Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana review: Myth and crime collide violently in this thrilling Kannada gem

Release Date: 19 Nov 2021 / Rated: A / 02hr 31min

Cinestaan Rating

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Shriram Iyengar

Raj B Shetty's electric film captures the drama of brotherhood among gangsters through an entertaining retelling of Indian mythology.

To paraphrase filmmaker Martin Scorsese, there are films and there is cinema. Raj B Shetty's Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana falls in the latter category. Shetty writes, directs and takes on the more challenging role of Shiva in this explosive gangster drama that digs deep into the visceral underbelly of Mangalore's street politics and raises it to mythological levels.

The story begins with Hari (Rishabh Shetty) and Shiva (Raj Shetty) in the Mangaladevi locality in Mangalore. One is protected and cared for, the other is discovered on the doorstep of death and bullied throughout. Shiva grows up into a loose cannon, an unpredictable maniac, who is as liable to kill someone as to play cricket with them. Knowing the potential of Shiva's fury, Hari uses it as the hammer to carve out his little empire in Mangaladevi. When one cop, Brahmayya (Gopal Krishna Deshpande), is forced to find a way to quell this rising menace, the story is turned on its head.

Shetty's film would have been exemplary even without the nuanced and deep exploration of Indian mythology and the specifics of life in Mangaladevi. But these elements transform it into high art. The writer crafts and creates a world that is immediate, captivating and colourfully violent. Despite the film's runtime of 150 minutes, the script is flawless in conception and execution. Every scene captures the essence of the characters and defines the movement of their arcs.

The film's setting of Mangaladevi becomes as essential to the rise of Hari and Shiva as Wasseypur was to Faisal. The small-town eccentricities (cable wars, games of cricket) and festivities add to the layered narrative. Then there is the mythology. In an interview, director Raj B Shetty described the seed of the story sprouting with a Yakshagana, or Kannada folk theatre, performance of the goddess giving birth to the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The film is an impeccable evolution of this idea. Where Hari is ambitious, Shiva is innocent and violent, Brahma (embodied by the police officer) is the calculator whose decisions unravel or recreate a world. He is also the narrator of the story, quite like the role played by his namesake in mythology.

The use of these myths, with visuals that perfectly capture the process, only adds to the experience. The clever use of symbolism, without making it too obvious, prevents the subtext from dominating the story.

Rishabh Shetty plays Hari with menacing control. The actor's transformation from naive supplier to calculating local gangster is delicious. He is contrasted by the phenomenal Raj Shetty as Shiva. Raj is simultaneously violent and innocent. His passion and fury subside immediately after they explode. He can kill someone at the snap of a finger but will never react with the same violence to injustice on a cricket field. The actor embodies these qualities in such physical terms that his mere presence on the screen is compelling. That he has also written this phenomenal story is a credit to his all-around talent.

Gopal Krishna Deshpande's Brahmayya is another remarkable character to complete the trinity. Subdued and meek, his transformation towards the end completes the life cycle of this creation.

For all its violence, the film has a sensitive heart that questions our perception of it. The act itself is abhorrent and ordinary, it is the transformation it effects in people that leaves us spellbound. 

The visuals of the traditional tiger dance, the cricket games, the use of classical Carnatic music, and the appropriate moment of slow-motion visuals provide the background to volatile, murderous moments. The script sticks to the axiom of 'show, don't tell' with great results.

Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana's strength lies not only in its writing, but also in the technical superiority that envelops it. Praveen Shriyan's camera moves in synch with the emotions of the narrative. The visual of the Huli (tiger) dance by Shiva after a murder is one of the more thrilling moments in a film in the last decade. Every movement of the camera, in its slow-motion, wide shots, is to enhance the narrative and not just cosmetic.

Midhun Mukundan's sublime background score and music are the icing on these visuals. From the opening 'The Demon In Me' down to the exhilarating 'Sojugada Sooju Mallige', the songs are a pleasant contrast to the visuals.

Above all, Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana is representative of a thrilling idea and adventurous execution of cinema that India desperately needs. It uses familiar stories, emotions and drama and combines them with exciting new styles and techniques to provide a rare experience. It is a necessary medicine to every stale commercial creation that deceives audiences. After Ondu Motteya Kathe (2017) Raj B Shetty has proved once again to be one of the finest cinematic minds in India.

Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana is now available on Zee5.


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