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Kannada film-maker Pawan Kumar’s second movie is directed like it’s his last. Packed into Lucia (which has been released with subtitles) is a tribute to the charms of the single screen movie theatre, a commentary on changing Bangalore, a spoof of mainstream film-making tropes, a mind-bender about the thin line between reality and imagination, an exploration of language politics, a prescription for saving Kannada cinema, and a showcase of leading man Sathish Neenasam’s acting skills.

With so many ideas battling for attention at any given point during the 135-minute running time, it’s hardly surprising that Lucia collapses under the weight of its ambitions, but not before rolling out engaging characters, relatable dialogue, quirky humour and evocative locations in and around Bangalore.

It begins with police officers and a mysterious private detective on the trail of drug peddlers. There’s a man lying comatose on a hospital bed; cut to our good-natured Everyman hero, single-screen cinema usher Nikhil (Neenasam), who has trouble sleeping, and who starts popping a “dream pill" named Lucia that allows him to escape into a parallel universe in which he is a Kannada movie star. Nikhil is in love with pizza outlet employee Swetha (Sruthi Hariharan), just as matinee idol Nikhil pines for fellow actor Shwetha (also played by Hariharan). The pill is supposed to impart lucidity, but it actually engenders confusion. The worlds of the hero and the common man run parallel for the most part and eventually collide, leading to more furious inter-cutting and switching between dream and nightmare. Every gesture is acted out, every plot point is explained, and every major character has a back story. Some might see this as evolved writing; others will only be exhausted at the vastness of Nikhil’s experiences.

Lost within the contradictions between a furious set of events and a laidback approach to storytelling is a simple story about a movie fan who wants to be a star and a star who wants the simple life of a movie fan. Kumar correctly suggests that neither experience is as uncomplicated as it appears, but then he has the rest of the stuff to deal with—the dream pill business, the single-screen cinema that has to be saved from creditors, the police and detective who pop up every now and then. He declares his love for mass-oriented cinema by celebrating the charms of the single screen (its owner is named Shankaranna, presumably a tribute to the late Kannada star Shankar Nag) and affectionately lampoons popular film-making elements (an item song spoof is especially well done). But he also ends up replicating the plot contrivances that mar the mass movie, and imports wholesale its conservative depiction of women as ungrateful and opportunistic. It’s a pity, because there are several lovely moments in Lucia and much fun to be had while ducking the falling rubble.

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