Bettada Jeeva: Soulful, insightful cinema

Bettada Jeeva lacks sensationalism and bawdy entertainment like most films of today. But it is an insightful movie, inspiring the mind.

In a world dominated by crass commercialism, mindless madness and sterility, cinema with a soul is a rarity. In this, director P Sheshadri’s Bettada Jeeva distinguishes itself from the cinema of our age.

The film based on Dr Shivaram Karanth’s novel of the same name has also won the national award for the best environmental film. It tells the story of a freedom fighter on the run from the law, who takes shelter in the home of an aged landlord and his wife, both unaware of his identity. Through this situation, the film explores the relationship that develops between the young man and the elderly couple, still mourning the loss of their son who left home to participate in the freedom struggle. The individual story is placed against the larger canvas of the life, tradition and landscape of the people of the Western Ghats. It has special contemporary relevance as the Karnataka government continues to oppose UNESCO’s intention to name this endangered area a world heritage centre.

While this is not a big budget film, cinematographer Ananth Urs uses the grandeur of the Western Ghats to create a visual spectacle. In a screenplay that abounds with freshness, director Sheshadri delights in the telling of his story. The script sets the pace of the film, and not commercial considerations.

A variety of themes emerge in the telling of this story. The film is at once a celebration of nature, a commentary on love, an exploration of the ties that bind the human heart, the meaning of parenthood and a journey into the glory and the sadness of growing old.

As in Kurusawa’s Rashomon, Bettada Jeeva is also a film about perspective. As the audience gazes at the same incident through the eyes of four protagonists, meanings shift and viewpoints change.

Bettada Jeeva is backed by real performances from actors Suchendra Prasad, Dattanna, Rameshwari Verma and Lakshmi Hegde. But if Suchendra Prasad gives the film its intensity as the young freedom fighter, it is Dattanna and Rameshwari Verma who shine. They get beneath the skin of the aging couple Gopalaiah and Shankari, giving the audience an insight into their character’s soul.

In an age of short attention spans, Bettada Jeeva may perhaps be faulted for lack of sensationalism and bawdy entertainment. Not enough seems to be happening in the film. Yet the director never fails to engage the audience with the simplicity of his vision.

I would go with a rating of 3.5 on 5 for Bettada Jeeva. But be warned that this is not a work of lavish entertainment for the masses, it is insightful cinema inspiring the mind.

The ratings and what they mean

The ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5 and try to strike that difficult balance between cinematic critique and giving the regular film buff a peek into what’s playing in town and worth a watch.

1: Watch this film only if the director pays you
2: You could safely give this film a miss
2.5: A one time watch
3: Good cinema. Money well spent
4: Great cinema. A standing ovation
5: Simply speechless. A masterpiece.

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