For a film that has death at its core, debutant Ram Reddy’s 2016 Kannada film Thithi manages to mine a lot of humour and drama from its oddball characters.
Set in a village, the film begins with a 101-year-old man, fittingly called Century Gowda, comfortably installed on his porch and griping to passers-by about their inadequacies in a cutting but good-humoured way. You can see his targets are used to it, and mostly pay no heed to the barbs beyond vague smiles. Deciding to take a walk, Century suddenly collapses and dies. It is a fascinating, jarring cold open that underlines just what the writer-director intends with the film.
Century’s passing kicks in motion an upheaval in the household, not just due to the grief associated with the event, for in the case of Gaddappa at least, the eldest son of Century, there appears to be none. He spends his time taking long, desultory walks in and around the village, smoking bidis and chugging cheap brandy. When he is apprised of his father’s death, his reacts with his usual nonchalance, as though it were a usual occurrence.
No, the said upheaval has to do with Thammanna, Gadappa’s son, who is more worldly than his father, and wants the family property in his possession. When he does manage to find his father, a laborious task considering he is constantly on the move, he urges him to sign the land’s papers to him. Gadappa responds that the land will go to him anyway after he dies. But Thammanna is anxious that Gadappa might live too long like his father and his many brothers might inveigle the land into their control in the meantime. Gadappa, above such materialistic matters, does not wish anything to do with official work or documents.
Thammanna devises a plan to declare his father dead and pays a corrupt official to forge a death certificate and get the land ownership transferred. Also in the fray is Abhi, Thammanna’s other source of annoyance, who is enamoured with a girl belonging to a nomadic shepherd community and like most teenagers, is not exactly diligent about his duties.
Realistic is not a word you would normally use in relation to the strange events that unfold in Thithi, and yet everything about the film, the setting, characters, dialogue, has a definite air of authenticity. It is almost like a documentary about life in a Karnataka village with no apparent directorial oversight. It helps that the ‘actors’ in the film are not really actors but actual Kannadiga villagers who, it seems, are just playing themselves.
Reddy’s storytelling is unhurried with hardly any background score, and thus the viewer gets a sense of being there as the events are occurring in real-time. Doron Tempert’s cinematography uses wide shots to add detail and make the film’s world feel more expansive.
A light-hearted drama (on the whole) laced with dark humour and populated by characters that despite their peculiarities, strike one as living, breathing people, Thithi feels less like a film and more like a surreptitious, temporary glimpse into the lives of three generation of men in rural Karnataka amid the turmoil that follows the patriarch’s death.
Thithi is streaming on Netflix.
Under the Radar is a weekly series that talks about one great movie or TV series that for some reason slipped most people’s attention — flew under the radar, so to speak — and is certainly worth checking out.