Movie Review: Ondanondu Kaladalli

Movie Poster of Ondanondu Kaaladalli: Courtesy promised, here’s my review of Shankar Nag’s debut movie. Apart from paving the way for Shankar’s trailblazing career as both actor and director par excellence, this film has in its own small way, retained a cult-like reputation. A one-of-a-kind film in Kannada cinema, almost no other Kannada film has managed to achieve its class in terms of script and narration. I can only recall two miserable failures that attempted this kind of cinematic storytelling: Bharjari Bete and Gandabherunda. The latter was a pathetic inspiration of Mckenna’s Gold.

Directed by Girish Karnad, Ondanondu Kaladalli (trans: Once upon a Time) is clearly inspired by Kurosawa. It is a simplistic tale of two warring Nayaka tribes in Karnataka. Shankar Nag essays Gandugali, the young warrior pitted against Permadi, played by the excellent (late) Sunder Krishna Urs. Ondanondu… is stylish, fast-paced and moving, all at the same time.

As the film unfolds, we’re told to the tale of two warring brothers who have murdered their elder brother, and divided his kingdom equally between themselves. As is compulsory, each brother now wants the whole kingdom for himself, and appoint mercenaries to that end. They fight regularly, on appointed days but none of these battles reach any decisive outcome.

All that changes when Gandugali break rules and herds off the Permadi’s cattle. This sets the tone for much of the subsequent fighting. Gandugali is shown as a kind-hearted mercenary who refuses to kill a humiliated Permadi. As the film progresses, both Gandugali and Permadi are double-crossed by their respective masters. They get together, much in the same way as Talienkov and Scofield in The Matarese Circle and kill the feudal chiefs.

Below the surface simplicity, the film scores in depicting the principal characters of Shankar Nag and Sunder Krishna Urs, better known for his chilling portrayal of villainy in later films, notably in Antha. The duo is shown as a welcome departure from the principles of brute force and winner-is-always-right, when they restore the kingdom to the son of the slain king, the rightful heir.

This movie catapulted Shankar Nag straight into mainstream Kannada cinema, which he ruled in his own way for about two decades. It also won him a national award, a mere byproduct of his performance. His Kannada accent in the movie is hard to imitate, is almost flawless, and doesn’t come across as learned. He doesn’t score too high on acting but makes up for it with energy. The countless combat scenes are any viewers’ delight, and some sources say the film is one of the first (if not the first) to show Kalaripayttu on screen.

Ondanondu… remains a favourite among millions of Kannada film watchers and Shankar Nag fans. In one stroke, it gifted Shankar Nag to Indian cinema and gave us something to savour repeatedly. You can watch it several times without getting bored, or enough of it. Like Sholay.

Cross-posted on Desicritics.

12 comments for “Movie Review: Ondanondu Kaladalli

  1. Maj Punjab Singh
    January 28, 2014 at 3:35 PM

    I saw this movie in 1978 at age 17,when I was acadet at National Def Academy.I always wanted to see it again but in my search for it always misspelt it as ONDALULU Kalawadi.It is today 27 Jan that finally i could hunt it.Now I want somebody from Bengaluru to send me DVD– Maj Punjab Singh

  2. Vinod Gowda
    September 9, 2009 at 8:37 PM

    I watched this movie when I was a med student in Mysore- Dasara film festivals. Now I have been in UK for 12 years and one of the few films I still remember.

    On par with excellent “oru vadakkan veeragatha” and so many similarities to Kurosawa, especially seven samurai. Outstanding script, direction and cinematogarphy. I wish I could get the DVD! Should keep temptations music in mind on my next visit to Bangalore.

  3. April 28, 2009 at 8:12 PM

    Great Movie….I watched this movie last month after reading this review…and was floored…..I watched it in a VCD belonging to my friend…..and then as the quality was not good, i was searching for the DVD
    I got the DVD of this movie last week in Temptations music….branches are in Brigade Road, Indiranagar, Malleswaram…..

    Nice review Sandeep…..

  4. Vijaya Kumar
    March 17, 2009 at 8:48 AM

    This is one of the best movies I have seen as a young kid, when I used to watch these movie in DD, The actors have given their very best in the movie. Kudos to the director. I am searching for a CD of the movies if any of u know where we get them please do inform me.

  5. Nachiketh
    January 17, 2009 at 8:16 PM

    Hi.!! I got up this morning and thought about the films my grandfather produced. I was wondering if anyone still remembers these movies. It was a pleasure reading this review about Ondanondu Kaladalli and fact that it is still appreciated by people now. Personally this movie my grandfather produced is one my favourites…!!

  6. naveen kp
    August 15, 2008 at 4:43 PM

    pliz send me the shankarnag large picture

  7. Pandurang
    March 22, 2008 at 4:56 AM

    Hi, read your review with great interest. how can I obtain a copy of this classic. thanks

  8. Vasanth
    January 30, 2008 at 4:32 AM

    Hi Sandeep,

    Excellent review, I loved this movie when it was aired on Doordarshan, the only source of watching good movies in th 80’s. I have been searching for a copy of this movie for the last few days, any idea where I can get one.

    I know the orginal movie is in kannada, but is there a Hindi version ?

  9. July 1, 2007 at 3:24 AM

    Sandeep, well written review. Any idea where one can find the dvd or vcd for this movie?

  10. Sandeep
    December 21, 2006 at 12:59 PM


    Thanks. That was Beladingala Baale. Thanks, I’ll post a review of it soon.

  11. Prasad
    December 21, 2006 at 11:00 AM

    thats good news and welcome change.

    off topic: there was a movie starring anant nag as a chess player. Remember watching in DD national on a sunday morning. Can you also review it ? thanks

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