Slow pace, a predictable plot, few action sequences, unknown actors, classical music—nothing in Kantara screams blockbuster, yet the film went on to become an overnight success with only word-of-mouth to count on as promotion.
Kantara is not an artsy film either; rather a very un-sophisticated one, paying little heed to "woke" topics. Yet its resonation with country-folk and elites alike forces one to wonder and ponder.
Cutting To The Chase
While the film has become a talking point among religious leaders, policy wonks, and social and environmental activists—it demands to be seen from the perspective of an educationist, for hidden behind its picturesque photography is a plot that forces a system to reconsider its approach.
Consider this: recently, videos of Japanese football fans cleaning the stadium after a match they lost went viral on the internet. While everyone seemed impressed, the Japs simply called it Atarimae, meaning "natural", or "stating the obvious".
Scott North, professor of psychology at Osaka University, said "Cleaning up after football matches is an extension of basic behaviours that are taught in school, where the children clean their school classroom and hallways".
But cleanliness is taught in schools all over the world—why are only the Japanese cleaning stadiums, and not Indians or Germans?
It's simple; for the Japanese, the push for cleanliness is not a mere lesson in a value-education class. It is Atarimae—the natural order of things in their culture, which is taught at home, in the public, through their scriptures, and at schools, all at once.
Likewise, Kantara shows the power of culture at multiple levels.
When the forest officer denies villagers their right to take leaves and fruits from the forest, a naïve lady asks, "Where else should we take it from?" The forest officer quips, "You need to take my permission before taking anything from the forest." Then, the protagonist enters to give the officer a reality check, "We have been living here for generations; much before your laws came into place. Did you ask permission from us before coming here?"
In another scene, the villagers prepare to fight a government that is eager to drive them off their land. For generations these villagers have protected the forest, but are now seen as its enemies by their elected leaders. The fight is a mismatched one—the State forces have guns, while the villagers have none. But belief in their culture brings them hope, and they win the fight.
Shiva, the alcoholic protagonist transcends his limits when his faith in the local culture becomes stronger. He becomes clean and turns his mind towards higher pursuits. In the film, none of the villagers are shown to have received a formal education, yet they display a fantastic understanding of right and wrong.
Similarly, at the beginning when a promise is made by the King to the villagers, it is made clear to him, through local culture again, that justice will be served if his family breaks the vow. This culture, founded on faith, pushes the villagers to act and fight for justice, to be strong, to be respectful to the forest, to live in harmony, be empathetic, and have each other's back.
It does not blind them with belief or lead to inaction, rather it makes them proactive actors in the theatre of life. This is experiential learning at its best, oftentimes better than the mediocrity forced in many classrooms today.
In an age when failed relationships and weak mental health is common among teens, Kantara shows how culture brings hope, strength, and positivity to the mind. Is it not a wonder then, why Indian schools are unable to integrate culture into their schools like the Japanese have?
Kantara's depiction of culture as the source of hope, strength and values in individuals is a wake-up call for educators to acknowledge the role it plays in character building.
Educationists must shed their hollow aspirations of trying to look modern (western) and embrace local cultural practices for teaching and grooming tomorrow's workforce.
For instance, if Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam was taught in schools as part of the curriculum, most children would be global citizens by default, caring for the world as a whole. If Karmanyeva dhikaratse was practiced everyday, anxiety levels in the whole country could see a collective drop.