'Thithi': Mumbai Review

Courtesy of Prspctvs Productions
A whimsically enjoyable encounter with some slippery backwoods characters.

A playful comedy about my sweet little village, Indian style, has been trimmed after its Locarno win.

Every so often a gentle new comedy of backwoods manners surfaces, to the quiet delight of festival audiences. The grand-daddy of the genre, Jiri Menzel’s My Sweet Little Village, is thirty years old this year, older than first-time Indian director Raam Reddy, who must have seen the original Czech classic when he attended Prague Film School. Thithi is a spiritual heir. Set in a tiny South Indian village in Karnataka, this Kannada-language indie has no deep message to convey or great narrative ambitions, and for this reason it can feel a little hollow in the end. But advocating simple humanity and the joy of living, it’s enough to satisfy.

A work-in-progress at the NFDC Film Bazaar lab last year, it has racked up jury endorsements in its first festival outings. After coming home from Locarno with two big awards -- a Golden Leopard in the Filmmakers of the Present competition and the First Feature Award -- it picked up another top prize at the Mumbai Film Festival, where it was the only Indian film in the international competition. The two-hour version screened in Mumbai was about twelve minutes shorter than in Locarno, and the pace felt just right.

The opening scene is a humorously concise account of sudden death: that of Century Gowda, so called because he’s over 100. When the cantankerous oldster breathes his last, the villagers reverently plan his funeral and after that, according to local custom, final celebrations on the eleventh day (the “thithi”). His callous buffoon of a grandson Thamanna, who is a grown man, can only think of getting his hands on a patch of land Century owned. The problem is that it “theoretically” belongs to Century’s elusive son and Thamanna’s father, the octogenarian Gadappa.

Sporting a flowing white beard with distinction, Gadappa roams around the fields swilling liquor and bumming cigarettes. He’s far too cagey, or maybe just too spacy, to be tricked into signing his property over to his rapacious son. How not to sympathize with him when he decides to drop out of society by joining a bunch of nomadic shepherds? Reddy and his co-writer Eregowda avoid turning the enigmatic old fellow into a saint, preferring to let him stand as a flawed human being intent on sidestepping all responsibility, especially to his family. When, during the thithi ceremony, the frustrated priest calls on him to perform the last rites as tradition demands, he ducks out of sight behind a flock of sheep. Yet the free-wheeling spirit of the film is on his side: better to be free of desire, than grasping and materialistic.

The large cast of non-pro actors seem to be playing themselves. All are closely and affectionately observed in their native habitat. The younger generation gets its day in a charming subplot about how Thamanna’s cocky teenage son Abhi courts a pretty shepherdess, who is anything but helpless.

Production company: Prspctvs Productions in association with Maxmedia

Cast: Thammegowda S., Channegowda, Abhishek H.N., Pooja S.M.

Director: Raam Reddy

Screenwriters: Eregowda, Raam Reddy

Producers: Pratap Reddy, Sunmin Park
Director of photography: Doron Tempert

Editors: John Zimmerman, Raam Reddy
No rating, 120 minutes