Kantara: Bollywood is taking the wrong lessons from the wrong movies.

Kantara, Rishab Shetty’s popular Kannada film, promotes the type of behaviour that should be condemned; another ‘Hombale Film’ that needs a lesson in humility.

When people like Sanjay Dutt and Ranbir Kapoor declare that most Bollywood films have bombed this year because they aren’t ‘rooted’ in Indian culture, they’re speaking in code. They’re not discussing Bollywood films at all, but rather the concept of masculinity that those films represent. And, while it may appear that they are promoting stories set in villages, they are actually referring to the tough people who govern over them.

Kantara, a film in which males with beards chase buffalo, harass women, and fight in the mud, is what these folks actually want, and they make no bones about it.

Kantara (in an obviously tweaked form) debuted on Amazon Prime Video this week, following months of strong buzz. And, having seen no promotional material other than the startling photographs of writer-director-star Rishab Shetty’s painted face, I sat down to watch it, somewhat curious to see what all the excitement was about. But imagine my surprise when, after only a few minutes, I realised Kantara isn’t a magical-realist fable set in rural India at all, but rather a toxic KGF clone with a plot denser than the forest in which its hero lives.

Shiva, played by Shetty, is introduced in a battle sequence in the year’s second-most irritating film. He has a continuously irritated expression on his face and scoffs at the very thought of obtaining ‘permission.’ Shiva, you know, has a long history of mistrusting authority. He follows his own set of laws and is considered as a troublemaker in his hamlet. Throughout the film, he causes a battle with a local forest ranger for doing his job and molests a lady until she falls in love with him. He’s the type of person you’d want to avoid, yet for some reason, he’s been cast as the protagonist of this film.

You may argue that Shiva is a true portrayal of an alpha guy living in a Karnataka hamlet in the 1990s. And you’d be correct. But isn’t that not the issue? Shiva is free to be as evil as he pleases. However, the question of an ideological impasse arises only when the film begins to forgive and then rewards his heinous behavior. Kantara thus sets Indian filmmaking back years.

People like Ranbir Kapoor are rejecting not only the significant progress that mainstream Hindi cinema has made in the last decade — aided in no small part by the sensitive portrayal of masculinity in Kapoor’s own films — but they’re also undermining the contributions of colleagues who’ve spent their careers attempting to distance themselves from the industry’s

a troubled past

But it’s a history that Bollywood directors are yearning to return to, having convinced themselves that it’s the only thing standing between their films and success. They’ve reached this conclusion after seeing multiple South Indian films earn crores in Hindi-speaking territories, frequently at the expense of major Bollywood releases starring pretty people whose single Instagram post would garner more ‘likes’ than people who would attend their films.

Kantara, KGF, and Liger are films that aggressively reject the millennial concept of masculinity while also giving a huge middle finger to practically every well-rounded female character released in the previous decade. The presence of Leela in the film isn’t a problem, but here’s a character who barely speaks, has no agency, and exists solely to orbit Shiva. He even threatens to beat her at one point. She is a secondary supporting character at best, but by portraying her as the ‘female lead,’ the film mercilessly desecrates the whole meaning of those terms. It’s the equivalent of a woman being offered a significant promotion in a corporate setting, only to be entrusted with buying coffee.