Shackled & snared in survival strife: ‘Shivamma’ is a radiant beacon of hope for meaningful cinema in Kannada

The Jaishankar Aryar movie saw a stupendous response from audiences at the 15th Edition of BIFFes, with repeat screenings.

ByS Viswanath

Published Jun 24, 2024 | 11:55 AM Updated Jun 24, 2024 | 3:40 PM

Shivamma Yarehanchinala was featured at the 15th Edition of BIFFes

Kannada’s other, art-house cinema in familiar parlance, has never really scaled up to its glorious past of the 70s when Girish Kasarvalli, BV Karanth, Girish Karnad, and their proteges and the like, ruled the roost ensuring their regionally rooted films became part of the larger national discourse.

Of course, you had another shrewd and prolific craftsman in Puttanna Kanagal whose films straddled both universes with felicity —finding the right median between box office commerce and art-house aesthetics. There was a sprinkling of a few others who made the right noises as well every once in a while during the era. That was about it.

It was after nearly 45 years since you had a techie-turned-film director Raam Reddy light up the Kannada film industry skyline with his impeccable 68th Locarno’s Golden Leopard winner Thithi (2015).

The pulsating pastoral comedic parody, set in Nodekoppalu village of Karnataka’s Mandya district, becomes the toast of the nation, pickling every cineaste’s discerning palate.

Of course, the tongue-in-cheek rib-tickler fetched Raam Reddy, who honed his cinematic skill with a year’s stint at Prague Film School before he made it bold to cut his teeth with Thithi, bushel of awards from various film festivals as well. That it was an NFDC Film Bazaar Best Work in Progress product is noteworthy.

Nearly seven years later, making similar headlines and right noises at the film festival circuits and also wooing the Karnataka public is another young, aspiring upstart eponymously titled Shivamma Yarehanchinala. The upstart goes by the name of Jaishankar Aryar, whose surname the film’s titular figure (Sharanamma Chetti) also takes.

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Sharanamma Chetti plays the titular role in Shivamma Yarehanchinala

Sharanamma Chetti plays the titular role in ‘Shivamma Yarehanchinala’. (Supplied)

Having gestated and germinated Shivamma Yarehanchinala during the year-long break in 2020 (as the coronavirus pandemic swamped the country), which finally found fruition in 2022, Jaishankar Aryar—like his predecessors Raam Reddy, Pawan Kumar, among lakhs of engineers—steadfastly strove to chisel their ideating minds for creative cinema.

Certainly not before Shivamma Yarehanchinala, like its predecessor Raam Reddy’s Thithi, as part of NFDC Film Bazaar Work-in-Progress Lab 2022, won the Prasad Lab DI Award and Movie Buff Appreciation Award.

That his cinematic idiom and visual narrative technique have been deeply influenced by the Iranian cinema of Abbas Kiarostami and Asghar Farhadi is evident in the way Shivamma Yarehanchinala unfolds before you.

Further, that Jaishankar had the insightful potential to craft aesthetic cinema was evinced with his scintillating short Lacchavva, which was part of a potpourri of seven ensemble shorts presented by Rishab Shetty as Katha Sangama (2019), as an ode to the late Puttanna Kanagal, incidentally being the producer of Shivamma.

Lacchavva saw a mother from her rural hamlet moving to the metropolis city of Bengaluru to fend for her son and whose overzealousness to surprise him with his favourite Dharwad Peda lose her bearings in the hustle and bustle of an unfamiliar city

However, Shivamma Yarehanchinala stays firmly rooted in its rural setting itself and unfolds a saga of monumental proportions.

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A socially relevant film

A still from Shivamma Yarehanchinala

A still from ‘Shivamma Yarehanchinala’. (Supplied)

With a paralytic afflicted husband, a wastrel of a son, and a college-going daughter of marriageable age deeply in love with a boy from another caste, Shivamma has her hands full designing ways to bring that extra bit to feed the family.

Doughty, determined and driven by this singular objective, a highly motivated Shivamma sets herself in mission mode resolute in her resolve with the gumption to earn that extra income for the family being its sheet anchor and sole breadwinner.

Well aware that her cook’s job at the local Anganwadi school would not suffice to set aside the sum required for daughter Jyothi’s impending betrothal and marriage, the 46-year-old ingenuous intrepid woman turns entrepreneur and “Interpreter of Maladies” as Jhumpa Lahiri would put it.

One cannot fault Shivamma, given the impoverishment she and her ilk face in the village. With the debt she is deeply into and the money-making pyramid scheming not leashing enough into the loop, she falls for the fantastical sales pitch of the owner of Nuform and takes the dealership of the company’s health-boosting supplement products—BFresh & Nuracle.

Swayed and smitten by the man’s promotional propaganda about how retailing the products could turn one into a crorepati, Shivamma, too, adopts wily guiles to woo the impressionable lot in the village around her with her own sales pitch dispensing gyan despite fully conversant about the inefficacy of the products.

Shivamma Yarehanchinala is helmed by director Jaishankar Aryar

‘Shivamma Yarehanchinala’ is helmed by director Jaishankar Aryar. (Supplied)

Warned repeatedly and nearly walloped by her son Shivu to stop fooling people, while a hapless daughter Jyothi watches as a mute bystander, Shivamma justifies her deceit and descent to such trade gimmicks to one of her friends.

“We are stuck in this rusting old village routine. Clean up and work our ass off like a donkey for a meagre ₹200. If we do Nuracle business, earnings from it in two years will make us crorepatis,” she says.

As the manager goads the participants at the sales meeting, she too resolves herself to her companion stating, “I will do it”.

Succinctly capturing the trials and tribulations is the superlative cinematography of Vikas Urs with his framing, slow pans, long takes, and extreme close-ups, to enhance the enormity of Shivamma’s situation and psyche, as also hold an evocative and reflective mirror into the milieu and circumstances she is boxed in.

Equally eruditely edited by Jaishankar in company with Chandan and filmed in the minimalist traditions, Shivamma Yarehanchinala turns out tour-de-force on how abject economic situations in rural hinterlands ensnare people like Shivamma into chasing the aspirational chimaera in the belief they are doing good for the family and resolutely brave the battles not of their own making.

Indeed, shot entirely on location in Yarehanchinala village in Kuknur taluk of Koppal district, Shivamma belongs to the realistic tradition and genre of socially relevant filmmaking. It provides hope that in Jaishankar Aryar, Kannada cinema has found a new harbinger and beacon of hope for creative and meaningful cinema to come, which is woefully starved at present.

It is, indeed, fortuitous that Shivamma Yarehanchinala was featured in the Cinema of the World Section at the 15th Edition of BIFFes, allowing local audiences to watch it. The film saw a stupendous response from audiences with repeat screenings.

(Edited by Y Krishna Jyothi)

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