Lots of spoilers ahead….This is not just a review.
Thithi starts with an old man of a village incessantly yabbering at people who pass by. His talk is one that sounds like a sneering jibe, one that could have miffed the people he was talking at. But note how none of them seem to take offence at what he is saying, how they mind their work and move on. Unexpectedly to us, this central character, Chennaveeregowda, more popular as Century Gowda (he has lived a 100 years) dies. The plot further is about how the lives of his son, his grandson and great grandson move on in the subsequent 11 days of his funeral ceremony.
Thithi appears to be a simple story, but has a nearly complex and layered plot. These descendants of Century have their own stories to tell, except in the film they don’t tell the story, we see the story. That is an achievement of the film, and its director, Raam Reddy with whom I had a fairly long conversation at the Bangalore International Film Festival. The stillness and movement of the camera – they aren’t simply done, they are composed in accordance to the tone of the film. They are choices, like the lack of background music that gives way to authentic village sounds, use of non-performing actors-villagers (and livestock), that are a part of this carefully calculated cinematic construction. It is a very well-directed film. That is why we feel it, in it. Also, the sub-plots never appear out of place. Such is the knitting – tight and strong. Moreover, the lack of the European art-house style is something I earnestly liked – the content is Indian, and the style is unique. With it is the lightness of the treatment, mostly because the story doesn’t require any.
Century’s son is Gaddappa, the unresponsive free-willed old man. He likes to keep taking the air, and keep taking the Tiger Brandy. He plays Huli–Kuri aata with school children and derives unadulterated happiness with his simplistic life. He isn’t a careless man, but a selfless one. The joy of humanity, they say. He isn’t affected by his father’s death too. Tammanna, Gaddappa’s son isn’t so. He is affected by Century’s death. Century’s land lies alone there, and with his father’s aloof behaviour, there is no way he can get his share of land before the uncles try to grab it. Helpless, he becomes vulnerable to bribery and forgery and a motor-mouthed lady lender. All his plans find themselves in sabotage in the end, and make us feel for him more than we do for others. Some feel he deserved it – for the fake death certificate he procured…well, it’s his land, and what else could he do with such a father?
Finally, we have Abhi, a teenager and Tammanna’s son. He earns his pocket money by illegally cutting trees, mining sand and playing cards. He misuses technology. But there is some air of purpose he carries with him. From a point, Abhi indulges himself in activities youth likes to linger on. There is a shepherd girl, a part of a nomadic group. His feelings are taken!
Thithi is a film that can be made a character sketch project for film and literature students. How these characters are so imperfectly etched, as in the imperfections in them, not the imperfection in their creation! Even the shepherd people get their due. The contrast in the way they respond to Gaddappa’s generous act of giving them money for their lost sheep – one man hesitantly accepts it, the other takes it and adds to it, “Really, for me?” statements, and the wiser and the eldest leader thoughtfully refuses. It is the only Kannada film in recent time to have invested so much of dedication in writing the characters.
Kaveri, the shepherd girl who creates tender feelings in Abhi is a deep and finely made one. She doesn’t approve of him following her, or of his trying to kiss her secretly amidst the lush of ready-to-harvest cane (she slaps him right on his right). She even gives him infuriating looks when he says, “…Nee mugti hakondre innu chennagi kanstya.” But, in the dark hours of the midnight, when the moon is still and shining on top, when everyone is sleeping after a tiring day, Kaveri is dreaming with her eyes wide open. There, she asks her mother how old she was when she got her nose pierced, and gets it done for herself too! Looking deeper, one can see how her character has formed – she is in her teens, when desires creep into one’s heart. On top of that is the desire to acknowledge those desires. Amidst this is her nomadic life, and nobody to listen to her feelings and the society that surrounds her, that which has defined norms on how these feelings must not be given support to blossom. This girl does the tight rope walk between the two sides. And ends up falling on both. Voluntarily, she goes to Abhi. Only after everything is over does she realize what just happened. What if he doesn’t marry her? He is a man, he’ll live over it. What about her? There is searching for consequences, there is worry about the future, there is guilt about what happened and a short and stern, “Naa ellidru bandu nanna madvi agbeku.” The actress who played this part needs more than applause.
Eregowda’s inputs cannot go unacknowledged. He’s the main man behind the script. Because he was a part of the village they have set the story in, he gets everybody and everything right. Be it the astrologer who says evil can befall upon the family if 500 people aren’t fed non vegetarian food on the Thithi day, or Dumma, Abhi’s friend whose first job when they reach the place they illegally cut trees is to throw cow-dung on the number plate of the tractor to avoid getting caught by forest officers, or Ramalingu sir, who accepts 25000 rupees to create the fake death certificate, or even the saw mill owner, Sethji. The minute I saw ‘saala doreyuvudilla’ board on his table, I was all smiles. The scene where a villager tells Tammanna to work towards getting the ancestral land, there’s a train horning from a distance, the gates are closed, but people are still crossing the track!
My only problems lie with the generalisation of women in the villages – all wives seem to boss over their husband. Are they really like that? Maybe that was added for more humour to the urban audience. But the nomadic shepherd group – they are from Hubli, and their staple food is jola. But they buy ragi, and eat ragi mudde everyday! Maybe their transient behaviour makes them so. Furthermore, ragi, which is a must in the Mandya household, is not sold in the shops there! Maybe everybody grows it themselves, but that’s only a ‘maybe’. Yet, when we look at the picture as a whole – the plot, the impeccable dialogues, the irreplaceable Mandya dialect and subtle performances by the non-performing actors and the direction makes these false notes vanish away!
The death procession scene is remarkable. It just brings alive the village – both the procession, and the filming. Part of the village culture is to make his final journey befitting and commemorating, and they do just that. One man calls for the band from the adjoining village. A mad-man dances to their tunes. Large obituary cards of Century are hooked all over. The body is completely covered in garlands and floral tributes. The simplicity of their culture! And only for one moment we have Gaddappa tell his grandson, a philosophical touch that adds so much to his character detail, “Sattorigenta puje? Avarigen gottadda?”
The plot runs with ironies, and coincidences. Abhi is told to find his grandpa over the phone, and who is walking upway on the other side of the road? The shepherd group are thrown a chicken party the very night Abhi and his friends steal the sheep. Further, the climax is full of coincidences. The thithi puja is going on, Kamalakka – the motor mouthed lady lender is there, there is no water and a lady goes over to fetch it and on the way spots Gaddappa, who is walking along that very path with the shepherd people. At the same time, Sethji’s team is there, who are stopped from going back with an offer of cool drinks by Shanbhoga. So they see Gaddappa too, owing largely to the pompous music played by the band, who were woken by the madman of the village when they were taking a nap! Ufff….but none of these appears forced. There is naturality in it. It is the equal probability that all this can happen that makes it so delightful. That makes me think…have we not seen this all before? Death, inheritance problems, unripe love, manipulation? What makes this special is the treatment. They are not placed there. It comes along. So does the humour.
There are some subtle details and nuances in the film that might otherwise go unnoticed. While Gaddappa is playing with the kids, one of them says “ea! Avanu yargaro chance kottana?” What does it say? Gaddappa doesn’t give a chance to anyone. He broke the promise he made to his son. What’s more – in the end, the song honouring Century Gowda goes like this – “avana makkalu…mommakkalu…marimakkalu…marimarimakkalu” wait…where is the great-great-grandson? We never….or does he exist at the end?
My favourite scene was Gaddappa’s story to the shepherd group. See, just to reconfirm that the story is fictious, the way Gaddappa narrates it is different from his normal conversations. He repeats words, thinks sometimes. And see how the camera is transfixed upon him? No blocking for reaction shots, no manipulative background. Just him and his story.
It is an art film that is pulling crowds. The show I went to was a full house, and I heard that all shows are like that. Although some people were downhearted with the abrupt ending, I told them to go back one of Gaddappa’s dialogue, “time battade.” So does the title of this article – it goes back to a dialogue of the film.