As you all know, I’ve been a fan of the Kannada language film industry since about 2008, when I happened to get invited to a press event for a
never-completed Kannada language film called E-Preeti. I was charmed enough by the lead actor, a handsome young man named Diganth, to go and check out his previous film - superhit Mungaru Male and the rest is history. The honey-dipped melodrama of Mungaru Male was so affecting and the visuals so lush and the music so beautiful that I was hooked for good. And, well, you can read my boat load of Kannada film reviews.
I didn’t know then, but that film, Mungaru Male, was the breakthrough for director/producer Yograj Bhat, who is one of the most interesting filmmakers I’ve ever stumbled across. His films capture people in between two states - adulthood and childhood; sanity and insanity; love and not-love. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s a fan of the great Japanese director of Rashomon, Kurosawa Akira.
One of the biggest challenges of being a fan of regional cinema when one doesn’t speak the language is procuring films with English subtitles and unfortunately, it was a year before I could see Yograj’s 2010 film Manasaare, the story of a young man who accidentally gets sent to a mental institution. (Is he crazy or sane or both?) This film was written by another fascinating talent working out of Bangalore, Pawan Kumar... who just so happened had a film coming out himself. And that film was Lifeu Ishtene. It immediately went on my radar.
Since that time, I’ve been tracking the film via Pawan’s website and after the huge journey through production, troubles with the Censor Board, the euphoria of release, and basking in the glow of audience appreciation, I was extremely pleased to see that a couple of weeks ago, Pawan had decided to put Lifeu Ishtene available to stream (legally) on his website. With English subtitles. And since I had some free time this week, I decided to be the guinea pig for my lovely readers (though I’m not sure how many follow Kannada films) and test it out.
Let me walk you through the streaming process first.
Pawan is using Movie Locker to make the film available, which is not compatible with Mac computers. If you speak Kannada, you may find that the film will play in Google Chrome or in the Movie Locker player without subtitles but I’m not 100% positive that it will be seamless. You are better off just watching on a PC.
[I repeat - DO NOT try to watch on a Mac. It will work for like 5 minutes and then crash your browser. Repeatedly. I tried it on multiple browsers before giving up and digging out my sister’s old PC from like 2005 and it played perfectly on it.]
Once you click on the “play” button of the video, you will be taken in a pop up window to Paypal, where you pay for the film. It’s US $5.00 for the HQ version (go ahead, treat yourself.) After you pay, go back to the page with the video player and wait for it to authorize. Once it does, click on the “continue” link in the bottom right of the screen of player to get to the movie. You can activate the subtitles by clicking on the “CC” button on the player control panel.
The quality of the audio and video are great and while the subtitles could have been better, I’ve definitely read much worse.
Lifeu Ishtene is the story of Vishaal (Diganth), an aimless (and jobless) young man living with his parents. When we meet him at the beginning of the film, he is on his way to the barber. He is depressed.
If you’ll allow me to paraphrase from memory:
“Break-up, huh?” asks the barber.
“How did you know?!” asks Vishaal.
“You young people with your love affairs... why get so worked up?” The barber shrugs. He’s married.
“I have food and money; I’m not involved in politics; I need something to worry about or how do I know I’m alive?”
With that one exchange, Lifeu Ishtene leaves every other film I’ve seen on youthful romance in the dust.
Because it’s true.
Vishaal leads us on a flashback of his romantic affairs from sepia-toned childhood to his college days to post-college to now and we see how his love affairs become a part of his personal history and of the man he becomes. That’s the meat of the narrative. The delicious, delicious gravy is in the character details.
First of all, Vishaal is completely charming. I knew boys like him in college (and long after college.) He’s supported by his parents and is enjoying stretching out his dreams of rock stardom for as long as he can. The responsibilities of work, family, and community mean nothing to him because he doesn’t realize how the
There are Vishaal’s hilarious parents who treat his emo wangsting over his love affairs with just the right amount of kindness and amusement. And who give a nice counterpart point-of-view for over-30s like myself.
There is Vishaal’s friend Shivu (Neenasam Satish) who is from a small village and finds Vishaal’s big city love affairs amusing and just oh, so slightly intriguing.
And then there are the two main lady loves - Nandini (Sindhu Loknath) and Rashmi (Samyukta Horanadu.)
Nandini and Vishaal’s relationship is the perfect portrait of college romance. Everything is fine in the hot house environment on campus but once real life starts to intrude, differences in temperament come out, and qualities that seemed exciting when they had no consequences become unappealing. Nandini is a regular girl who wants a regular life. You know girls like her - maybe you are a girl like her. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting an ordinary life - unfortunately, it just happens to be not what Vishaal wants.
Rashmi is a bit different. She doesn’t want a job and family, like Nandini, she specifically wants to be journalist. Rashmi is bold and somewhat impulsive but also very guarded... and the walls she puts up protect a tender heart. In a lesser film, Rashmi would have been a Manic Pixie Dream Girl but this is a Pawan Kumar film and Rashmi is very, very human. I should add that Samyukta’s dialogue delivery is a bit stiff but she is absolutely as cute as a button.
Lifeu Ishtene is rooted in these wonderful characters.
For most of the run time, the film drifts along from delightful set-piece to delightful set-piece. Vishaal having a heart-to-heart chat with a security guard; Shivu and Nandini giggling at Vishaal’s rock band practice; Vishaal and his dad watching movies; Rashmi racing around late at night looking for a good scoop; and (in a scene that had me dying with laughter) Vishaal tries to “casually” buy some condoms. And it’s all done with that quintessential Kannada magical-realism that I love so much.
Is Lifeu Ishtene a perfect film? No, but few films are. There are a couple narrative threads that don’t quite tie together the way they should and the song placement felt a little off but that is small potatoes in such a wonderful movie.
If you are tired of dreary youngistani rom-coms that are more about six-pack abs and shopping than real life, I highly recommend you check out Lifeu Ishtene as an example of what the genre could be... even if you’ve never seen a Kannada film. Especially if you’ve never seen a Kannada film. This might just be the one to hook you.
[I probably sound like a cheerleader but I don’t care. I want to fully support both legal online streaming of smaller budget regional films with English subtitles and, specifically, these wonderful little pocket of Yograj Bhat produced Kannada language films.
But if you aren’t fully convinced, check out the condom buying scene for yourself... with subtitles.]