Kantara (2022) And Paithrukam (1993): A Comparison
This is a comparison of the last 20 minutes of the two movies.
Set in two entirely different contexts, one is in Malayalam while the other is in Kannada. Yet, the two films converge on the import of their messages.
Almost all who watched Kantara, the 2022 Kannada movie, are left shaken by the last twenty minutes of the film, its climax.
The hero Shiva (played by Rishab Shetty) in his altered state of consciousness, becomes Guliga the furious Deity-assistant of the Boar-Deity Panjurli Daiva.
After an intense scene in which the violent clashes become part of a divinely possessed performance, the hero executes the landlord who had betrayed the promise of his ancestor.
Kantara has layers of meaning. When the forest officer is introduced with his characteristic state-machinery arrogance and violence, the office wall shows the portraits of Dr. Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru - the quintessential secular trinity and founders of modern Indian State, for many.
The state-machinery, colluding with vested interests of a 'stagnant society' in a 'backward' tribal area had become the new normal and the new officer is shown as non-corrupt. He represents not the corrupt Indian State but an ideal secular Indian State. Yet, even this secular Indian State has a deep deficiency.
That deficiency creates a space for all kind of vested interests to play their games and create an alienation between the state and the people.
The enemy here is a slithering, feudal landlord. His feudalism is more a bastard child of colonialism and modernism. He does not believe in the sacred nature of the bond between his ancestor and the tribal people. His tradition is in practicing untouchability and exploiting the forest people - throwing them crumbs and using the state machinery to his advantage through corruption.
The final demonstration removes the villain and turns the honest disbeliever into accepting the intangible sacred.
The inability to integrate the sacred is the single greatest deficiency of Nehruvian Secular State.
Harmonising the State and the Sacred is a crying civilisational need. Indian civilisation has the strength to achieve it. But the State shies away due to ideological and other vested interests.
The movie powerfully conveys the integration of the sacred and the secular through the Deities and traditions of the forest tribal communities.
That the rituals of a remote forest village of the Tulu community reverberate with the experience of the sacred rituals which one has seen in his or her own village/community is a testimony to the sacred civilisational basis of India's unity.
Another movie conveyed a similar-but-not-same message almost 30 years ago in its last 15-20 minutes—Paithrukam the 1993 Malayalam movie directed by Jayaraj.
The movie centres around the clash between a 'rationalist' son (played by Suresh Gopi) of a traditional Vedic ritualist father (late Narendra Prasad).
The movie moves to the crescendo through various and varied incidents.
In a famous scene as the rationalist son hears that a son was born to him, he rushes to see his father and tells him that his son should not be given the sacred thread: 'I want to my son to be a human being.'
The father answers - and it became quite famous - 'How easy it would have been for all if removing the sacred thread would make us all humans.'
Finally, the famous Athiratram Yajna becomes the focus of the climax.
The region being in the grip of drought, the prominent people around ask the father, a Somayaji, to conduct the Yajna. Naturally, the rationalist organisation, with the son, oppose the Yajna tooth and nail.
The Yajna happens nonetheless.
The scenes of the sacrifice remain one of the most authentic depictions of Athiratram Yajna in movies.
The Yajna ends. No rain. Plain sky. The rationalist son makes a speech - on 'barbaric Brahminism' cheating the people, exploiting their ignorance.
As his speech reaches a crescendo, a drop - a single drop falls on his face.
It is followed by a downpour.
Shaken, and with his fundamentals shattered, the prodigal son returns to the ancestral home that houses the sacred fire, only to see his father sitting amidst the fire offering himself to it.
We see the son, Somadathan Namboothiri, now in traditional attire churning ritually to bring out the sacred fire as his wife sits by his side in the traditional manner of the wife participating in the Vedic ritual and his son looking at the woods churning.
The story was written by Sri. George Vettam and screen play was by Kaloor Dennis.
Unlike in Kantara, the clash in Paithrukam is between two worldviews.
Paithrukam shows how the traditional Hindu Dharma has flexible space for inclusive humanism (as in the acceptance of the daughter-in-law) while also showing how sterile puritanical rationalism, despite its humanist pretensions, can become inhuman.
In the case of Kantara the ritual is Bhoota Kola and in Paithrukam it is Athirathra. If a colonised view of sociology is taken, the the former is 'tribal' while the latter is 'Brahminical'.
But the visual experience of both Bhoota Kola and Athirathram in both the movies will make one realise that both are Shamanic. Both are not dogmatic or book-centred.
The Vedic ritual is as much tribal as the tribal ritual is ritualistic. Both create sacred space. Both appeal to the nature. Both have local Shamanic clan members as its performers. In both there is celebration of life. In both fire plays a vital role.
In fact, fire plays a vital role in both the films. In Paithrukam, the fire of Yajna kept in the house, we are told, is from where the funeral fire is derived. And it is to the fire that the father gives his own body as the 'Ahuti'. Then the movie ends with the ritual of fire-making.
In Kantara, it is in the circle of fire that the Deity-possessed shaman disappears.
The fire plays a major role in the Deity-possessed dance.
In both the scripts, the fathers of the protagonist disappear. Both the films depict fire getting handed over to the next generation.
It is hard to tell where the tribal ends and the Brahminical starts because both are shamanic and both are as much tribal as they are ritualistic.
Though set in different contexts and being entirely different depictions, the inner core of both Kantara and Paithrukam is the same - Sanatana Dharma.
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