Kantara’s Rishab Shetty and Sapthami Gowda say film’s love story isn't 'regressive': 'Love is blind, doesn't see...'
Kantara’s Rishab Shetty and Sapthami Gowda address the criticism the film’s romantic track has faced and defend their vision.
Kantara, which is now a pan-India success, was originally not even meant to be dubbed in other languages. But its surprise success across India forced the makers to do so, and with good effect. The small Kannada film based on regional folklore and rituals was made on a budget of ₹16 crore. As of today, it is the second-highest-grossing Kannada film of all time and one of the highest-grossing Indian films of 2022. Its director and star Rishab Shetty along with co-star Sapthami Gowda sat with Hindustan Times to talk about the film’s success and address some of its criticisms. Also read: Rishab Shetty says Bollywood is losing local touch due to 'too much western influence'
Sapthami, who plays the film’s heroine Leela, remembers the exact moment when she realized the film had crossed beyond the borders of Karnataka. “For me, it was Prabhas sir (when the actor tweeted his praise for the film),” she says, elaborating, “I watched Baahubali 1 and 2 when I was younger and I am a fan. So that was some validation for me. He was the first celebrity to tweet about the film so that was special.”
The film’s impact has gone beyond the box office as well. The Daiva Kola ritual shown in the film gained so much popularity that the Karnataka government announced an allowance for all Daiva nartakas over the age of 60 in the state. Talking about the importance of a film’s social impact, Rishab says, “In the 70s, there was a film of Dr Rajkumar called Gandhada Gudi (1973). After watching that film, many youngsters at that time joined the forest department and they recently retired as senior officers. Other films of his were so inspirational that people would leave the cities to go back to their villages to do agriculture. That impact is necessary for a film. And this generation can do it too. People say if you put a message in the film, it becomes boring but I don’t believe it. I got a lot of satisfaction when the Karnataka government announced allowance for Daiva nartakas above 60. And now I have requested that this be extended to other folk art forms in the state as well.”
But with praise, there has been some criticism of some of the elements in the film as well. The romantic angle was criticized by many as regressive. Many questioned that the educated and independent Leela would not fall for someone as aimless and lecherous as Shiva (Rishab’s character). Sapthami defends her film though. “I personally have seen a lot of such romances in the society,” she says, “It does not matter what job you do or who you are. And these two people have grown up together. They have been in the same village and have seen each other as kids. So, there is a bond since then, which hasn’t gone away despite her being educated or whatever. It doesn’t what position they are in right now. And as they say, love is blind. It just happens.”
Many critics also pointed out the problematic trope of the hero almost harassing the heroine into submission. The wooing was borderline eve-teasing for many. Rishab says that it was deliberate as that is the only way Shiva knows for professing his love. “But the movie is based in the 90s and that too in a small village back then. Those people were mentally in the 60s and 70s only. That was the thought process. All this I have seen happening in my village and I wanted to get that raw love story. To establish the character of Shiva, it was essential to show their story and bond. Even Shiva’s realization and enlightenment, it needed to be told this way,” he responds.
Sapthami adds that the character isn’t a letch as he does not harass all girls. “He doesn’t behave like that with everybody. It’s only with her that he behaves this way. That is the way he knows how to profess,” she says. Rishab adds, “A man who participates in the buffalo race, how would he know how to talk to a girl nicely. This is how he is.”
Sapthami says the process of her being cast in the film was akin to divine intervention as well. All it took was a random Instagram post that somehow landed on Rishab’s feed, even though he didn’t follow her. She explains, “During the lockdown, I did a video for Karnataka tourism. We’d gone to Chamundi betta in Mysore. I put up a picture from there on Instagram, and sir happened to see that picture. It just came on to his feed. He wasn’t even following me. I popped up there and he contacted me.”
Kantara, which also stars Kishore, and Achyuth Kumar, has earned over ₹325 crore at the box office globally. The dubbed versions, which were released two weeks after the Kannada original, have also done pretty well with the Hindi version alone netting ₹53 crore, making it one of the most cost effective Indian films of the year.