Friday, August 7, 2015

Karma Cartel (2014)

Director: Vinod Bharathan
Writer:    Vinod Bharathan
Cast:       Vinay Forrt, Sabumon Abdusamad, Joseph Chakola
Language: Malayalam

A multi-award winning, avant-garde Indian indie set in a southern city of India (Kochi). It starts with following a reporter's search for a missing actor, leads to revelation of multiple lives connected to it through greed and bad choices. It is the first Indian film to be made following the Dogme 95 Manifesto set by Danish directors Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg.

Dogme 95 rules were made to create films, putting emphasize on traditional values of story, acting and theme, excluding the use of elaborate special effects or technology in the hope that it will give power back to the artist as opposed to the studio. As far as Dogme 95 films go, Thomas Vinterberg's 'Festen', which was in fact the first Dogme film, is the high watermark receiving wide acclaim from all quarters, not just for its Dogme sensibilities. It ushered in a new era of film-making with its use of handy-cam, giving all new freedom  for the cameraman in terms of movement as well as scope for innovation. Festen was a big milestone in the whole Film Vs Digital debate that played out since then, with digital winning out in the end for all intends and purposes as of now. 

Karma Cartel follows the rules 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the Dogme 95, which has ten rules in total. The second rule that it doesn't follow, involves usage of extra music. It also doesn't follow rules 8, 9 and 10 since it is a genre movie with the director credited and the aspect ratio is not the academy 35mm standard. It is essentially a comedy featuring mostly unknown actors. Generally you don't feel Dogme 95 films to be a visual treat, since the whole idea behind it is to make it as raw as possible. But I actually thought Karma Cartel was quite great to look at and maybe it being set in Kochi during its Biennale  and me watching it at cinemas might have contributed to it. Film does have some quality comedy moments in it but it does lose its steam during the second half. Two short films were made by the director as part of his Karma series, and this being his first feature length film, you do get the feel that the transition has not been quite smooth. Vinod Bharathan is based out of Copenhagen and it was filmed in just ten days during a Kerala visit. Considering those constraints as well as the novelty of seeing an Indian film following Dogme 95, it is quite good and a worthy effort. I don't know how well-versed he is in Malayalam but some of the scenes that are supposed to be comedic did linger on longer than it was needed and the pacing is a bit off, especially in the second half. 

Overall, it is a decent enough watch and all the more interesting because of its adherence to Dogme 95, which is out of fashion even for its founders. There is a Style over Substance feel to the film and it is as if they didn't quite know how to get to the ending in a credible manner. The references to culture of facebook film reviews with ratings worked well initially but later on in the second half, the whole commentary on film making et al did seem a bit much. Vinay Forrt is good as usual and the other actors also did a very good job. The limitations that the film have is to do with the threadbare plot and there is a comedy skit feel to it. The whole Fort Kochi setting is a bit cliched these days but it worked well for the film and they did capture some of the stunning graffiti that were made during the Biennale. It is well-worth a go at the cinemas considering the crap that are generally getting released these days. I must go and checkout the other short films in the Karma series.

Rating: 3/5