On the surface, director Roopa Rao’s Gantumoote (Baggage) is a straightforward film about a girl pining over her boyfriend. But it is more than that. It is a scathing indictment of pop culture in shaping our realities, and the flawed design of our education system that gobbles up young lives.
The story begins with a group of students checking their results online at a cyber cafe. It establishes the period of the film. It is early 2000s in Bangalore, where home broadband was not the norm yet. The students could check the results of their board exams online a day before they were officially announced in their respective institutions. The group of students notice that their friend Meera (an amazing Teju Belwadi) has not shown up. She doesn’t seem to share the jittery curiosity and sentiments of her friends about exam results. Without any worries, she is watching The Legend of Bhagat Singh, a movie about the past. It is a perfect movie for her as she prefers to live in the past.
Gantumoote is a dreamy memory piece that involves high-school romance. But, it provides an experience that no other films that share similar genes has managed to achieve. I can’t recall a single film that so accurately reflected the emotions, confusions and challenges of teenage years that is so rooted in the culture and lifestyle of the city I grew up in. For me, it triggered a flood of forgotten but vivid memories from my school days. This film is so sharp and lucid that it will stick deep in your brains too.
Gantumoote is a rare film on many counts. For starters, the film, which is basically about a bunch of school kids, was awarded an ‘A’ certificate by the censor board. The very narrow notion that informs the censor board to classify a film like Gantumoote as ‘Adults Only’ makes this film observant and immediate at once. The censor board behaved like Meera’s biology teacher who skipped teaching high-school students a chapter about human reproduction. Reason: our everlasting discomfort to openly talk about sex. As Meera recalls this incident, in the same breath she also reveals, “I had to learn everything about it (how humans make babies) by watching porn.”
Just like that Roopa Rao, who has also written this film, effortlessly shows the pointlessness of society’s hesitation to adapt to the changing times. She also effectively brings out the role of pop culture in moulding the personalities of impressionable teenagers. In a scene, Meera asks one of his classmates who told him that hurting himself would help him win over a girl, the camera moves closer on the boy and we hear the background chorus: ‘I love you, you must love me.’ It is a popular theme song from Kannada cult film, Om, in which the hero strong-arms a girl into loving him. In the same scene, there is also a reference to Darr, in which Shah Rukh Khan’s character inflicts pain on himself. We also see how this cascading effect of pop culture puts undue pressure on innocent girls, making their lives more difficult.
Also, Meera develops a crush on her classmate Madhu (Nischith Korodi) because she thinks ‘in an angle’, he looks like Salman Khan in Hum Aapke Hain Koun. Later, she also learns that unlike films, she can’t depend on her hero to save her from problems. She had to fight her own battles. One of the several pleasures of Gantumoote is we get to experience this high-school romance from the perspective of a girl. It is Meera’s coming-of-age story, where we see her explore her sexuality without any guilt, support her depressed boyfriend, pursue her aspirations, fight off bullies and emerge on the other side wiser and stronger.
Roopa Rao’s use of cherry-picked words from the urban lexicon of Kannada language, especially the dialogues she has written for Meera adds to our joy. Composer Aparajith Sris beautiful scores coupled with Teju Belwadi’s charming performance comes as blessings for the film.
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Gantumoote is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.