This weekend, I watched my first Kannada movie in a long time. For someone who has spent the better part of the last decade living in Bangalore and is something of a movie buff, this seems like a curious gap in the resume. Then again, I’ve managed to live here for so long without learning much more than the basics of the local language (I’m a bit of a lard-ass that way), so why should this be any different?
Anyway, I managed to watch a movie called Just Math Mathalli (which translates to something like Baaton Baaton Mein), starring Sudeep and Ramya. You might recognize Sudeep as the guy who plays Amitabh’s son in Rann. I strongly recommend that you don’t hold that one against him. Tamil film viewers might remember Ramya from Polladhavan (among the finest Tamil films in recent years) or Kuthu (which is a lot closer to the other end of the spectrum, and earned her the unfortunate sobriquet of “Kuthu” Ramya, until she changed her name to Divya Spandana in Tamil cinema).
The film is narrated mostly as a conversation on a flight to Singapore between a reticent musician and a somewhat annoying filmmaker. The former (Sudeep) narrates his story — one of love lost, then lost again — and explains that he is on his way to Singapore to find the girl that got away. You can guess much of the rest. The beauty of it is, the story doesn’t cop out of the ending it is moving inexorably towards, and that is as rare as it is gratifying.
While the story itself may be as old as the hills, what makes it interesting is the central performance by Sudeep as the musician Sidhu. This is not a showy performance, and there are very few scenes where he really lets go. But by suggesting deep reserves of emotion reined in through an almost physical effort, Sudeep draws us into Sidhu’s world and makes us root for him. He reminded me of a young Raghuvaran, but with fewer mannerisms. And God, does the man look good!
Ramya doesn’t occupy too much screen time. Much of it is spent in establishing her as a motormouth. Still, the lady has a natural charm that begins to work when the proceedings (and her character) settle down a bit.
One of the supporting performances deserves a special mention — the man who plays the father of an ex-girlfriend and has just one scene in the film. This is among the most powerful scenes in the film, and works as well as it does because of the restraint of all the characters involved.
The icing on the cake is the music. I’ve heard one of the songs so many times on the airwaves and as cellphone ringtones that I am heartily sick of it. But a couple of the others stay with you. Munjaane manjalli especially has wedged its way into my head and refuses to leave. Have you any idea how annoying it is to find a song playing on repeat loop in your head during a meeting, Raghu Dixit?
Of all the nice things I could say about this film, the one that is most heartfelt is this. I saw it on a supremely uncomfortable van ride back from Kukke Subramanya to Bangalore, and for a sizeable fraction of that trip, I wasn’t even thinking about the discomfort. For that, Sudeep, I thank you. I am, in fact, so thankful that I will even forgive you for Rann.