When the mind has become accustomed to aggressive provocation, subtleties become harder to appreciate. These days I barely register stories unless they hit me over the head with outrage, camp, cynicism, disparagement or at least one horrific animal rights violation. It’s probably why I nodded off twice in the first half hour of director Raam Reddy’s gentle Thithi and have been feeling like a heathen since.
The Kannada film opens in the village of Mandya in Karnataka, on an adorably grouchy centenarian shouting insults at passersby, as a goat looks on. A little later, he keels over and dies. In the ritual 11 days it takes to prepare for his final rites, we’re allowed, with a light hand and great respect, into the lives of three generations of his descendants and a close-knit–to the point of suffocation–rural community.
I won’t say much more about the plot’s details; only that it is unhurried and doesn’t burden itself with making a point. No teaching moments for Reddy and writer Ere Gowda; they pick truthfulness over righteousness every time. So like in life itself, comeuppance is not guaranteed for those who wrong us, the kindness of strangers is restorative, our deepest hurts are only ours to endure, and time keeps moving on whether we’re ready to or not.
This disarming honesty is what makes the three central characters–the dead man’s son, grandson and great-grandson–so alive and authentic. They’re all somewhat good men who make bad choices, nurse big secrets and are split between duty and self-actualisation. And while the two younger men still grit their teeth and punch back at their lot, Gadappa the beatific grandpa knows better. He chooses whiskey-soaked days spent briskly walking in no direction at all, and beams through any attempts to entangle him in everyday respectability. I can’t think of a character that has made me want to weep and chortle quite this way. I want to be him when I grow up.
Thithi is being called a comedy and it is, in the way that reality can often feel like one giant joke. Reddy’s decision to cast non-actors was inspired, Ere Gowda’s screenplay teases out the many absurdities of ordinary life, and Doron Tempert’s cinematography is invisible, in the best way possible. The film has been wending its way across the festival circuit since last year, shoring up the critical acclaim it so richly deserves.
I’m going back to watch it and this time, I’m going to be wide awake.