Spoiler alert: This review discusses key aspects of the film, including minor plot points.
The past two years have been particularly good for the Kannada film industry which is thriving on good content; exploring a strong take on female desires. With films like Nathicharami (2018) which won the National Film Award for Best Feature and the critically acclaimed, Gantumoote (2019) – all touch upon a conflict of interest between societal expectations and bodily needs.
While Nathicharami looks at an older woman’s sexual needs, Gantumoote pieces a journey of adolescent love centering a female protagonist. These films unlike other mainstream films reject the traditional encoding tropes used to mark sexual differences between male and female. This sort of breaking away from the traditional binary is yet again experimented in the Kannada film Arishadvarga.
Arishadvarga, the six passions of mind or enemies of desire—kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed),mada (pride), moha (attachment), and matsarya (jealousy)—are considered as the ultimate tenets that creates malady in a man’s (using ‘man’ as used in religious texts) life. In Sanskrit, ‘Shat’ means six and ‘varga’ means a band. The band of emotions is likely to disrupt a man’s way to spiritual wisdom. True to its title, Arishadvarga beautifully captures the enemies (ari) of man through its characters in the film.
The casting of Arishadvarga is faultless. The characters carry and convey carnal desires with much ease which is central to the film. It is essentially a murder mystery that involves a film producer in his fifties, a 36-year-old film editor married to him and an aspiring actor who gets involved in the lives of this married couple. As the film centers on a homicide, there is evidently a police inspector involved in unravelling the murder mystery.
Anju Alva Nayak who plays the role of a wife to the film director is vocal about her sexual desires. Her husband on the other hand suffers erectile dysfunction which leaves Anju mostly dissatisfied in bed. This is when the couple resorts to involving an aspiring actor (Mahesh Bang) into their lives, so Anju can conceive a child through sexual intercourse. Anju Alva Nayak along with the other actors in the film goes through a phenomenal character arc revealing all of her inner desires in fine bits.
There is a particular scene where Avinash (Anju’s husband) slaps his wife when he is unable to sexually satisfy his wife. The scene reflects the male ego which is part of the Indian patriarch that permits men to enslave women and feel inferior when one is unable to procreate. The stigma around male infertility is not just limited to rural spaces in India, it persists even amongst educated and elite families so much so that there is a gendered difference in ego functioning of males and females.
In the film, Anju Yadav’s actions reveal that she commands her rights to be sexually satisfied, and definitely there is no fete of prude as pure. As the film progresses, her desires are not repressed or rebutted. It is a story that negotiates the innate call to adultery by reminding the consequences that might come along with the pleasure.
Director Arvind Kamath seems like one of the most promising directors in the Kannada film industry who truly understands the craft of film-making. Perhaps, Arishadvarga is one of those films whose theme is so sensitive the chances of it going wrong in lesser hands is somewhat high. Male infertility issues, sexual repression and many other sensitive themes are addressed throughout the film. Sex props like handcuffs, penis sheath underwear, feather ticklers used by Mahesh Bang who plays the role of a gigolo set anticipation for sadomasochism in the story.
All of these props set us to believe perhaps there is a gigolo who is possibly out there to satisfy female clients or otherwise. The neo-noir mystery thriller does not make space for reviewing the film without giving away the story. The music in the film is finely woven into the narrative that is as mystical as the story. The songs are not merely customary but blend well with the plot.
The role of tough-cop played by Nanda Gopal is flawless. He has a strong screen presence creating a palpable sense of resoluteness. The non-linear film is rich with metaphors; the food politics is played out well. The cop is mostly dissatisfied with the meals that he is served. At some point, he is also seen in the kitchen trying to rustle up a dish, which he burns while being engrossed in the case. There’s hunger for sure; an unfulfilled appetite. The South Indian dosa that goes cold, the confusion that the cop has while picking up groceries in the store – all boils down to the conflicts that men face in ordinary life.
Therefore, the food in the film lends itself as a metaphor for complicated relationships, emotions and everything maddening. The most fascinating part of the film is the authenticity in which the sensitive subjects come together to make the film an absorbing whodunit. Though the film starts off slow, one gets invested in the story as the pace picks up. It is taut, teasing and tremendously twisty.
Anju Alva, one of the leading ladies in the film delivers a fine performance while Samyukta Hornad delivers her bit. Avinash and Mahesh Bung work beautifully off each other. The beauty of the film lies in its moral universe—it does not pass judgments but leaves enough space for the audience to interpret the ending in whichever way one wishes.
In all honesty, the film’s casting is a genius attempt that pushes the boundaries of what good acting can bring to the overall aesthetics of any cinema. There is a certain sense of grit and gloom in the characters that makes the story wholesome. The camaraderie between Anju Alva and Nada Gopal is feisty yet indirect. Far from a regular thriller, the film is quite appetizing in its sensibilities and accomplishes what it sets out to achieve. Surely, Arishadvarga raises the bar for what the Kannada audience could expect from here on.
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