20 Best Kannada Movies of the 21st Century

The language that produces the fourth-highest movies in India and yet remains away from the spotlight is a testament to the step-motherly treatment it receives. However, Sandalwood, as it is popularly called, owes the damage it has caused mainly to itself. A slew of remake movies, incompetent direction and incoherent scripts have pulled it down. There has been a resurgence in recent years because of the emergence of new-wave directors and primarily the need to stay relevant in troubled times for the film industry. Certain cinematic gems released in the early part of 21st century, but the picks have been more from the recent years.

The movies on this list were selected  based on the impact they generated, their technical achievements and purely ‘swamake’. A good Kannada movie, as a famous poet said, is like dripping honey on a starved tongue. Here is the list of top Kannada movies of the 21st century that have stirred the Kannadiga’s and country’s imagination. You can watch several of these Kannada movies on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.

20. Rajakumara (2017)

It is very rare to make a movie that caters to the youth and elderly alike. Raajkumara does it with aplomb. A movie of sensibilities and family values tugged the heartstrings of the audience, while character portrayed by every cast member leaves a lingering impression. Sombre background music suits the theme the movie. A little unrealistic climax cannot water down the feel-good effect. Must watch of 2017.


19. I am Sorry Mathe Banni Preethsona (2011)

How does one make a movie that is a thriller without involving super-natural elements or unbelievable premise? Matte Banni Preetsona is that kind of cinematic experience. A relationship between a husband and wife, soured by suspicion and yet the love withstands with every event that unfolds. The script becomes water-tight with each passing scene. A text-book demonstration of carrying out a thriller movie without resorting to gimmicks.


18. Mathad Mathadu Mallige (2007)

A patriarchal family with a farmer as the head of a family of 3 daughters. A village threatened by the ever-looming industrialisation. Throw a bit of Naxalite backdrop and you get MMM. A movie which makes the urbane audience to feel the plight of people in rural areas, was initially met with a lukewarm response and yet has slowly gained a cult following in the recent years. Watch it especially for the impressive monologues between Vishnuvardhan and Sudeep.


17. Kendasampige (2015)

A romantic couple’s story gets intertwined with a dastardly coup of police officers . The storyline seems cliché, but the manner of execution by the director is simply stunning. Ably supported by apt music and pitch-perfect lyrics, a captivating movie that shows the inner dealings in the police department and the extent to which they are ready to go to set things right. Must watch.


16. Manasaare (2009)

A love story between a man, wrongly put in a mental asylum, and a woman with borderline psychiatric illness might be the synopsis of this movie. However, at a deeper level, the movie mocks conformity whilst being the flag-bearer of diffidence and creativity. Love, care and friendship are the by-products of such a concept. The other-wordly music and cinematography are the icing on the cake. A movie that was a little too ahead for its time is a bliss to indulge in.


15. Ulidavaru Kandanthe (2014)

The most controversial movie on this list. It takes inspiration from several erstwhile classic movies like Pulp Fiction and Rashomon. However, it is a wonderful cinematic experience as the movie gets confusing with every scene folding on itself. An arrogant brash local goon is the focal point of the story as an unreliable reporter narrates us every incident which happens at its own leisurely pace. Ambiguous climax, unresolved dilemmas is not frustrating for it is the journey that matters.


14. Chigurida Kanasu (2003)

Adapted from a Kannada novel, the ‘original’ on which Swades was based upon. A student living in Mumbai and just passed from a Delhi college decides to visit his family village in rural, lush green Karnataka. Small cultural shock besides, he blends in with the folks and enjoys his time. Hard reality strikes with petty politics. The climax is shot to please the audience, deviating from the tough-to-swallow ending of the novel. A reminiscent trip for the urban migrants.


13. Cyanide (2006)

Everyone knows how ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. This movie is from the view point of the perpetrators of the crime. Not LTTE top brass, but the pawns in the struggle. Coming to live in the house of LTTE sympathisers in Bangalore to the point where they end up being killed by police or committing suicide by swallowing the trademark cyanide pill. A rough depiction of reality with raw, natural acting helped this movie make this list.


12. Jatta (2013)

How best to describe this movie? A forest guard whose wife has eloped with a city stud. He finds solace in moral policing until he meets a girl involved in an accident under the influence of alcohol. The movie asks philosophical questions about life, marriage, society, feminism, corruption, adultery and moral beliefs. It is easy to lose track with varied themes, but the movie addresses the most of the topics well. All this from a first-time director with a meagre budget of 35,000 rupees. A benchmark movie.


11. Kaddipudi (2013)

A rowdyism movie but with a conscience. Riddled with metaphorical dialogues and a fluid plot, director Suri grapples with the concept of rowdyism from a ‘retired’ rowdy and the unholy alliance of politics, real-estate and goons. But the protagonist is a poor man’s Chanukya trying to climb the upper echelons of power in a legally correct, morally corrupt way. When you kill a cancer element, another takes its place. Savour the movie in all its glory. A movie sure to garner cult in the coming years.


10. Haggada Kone (2014)

Minimal characters, set in a prison. A man is sentenced to death the next day. Monologues and conversations abundant. The culprit tries to justify each and every action throughout his life. As the movie unravels, the transformation of the protagonist gradually happens. In the end, you ponder: Who was the culprit? Who was the victim? Are we merely others’ consequences or product of our own choices? A scintillating movie lost in the tsunami of commercial movies.


9. Dweepa (2002)

An island submerging into the sea with increasingly heavy rains. Villagers decide to evacuate, except for head priest and his family. Respected by people, they struggle to relocate to a place where they could end up being nobody. The priest is a pessimist, failing to appreciate his own wife’s conviction. She is an embodiment of optimism and hope. A beacon in the changing times. The young son imagines and anticipates a fantasy utopia. A movie that encapsulates the best and worst of us, human beings.


8. Mata (2006)

Head priest of temple has suddenly resigned to go back to his wife and kids. It is a black comedy that revolves around temples in contemporary times. 6 apprentices representing myriad of human emotions are recruited such that one will occupy the religious hotbed of power. The debutant director helms his role well intricately threading controversial topic with satire. The climax surprises us and melancholy rules the heart.


7. Shanti (2005)

A movie which has just one actor! Baraguru Ramachandrappa, the director, shows all his experience making a movie which has a reporter aptly named Shanti (meaning peace) kidnapped by terrorists who are planning to bomb a UN convention. Telephonic conversations and monologues abundant, the movie is as good a technical achievement as it successfully portrays the futility of violence and the necessity of peace.


6. Aa Dinagalu (2007)

The plot revolves around a real-life couple living in the 1980s, when Bangalore is dominated by underworld. The film has its on commercial elements, but overall it is grounded in reality and depicts the harsh truth of a capital in 1980s is a cinematic treat. It is more of a time capsule than a drawn-out journey. Simple script, tightly executed screenplay and nostalgic background music are pretty add-ons.


5. Lucia (2013)

It can be safely said that Lucia heralded the beginning of new-wave cinema in Kannada film industry. Taking its inspiration from Limitless and Inception, it shows humble dreams of a superstar. With a convoluted screenplay twisting its way around, it is no surprise the native audience were left shell-shocked. Alternating between dreams and reality, it is a mind-numbing experience. The movie slingshot the actor, actress and director into the spotlight who have never looked back since. A great movie often does that.


4. Jogi (2005)

Since the release of Om in 90s, there has never been a movie that had a protagonist as a machete wielding goon. Maadesha is a naïve boy, attached to his mother, goes to Bangalore to earn so that he can gift bangles for his mother and ends up becoming Jogi. At the time, in 2005, this movie was path-breaking in every aspect. A murderer with a golden heart. A man who entered underworld so that his notoriety will help his mom find him. A heart-wrenching climax, earthly music and soulful lyrics.


3. Rangitaranga (2015)

A psychological movie with minimal loopholes. The movie lays its foundation in the first 80-90 minutes so that the third act seems a natural progression. Debutant director, newcomers in starring roles ably supported by veteran Saikumar heralded a movie that shattered all box-office records. With a running time of 149 minutes which breezes past as it holds you at the edge of your seats. A movie that restored hope in Sandalwood!


2. Mungaru Male (2006)

To state it is a romantic movie is an understatement. A movie that was never expected to create a buzz. A movie that barely had a plot. It was held together by quirky dialogues, self-sufficient acting and relatable dialogues. However, the main reason Mungaru Male occupied hearts was its soul-stirring lyrics which was on the lips of every guy on the street and its heavenly music. Kannada film industry’s greatest hit.


1. Godhi Banna Sadharna Mykattu (2016)

The best Kannada movie of the 21st century. The story starts with an IT guy who has kept his Alzheimer’s suffering father in a modern old-age home. On one of their forced monthly jaunts, his father goes missing. The plot then concentrates on the search of the old man. But don’t be fooled! This is a movie where the need for us, technogeeks, is to understand the emotions of previous generations. There is also an interesting separate plot that runs on the side only to merge later. It is a rare to watch a movie that brings you to tears and yet leaves you with a smile.

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