Minchina Ota is a 1980 Kannada heist/prison film directed by Shankar Nag, written by Shankar Nag and Mariyam Jethpurawala and stars Anant Nag, Shankar Nag, Lokanath and Priya Tendulkar (not related to Sachin Tendulkar, I checked). The film follows the trials and tribulations of three not-so-small-time thieves.
Minchina Ota is a fascinating film for more reasons than one. I’m quite sure that if I had watched this film when I was younger, I would be hard-pressed to tell anyone the intricacies in the plot and characters. I would steadfastly say that the film was about three good men gone bad who are fighting against the system which has held them down for the longest time. But now, I know that to be untrue. The film is very clearly about inherent bad guys looking to redeem themselves in the only way they know how, doing worse things with even more horrible implications.
When the primary characters are introduced to the audience, the story does not seek sympathy for its characters. It diverts itself deftly by showing the audience the power of convincing oneself about one’s actions. I had once read that “Intelligent people are more susceptible to joining cults/brain-washing because they create logical reasons to rationalize the leader’s messages”. SPOILER No one joins a cult here, but the film explores this concept at almost every available juncture. Shankar Nag’s Katte is swayed by the much more intelligent yet deceptively naive Thatha and Tony. Thatha and Tony put up an all knowing front to mask their inherent intellectual deficiencies. Lokanath’s Thatha comes across as an older version of Anant Nag’s Tony for reasons I would like the audience to explore for themselves.
Apart from the excellent character work, what sets the film apart are the little nuggets of quirky uniqueness. The little poems used, references to Nazi Germany, intelligent on-the-fly plans the lead characters make, the extremely identifiable score etc.
For all it’s merits, the film does have a few distinct flaws. The film slows down drastically during a contrived second act. The film’s tone is not uniform and it doesn’t seem to be done on purpose. Priya Tendulkar’s acting leaves quite a bit to be desired. Ramesh Bhatt’s character is quite one-dimesnsional for a film which boasts of multiple well-realized characters.
This film stands tall in the pantheon of influential Kannada cinema for all the reasons mentioned above. Discussing the plot would create a much better final product for this essay but that would drastically ruin the experience for most viewers. In conclusion, this is the kind of film I ask for from modern mainstream cinema. It does not sacrifice mainstream appeal nor is it playing to the cheap seats. It puts audiences from all walks of life into the shoes of its characters and asks them the same questions it asks of its characters. And that is how a great filmmaker builds audience investment.
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