Once Upon a Time in Mangaladevi
A tree’s strength lies in its roots. The strength of the recently released Kannada movie Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana (GGVV) also lies in its roots—Mangaladevi. So much so that Mangaladevi is like a character holding its own throughout the movie. For the uninitiated, the coastal city of Mangaluru derives its name from Mangaladevi. In that sense, Mangaladevi or Mangaluru is the soul of GGVV with its people, culture, practices, language, temples, folklore, and the famous pili vesha becoming an integral part of the narrative.
The credit for this goes to the actor, director, and screenwriter of GGVV, Raj B Shetty. Yes, he of the Ondu Motteya Kathe fame where a lean, bald man tries to find a suitable match. So used are audiences to seeing gangsters as well-built machismo oozing men that it is difficult to even imagine the unassuming Raj B Shetty as one. But not only does Raj stun us into accepting him in the role but his eyes, his performance sends shivers down our spines. The premise of GGVV is simple. It is the story of two friends, Shiva and Hari, who rise from ordinary men to powerful people but soon their egos come in the way and it turns into a game for power where each is vying for the other’s blood. But that’s just the basic plot and the real winner, for me, in GGVV is Mangaluru.
So, let’s explore various aspects of Mangaluru in the context of Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana.
Pili Vesha or tiger dance is performed during Dasara/Navratri and other festivals in Mangaluru and the larger Tulu Nadu region. Painted in tiger, cheetah, and leopard motifs, enthusiasts perform a kind of tiger dance very specific to this region. In Mangaluru, pili vesha troops are sponsored by influential people who see it as a matter of pride and power to run these troops. While GGVV is not the first Kannada film to show pili vesha, it skillfully places pili vesha as an important event in the movie that further enhances Hari’s position as the new goon in town.
Sample these beats for some pili vesha feel
Not to be missed is Shiva’s pili dance or taandav (to be more precise), when he conquers his opponent. With blood shot eyes, soaked in blood, holding a knife, Shiva dances to the tune of sojugada sooju mallige. This one scene alone is worth watching GGVV in a theatre. Complete paisa vasool.
Sri Devi Mahatme
Karnataka (including Mangaluru) is famous for its traditional Yakshagana theater. One such Yakshagana famous in Mangaluru is that of Sri Devi Mahatme. There is a small episode in Sri Devi Mahatme where Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh fight over supremacy. Raj B Shetty takes this story and makes it the central theme of GGVV.
Mahesh: Raj plays Shiva who is above the dualities of good and bad, performing his actions in all innocence not worried about the consequences. His birth, his background, his life is a complete mystery. Lost and listless, Shiva silently bears all ridicule only to come into his own when he stands up for Hari. There is no looking back now. Shiva the oppressed becomes Shiva the Destroyer.
Vishnu: Contrary to Shiva, Hari (Rishab Shetty) follows the rules of the world, complying, compromising, and dreaming of becoming a “big” man someday. But when Shiva decides to stand up for Hari, Hari turns into a self-centered person who wants to survive, thrive, and grow at any cost. For him, preserving himself comes even before friendship. Thus, Hari the Preserver.
Brahma: Completing the Trimurthi or triumvirate is Brahmmayya (Gopal Krishna Deshpande), the sensitive, duty-bound cop. Brahmmayya is an uncorrupt, simple family-man who would have stayed that way if not for one life-changing event that brings him to Mangaluru. He has not even one scene with either Shiva or Hari and yet he feels threatened by them. It is this invisible threat that disturbs Brahmmayya’s peace of mind metamorphosing him into a manipulative cop who orchestrates the entire game of life-and-death, trying to create a space for himself as Brahmmayya the Creator.
But when egos clash, who wins is the question explored in GGVV?
For those interested in the real deal, watch a Sri Devi Mahatme Yakshagana
Cricket is the national pastime of India, not just Mangaluru. However, yet again in GGVV, Raj uses this as a brilliant narrative piece. Shiva is a kid at heart, who plays cricket all day when he is not busy stabbing people or serving jail time. Cricket here becomes a metaphor for the games people play to survive and to thrive. The cricket shown here is of a regional variety where even yorkers are bowled underarm and cuss words replace umpire rules. It is actually a game of cricket that establish Hari and Shiva as the new “don’t-mess-with-me” goons in town.
For any movie, getting the language right is half the job done. GGVV uses the Mangaluru dialect of Kannada which employs a clear diction and respectful tone. And like so many other things in GGVV, this dialect is juxtaposed with the slang, expletives, and rough language of the underworld. This contradiction, in the way language is used in GGVV, adds a distinct Tulu flavor to the movie and one often breaks into laughter even in a serious scene.
While Mangaluru is famous for many things, if I had to pick the most important, it would be the temples. Also known as a temple town, Raj uses these temples too to tell the story. The locality of Mangaladevi has the famous Mangaladevi temple where GGVV is primarily set. Every time Hari commits a crime (or sins), he goes to the Kadri temple for a purification bath to wash away his sins.
Regional Practices and Culture
There is a practice of hiring a DJ for all sorts of events in Mangaluru, from childbirth, to house-warming, to marriages and birthdays. Pilli vesha beats, Daler Mehndi songs to trance music. They play it all. I was surprised to see how precisely this has been shown in Hari’s housewarming function, which yet again acts as a catalyst for an oncoming twist in the movie.
While the cable TV business might seem like a small thing to outsiders, in Mangaluru, only the high and mighty can dare to own such a business which gives them complete control over a locality. At least that’s how things were a decade or two back. This cable TV business yet again sets the stage for Hari’s foray into the crime world.
Even the names used in the movie are common Mangalorean names like Pili Prakasha, Avinash, Prakyukt, Neethu, Jeethu, etc.
Mangladevi Reigns Supreme
While GGVV is devoid of a love track, you can expect to fall in love with Mangaluru, its characters, its eccentricities, its music, and its vibe. GGVV is a great example of how film-making becomes a beautiful experience for audiences when multiple regional elements are woven together in a rich tapestry.
In Sri Devi Mahatme, it is neither Brahma, nor Vishnu, nor Shiva who is most powerful but the divine mother, Devi. So it is in Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana, where Mangaladevi or Mangaluru, although the most powerful, also becomes a witness to the mayhem wreaked out by the three protagonists, Shiva, Hari, and Brammayya who’s turn is done, and now Mangaladevi waits for the drama of life to unfurl all over again.
Don’t wait for the OTT release, watch it at a theatre near you