Raam Reddy’s Thithi packs into just over two hours a miniseries’s worth of conflict and character detail that considers the bubbling familial turmoil of a group of males in the Indian state of Karnataka. The film opens on Century Gowda (Singri Gowda), an elderly man sitting on a stoop and griping as local townsfolk stroll by. Immediately, Reddy establishes his interest in contemplating the character of men like Gowda, whose incessant chatter registers as equally charming and grating. Reddy’s camera studies the man at a distance, with a droll objectivity that imparts the director’s intent to give him space to breath as a human being rather than a punchline. As such, certain scenes arguably go on longer than necessary, but they provide textured contributions to the film’s depiction of the setting’s cultural tapestry.
Reddy’s sense of dark humor is apparent from the opening scene, as Gowda unexpectedly drops dead, undercutting expectations that he’ll remain the narrative’s central focus. Subsequently, the film turns to the elder man’s living family members (a son, grandson, and great-grandson), who are responsible for planning Gowda’s “thithi,” a funeral-cum-celebration that’s to take place 11 days after his death. Gowda’s possession of a swath of land obsesses his grandson, Thamanna (Thammegowda S.), since he needs it to pay off a significant debt. Unfortunately for him, the land rightfully belongs to Gowda’s son, Gadappa (Channegowda), an aloof and disinterested free spirit who’s often seen wandering the lands around his home.
Much to his family’s confusion, Gadappa abruptly announces that he wants to live among a group of roaming sheep herders in an adjacent village. The filmmakers position Gadappa as something of a loon, but also a kindhearted man capable of recognizing his own, distant son’s obsession with wealth. In that sense, Thithi frequently slips into a more conventional morality play, but it’s Reddy’s sure directorial hand and adept pacing with idiosyncratic character behaviors that keeps the film from bogging down into a series of spiels about lessons learned. In fact, Reddy seems to recognize that a lesson takes years, sometimes decades, to fully grasp.
That sense of patience plays well given Reddy’s focus on procedure and detail, as Thamanna works around the clock leading up to the day of the thithi to trick Gadappa into signing a bill to pass down the land; when those plans are thwarted, Thamanna concocts a plan to forge the documents necessary to place the land in his own possession. Like the best filmmakers dealing with complex family ties, Reddy often lets tensions emerge only in glimpses and rarely has characters ramble on about expositional matters. In one of the film’s finest gestures, Abhi (Abishek H.N.), the great-grandson, charms a local sheepherder through short, precise scenes that never materialize as a proper subplot. Abhi offers little commentary on the matter of the inherited land; instead, he’s consumed by more youthful activities, which Reddy treats with an appropriately affectionate eye by not forcing the youngest heir into the film’s greater conflicts.
A climactic confrontation between Thamanna and Gadappa culminates with perhaps too easy a reconciliation given their vastly differing perspectives, but considering the film concludes as a comedy rather than a tragedy, the unification of family seems appropriate enough. Moreover, Reddy disperses so much location detail throughout, whether in wide-angle shots of the surrounding village or a focus on background faces, that the lack of a more complex resolution to the story’s conflicts seems less of an offence. Thithi’s exploration of familial divide doesn’t quite strive for philosophical proclamations regarding each man’s placement within the state’s greater patriarchal order, but the film nevertheless possesses the spirit of Yasujirō Ozu for its deft-handed emphasis on a changing domestic space within the larger processes of state and national-level reformation.