was so enamored by him…it seemed she made her mind up to marry him just because he wrote a well-known biology text.  The wife goes on and on about how marvelous her brother-in-law is.  The wife considers the brother-in-law to be next to God.  The brother-in-law is getting ready to be a judge so is being extra careful about his connections to make sure he is not connected to any scandal that could jeopardize his chances at a judgeship.  The brother-in-law disapproves of the botany professor.  I forget the exact reason why.  Salary not high enough maybe?


The botany professor decides to play a trick on the pompous brother-in-law.  He decides to become the brother-in-law’s chauffeur.  Part of the reason I think I didn’t find it funny was because a lot of the movie relies on language jokes and puns that don’t translate well or go right over my head.  For example, the botany professor’s alias as the brother-in-law’s driver is Priyatama.  Priyatama translates into “lover”, according to Satya.  The brother-in-law got very uncomfortable when his wife calling the botany professor/driver “Priyatama”.  Also, the brother-in-law also liked hearing pure Kannada uncontaminated by English so “Priyatama” would point out the idiosyncrasies of English.  “Priyatama” gets in a love triangle when a servant girl develops a crush on him.  “Priyatama”/botany professor get caught “doing yoga” with wife in the forest by a girl who then reports back to the brother-in-law.  Brother-in-law questions why his chauffeur would do yoga with his sister-in-law.  The movie was filled with mix-ups like that.


I couldn’t really figure out how making the brother-in-law look stupid would make the brother-in-law accept the botany professor.  Somehow it all worked out and there was a happy ending.


Good parts: I liked the songs.  As I mentioned before, Kannada songs are very different-sounding from Bollywood songs.  Part of this is because Southern Indian classical music, Carnatic, has very different influences from Northern Indian, Hindustani classical music. 


I thought the 3 gangsters were funny, although I thought the middle gangster with the two earrings, big necklace, and skirt-like attire was a cross-dresser at first.  Satya informed me that that is the typical look of a Tamil gangster.  Oops!  I have a lot to learn….


It was nice to pick up more Kannada.  Occasionally, I can match up words with their subtitles so that is a good feeling.


Finally, saw some more attractive men in the movies.  They were in the background, but still nice to see.


Scenery was nice.  Satya likes seeing the interiors of the homes and the scenery.  Jog Falls is awe-inspiring even on tv.  Maybe someday I’ll see it in person.


My conclusion:  Learning to appreciate Kannada movies is going to take longer than I thought.  I am not giving up though.  At least watching the movies gives me the opportunity to hear Kannada and to see how people act, dress, decorate homes, etc. 


To all those Kannadigas out there, what are some of your favorite movies?  I’m open to all suggestions!

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 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.