Gantumoote, a rare gem in Kannada cinema, has finally had a theatrical release after being screened at diaspora film festivals like the New York Indian Film Festival, where it won the award for the Best Screenplay, and Melbourne Indian Film Festival.
‘Coming-of-age’ is a genre that is rarely attempted in Sandalwood. Gantumoote justifies this genre to an extent that it reminds you of those moments that you may have had or witnessed during your own school days. It gives the feel of revisiting those wonder years. Director Roopa Rao succeeds in capturing the most necessary moments and making this film an engaging watch.
Coming-of-age films tend to be very personal and the same goes for this film. The narrative is explored as a personal account using the flashback style of storytelling through the viewpoint of the protagonist Meera Deshpande, who seems to be in her mid-twenties. It is established that Meera, a woman from a small-town, middle-class family, is attracted to and influenced by cinema.
During one of her outings to the cinema house as a teenager, she comes across a sexual predator who tries to molest her. Meera senses what’s happening and quickly escapes. However, she returns to the cinema hall determined to continue what she had come to do - watch the film. This incident marks the start of her journey into a new world of self-exploration. Life has bigger plans and her family shifts to Bengaluru where she joins a new school and makes new friends.
The film is set in the ‘90s era, during which many girls used to have a crush on Salman Khan. Meera finds Salman in one of her classmates Madhu and develops a sort of infatuation towards him. From this point, the narrative focuses on moments, conflicts and incidents between the pair, and most of these happen within the school boundaries.
Though it looks like a school romance story at the onset, the treatment is very fresh and unique for Kannada cinema. The film brings in every character from the point of view of the protagonist and her presence is felt in every frame. The focus nowhere moves away from the two characters and unfolds as a stage by stage account of how an infatuation takes the shape of a serious relationship.
Both the characters are etched out really well. While Meera is shown as balanced and intelligent, Madhu is always adrift. Meera accepting him for who he is also speaks a lot about her choices and desires. The film could have taken any trajectory to disturb the flow by bringing in different subplots, but director Roopa Rao keeps things under control and just focuses on the protagonist and her love for life till the last frame.
The challenge in making a film like this is that you do not have anything new that can be told. It should turn out to be a collection of experiences. Watching the film, it clearly shows how carefully the team has chosen the moments and has captured those in the most realistic manner, devoid of any glorification and glamour. The charm lies in the simplicity which is apparent all over the film.
The film has taken its own time to develop in terms of writing and the actual making. The detailing and the controlled pace show how much research has gone into making every sequence look so real and close to the heart. There are many scenes that are handled so beautifully with that sense of personal touch.
Yet another triumph is the casting. Each and every person who’s on screen seems to know exactly what is required from them. Nowhere do the performances go overboard, nowhere are they underwhelming.
Teju gives a phenomenal performance. It’s a difficult role as the film weighs on her character. She has delivered an act beyond expectations. It is very hard to take your eyes off her when she is on screen. Those sparkling eyes, that innocence in the smile - she has used her strengths to justify a character who is way younger than her actual age. It is a sign of a good actor when he or she molds herself into that character.
Nischith Korodi as Madhu is the perfect contrast. The role may look simple but it is never as easy as it seems. He too stands out and whatever the film has come to is because of the chemistry the pair shares on the screen.
Even the minor roles - be it friends, parents or teachers - have been performed keeping the film’s sensibility in mind. The soundscape and music (Aparajit) play an important part in the narrative. From the usage of pauses, silence and the necessary bars of music at the right places, it is evident that the film has been executed by a team which knows and cares for cinema.
The flow of the film is slow and it gradually picks up and drops pace. The moments, even though captured exceptionally well, seem repetitive at points. The fade to black that comes in often could have been avoided but this may have been a deliberate choice by the director-editor. Though certified ‘A’, there isn’t any explicit vulgarity or obscenity in the film. However, some of the sequences do border on justifying the certification.
The Kannada industry is busy making big budget films that hog the major share of screens and theatres, choking up smaller films, and there is no way this can be regulated. There is no denying that it is the business that counts at the end of the day. However, the stakes are much higher for the smaller films as they’re mostly self-funded and the intention is not to reach the collection benchmarks but to have a sustainable ecosystem where enough returns are reaped for subsequent projects.
In present times, where mediocrity is hyped up and celebrated, it is quite important for critics as well as the audience to recognise and appreciate filmmakers who have genuine knowledge of cinema, its power, and execution. As an industry, we are here to make profits but the responsibility of raising the bar in terms of setting the narrative or execution is equally important.
Gantumoote is a film that deserves a watch because of its freshness and a totally different mindset of filmmaking. Anyone who is sensitive would be definitely moved by a film like this.
Harish Mallya, a software engineer by profession, is a script consultant and film critic in the Kannada film industry. He curates films that get screened in the Cinema of the World section at the annual Bengaluru International Film Festival. He has also worked as a creative executive for Ondu Motteya Kathe released in 2017, Arishadvarga which premiered at the London Indian Film Festival in 2019, and a few other upcoming films.