Dollu is a Kannada movie directed by Sagar Puranik, featuring Nidhi Hegde as Priya, Babu Hirannaiah as Purohit, Karthik Mahesh as Bhadra, Chandra Mayur as Kaalappa, and Sharanya Suresh Lachchi.
Dollu opens with the camera panning over the green adornment of nature, introducing a village. It shows people walking over a damp patch of land, and finally stopping in the festive atmosphere of a temple courtyard. In the festival, a dance troupe is shown dancing gleefully playing dollu, a double-headed drum native to Karnataka. At the end of the dance, the temple priest blesses the troupe's leader and requests him to preserve the dollu dance form- which is a dying art form.
The opening sequence of Dollu is simple and provides an idea of a crisis-free narrative. But the director has shot the entire scene in the gloomy atmosphere of a rainy day instead of the usual bright sunlight to create a festive atmosphere. The film's entire narrative, as a whole, proceeds with the same melancholic tone. This technique of interpreting a flat scene introduces the responsibility and commitment of the director and arouses interest in the film.
Bhadra is the protagonist of the Dollu. He continues to practise playing dollu with a few others. But gradually, his companions move to the city in search of a better livelihood. Despite their wishes, they cannot come to the annual festival of the village and participate in the dance.
The need to discuss and preserve traditional folklore in the context of contemporary practical difficulties is a particular concern and argument of today's socio-cultural world. On the one hand, traditional folk-art practises have gradually declined, and on the other hand, folk-arts are picked up by consumerism. This fusion has been promoted as a new form of art and is consumed as art by most of the general public, mesmerised by the glitter of publicity. It also tempts the performers who have taken art as their means of livelihood to re-shape their performances and make such practises excellent works of art.
Bhadra's father is an orthodox practitioner of the art. He believes that even the slightest touch of consumerism will consume the purity of the art form. Even in terms of the art's virtue, he refuses to teach the dance to girls. He cannot bear making money by performing dances at the political leader's house function. This issue stands as a conflict between the son and father. Then the time comes for holding the annual dollu dance programme at the temple. Despite being the number of dancers less, Bhadra pledges to hold to the programme at any cost.
Bhadra knows and understands that his friends have left the village and found a city for a living. Bhadra, who wants a middle-class approach to livelihood and art, wants to bring his friends only for the dance. But he witnessed the life they were leading in the city and realises that it won't be possible for them to come for the dance at the cost of their secured livelihood in the city.
The film ends with an unimaginable turn and creates an extra dimension to the narrative. The camera tracks back from that scene. The film's opening shot made sense of the discovery of celebration of art amid nature, just like inside a secret cave. And the last shot, with the reverse camera movement, silently speaks of taking that artistic celebration to a greater society.
The first scene's camera movement and the moist-gloomy look of the film reveal the director's grip over the film language. He can explain the grammar rules and compose a sentence with the said rule. The entire movie is a chronicle of crisis in different levels, and the film's scene keeps the story's conflict alive. The concluding moment of Dollu reflects the brighter side of the day and enhances the artistic and symbolic expression: the scene should have been in an encouraging sunlit environment.
Many filmmakers made Indian films discussing the crisis faced by traditional folklore. Those films have shed light on the problem from various angles. Dollu also speaks about the same problem, depicting the aspects of art as a pure art form and pointing out the difficulties of making a livelihood out of it. The protagonist Bhadra respects this art from the core of his heart. At the same time, he also did not avoid the questions related to earning his livelihood. He approaches this problem practically, but reality does not provide him with the desired solution.
The director has never taken the help of emotional exaggeration despite the advantages of making his point by giving a prominent place to visual images. He has understood the crisis from the core.
Bhadra's character is that of a devoted artist. His character reflects the director's attitude and conviction. He is ready to accept the art as a part of his livelihood and passion. He sought how both of them could continue evenly, but that was not possible. Bhadra's imagination could not find a proper, justified way.
No one in the audience seeks a reply from the director to the crisis he depicts. The essential point is to provoke rational thinking. Sagar Puranik has diligently done this work and presented a familiar story with new thoughts.
The cinematographer and editor have helped in every way in taking forward the director's vision. The film's rain-soaked look holds the film's dominant tone, and cinematographer Avinash Kalati has done this work with dedication.
A part of the film's background is based in Bengaluru. This city is not the only city in the story, but a character can dream of life and livelihood. Contrary to the open and tranquil village environment, the cameramen capture the city's unique noisy tone and disturbing look, the closed life in the narrow environment. The cinematographer captured a significant part of the Dollu dance from a top angle, which undoubtedly added beauty to the narrative. Yet, it reduced the emotional-physical strength of the dancers.
In the climax where we see that the girls break the bond of tradition also needed to be more dramatic, detailed, and exciting. Many things that can change society happen secretly, and perhaps the director followed that notion. That particular moment in Dollu elevates the film to a higher state of artistic realisation. It required multilayered shot divisions to glorify that social change and highlight the spirit of empowered women. The scene also needed to be slightly longer for keeping up with the rhythm of the film's narrative. The film's statement would have been more potent if the presentation of the scene had been even more detailed.
Bhadra is deeply fond of his lover, a village girl who practises the art he practices. He does not want to teach the art to any girls because he believes in the dance tradition. Even though he argues with his father about the purity of dance and its potential for survival, he occasionally breaks down in the conflict of the need for an open and changed social system, but does not deviate from his original position.
He establishes the character convincingly. This character seems to be the director's alter ego. Despite all the changes, Bhadra is steadfast in his opinion.
Director Sagar Puranik is also consistent in his voice as a film director, even after seeing all the attacks of consumerism. Today, especially after the Covid outbreak, the film industry's business has undergone a massive change. It is a matter of courage and confidence to make a film about folk art.
The other characters in the film are also convincing in story-keeping, acting, and dance. But the development of the characters remained limited as the screenwriter kept the characters confined to limited space.
The director's subject and approach were clear, so the film's development and the pace went on a smooth ride. But the work and lives of the characters around Bhadra would have made the whole thing more exciting and the social context of the matter more expansive. Here, the screenwriter, Sreenidhi DS, could have been a little more focused.
The film's music is also enjoyable, supporting the tone of the visuals and the narrative flow. The musical theme sets the overall tone of the film.
This film, made in a traditional style, stands as a question on survival of traditional art forms, a universal problem sincerely believed by the director in a contemporary context. This sensitive portrayal is a director-producer achievement.