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Upperstall Review




Kannada, Drama, 1973, B/W

Kitti (Natraj), an adopted child of Kamli and Chandre Gowda (Amrish Puri), a prominent upper caste couple in the village of Koppal, is as bewildered as his disappointed mother when he sees his father spend his nights with Basakka, a widow in the neighboring Hosur village. But Kitti is excited to watch Chandre Gowda and his fellow upper caste villagers trying to solve an extra marital dispute involving a lower caste Koppal villager who is working as a bonded laborer under Shivaganga, a Hosur upper caste landlord. But as the meeting gets violent, Kitti is terrified. Kitti's worries increases when he hears about a forest myth - if you respond to a speaking bird that calls your name in the jungle, blood might ooze all out of you! In avenge to his humiliation, Shivaganga's men set fire to the houses of Chandre Gowda's servants. Kitti overhears the workers swear revenge. A few repentant Hosur representatives request for a compromise; Chandre Gowda agrees. Kitti is excited that the two villages would together play the traditional water throwing festival, Vokuli. At the Vokuli festival hatred resurfaces and much to Kitti's horror, there is a free for all violence. Later, Kitti sees his mother being raped by a spiteful Shivaganga; and she gets killed. Kitti unsuccessfully tries to join Chandre Gowda and his fellow villagers who gang together to hack the Hosur guys to death. All of them are arrested by the police. When Kitti learns that he will have to return to his biological parents, he hides deep in the forests. As he hears people call his name, he is terrified - is it the killer bird that is calling him?

The forest (Kaadu) divides two warring villages. It is a place that you have to walk daily to go to school. It is where you pluck wild fruit. It is also where you can see couples making love. You could be secure enough to ask your friend about his father's extra marital affairs in the wild woods. And it can also be very terrifying at nights - the trees, its branches and the leaves can be eerie, especially when one sees the light thrown at them by the moving lantern that you are holding, not to mention of your own shadow. Bloody sacrifices to ancient totems are clandestinely made here. Women could be raped by vengeful villagers and no one would know about it. It is also a place where you are run away from your circumstances. The forest thus assumes different shades in the film Kaadu so much so that it almost becomes a character on its own.

Kaadu is based on a Kannada language novel by the same name written by Srikrishna Aalanahalli, a prominent literary figure in Karnataka. It is set during the time when once-in-a-day buses from cities were just beginning to ply into post independent remote villages in India. The events in the film unfold in one such rural village. The film is about two warring villages; the genesis of their conflict lies in its age old caste system. Each of these villages is led by hot headed upper caste landlords who want to get one up on each other. By virtue of being their bonded laborers, the lower caste too gets sucked into this war. It is not really their war that they get themselves entangled into. As a sub plot we also see the depiction of the position of women in rural Karnataka during the times the film is set in. The leader of the village presides upon a meeting that proposes to give justice in a case that involves an extra marital affair, yet he himself indulges in one. Unable to tolerate the repression meted upon her, another upper caste man's young wife elopes with a lower caste laborer from a neighboring village. All these seemingly adult topics - but what is interesting is that in Kaadu it is all seen trough the eyes of a child.

Kitti, the kid, is there in almost every sequence in the film. His mother goes into the forest to give a sacrifice to a primitive totem along with her servant. Kitti too is asked to join in, as if for protection; he is asked not to mention the visit to any one. He begs and pleads with his mother to be in the village meeting where his father is to give a judgment on the lower caste extra marital affair. As he returns from his school, he hears people making fun of his own father's extra marital affair. A bit of a detour from his normal school going path and he discovers the spot where he sees two adults making love. Although he is just an observer, his excitement knows no bounds as he watches the Vokuli festival. He sees the violence at the festival and is horrified; he faints when he sees his mother gets raped. When his father gangs up with his fellow villagers to hack the Hosur guys, he even wants to go and be a part of the action. In the climax, he sees the police roam about in his empty village...

Making Kitti a part of every sequence in the film is not just a narrative device that the filmmaker uses. It is integral to what Kaadu is trying to say. It is an adult world that Kitti is observing and experiencing. It is baptism by fire for him - in an age where he should be comfortable plucking fruits, throwing stones at fishes and collecting marbles. It is not that he does not indulge himself in all these child like activities, he does. But the crux of the film is that the adult world bombards him with images and events of violence, sex, rape and death - images that he is unfamiliar with at his age. He is fed with all the crookedness, the idiosyncrasies and anxieties that the adult world knows of. To his credit, Kitti does maintain the innocent streak in him right through the end of the film. But you do know that such innocence is not going to last long. You also know that he is inevitably entering into a world that he probably should not be entering into so soon. In my opinion, that is what Kaadu is all about.

Also interesting about Kaadu is its maker's attitude towards Kitti's growing exposure to things and events that are considered sexual in nature. Right at the beginning of the film, when his mother is decorating her house, he stares at her mid-riff. Sensing this, she sends him off for an errand, which Kitti readily agrees to do. Later he sees a couple make love, deep in the jungle. He can't take his eyes off them. Days later, he comes back to the same spot to sit there for a while staring silently. When Kalyani is burnt on her thighs by her husband, Kamli applies oil to the wounds. Kitti stares at it; to what intent we are not clear. Kalyani drops her sari and covers her thighs when Chandre Gowda enters the room. Kitti's stare too ends. In all these occasions, it is difficult to defiantly conclude that Kitti's sexual energies are being activated, the actor, through his expressions, does nothing to suggest so. Yet, it is a fact that the film shows Kitti staring at the female body not once, but many times although no great fuss is made out of it by the filmmaker or the characters. Is this an innocent gaze or is it innocence lost? It is difficult to decide. It is this very ambiguity, so aptly captured by the filmmaker that sometimes defines the process of growing up of a child. Kaadu is worth a watch, if nothing else, but to experience this ambiguity.

Upperstall review by: Ramchandra PN

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