Hemanth Rao, the director of the Anant Nag-Rakshit Shetty starrer Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, is among the rare breed of filmmakers to have earned a cult following with his very first film.
A whole lot of film spectators who weren't keen on watching Kannada films at the theatres made a beeline to watch his debut, which largely relied on word-of-mouth among filmgoers for its success. The film, a poignant reflection of the changing dynamics in the equation between children and ageing parents in a fast-paced world, asserted his capabilities as a writer-director.
Then came the Hindi-film Andhadhun, a runaway success for which Hemanth was a screen-writer. And he returns to home-base again with his second directorial Kavaludaari, a crime thriller that stars Rishi and Anant Nag in key roles. The director offers us a glimpse of his latest outing.
Both your films Andhadhun, and Godhi Banna have been a rage with audiences. Do the huge expectations put more pressure on you as a filmmaker with Kavaludaari?
I make it a point to disconnect with any film after it releases. I did it with Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu and focused on the next project right away. My philosophy, as difficult as it seems, has been to treat my current project like it's my first and last film. I always keep myself in check.
With regard to expectations from outside, it doesn't affect me. I'll be probably able to sell only five shows of my film if it has to run on my merit alone. However, for a wider audience and the shelf-life of the content, it's important to make the film as kickass as possible. Rather than succumbing to pressure from outside, I set a high standard for myself and my work ethics. I'm a big believer in the work process. You need to enjoy your work to the maximum, despite knowing the result is not in our hands.
In terms of content, Andhadhun (thriller), Godhi Banna (family drama) and Kavaludaari (cop drama) are as different as chalk and cheese. Was it intentional?
Godhi Banna was a story closer home because it was a very emotional film. I want to explore all kinds of storytelling. For me, that's my definition as a storyteller. I don't want to get comfortable in one zone. Once I did Godhi Banna I got a couple of offers to do another family film. I felt I had already explored that space and didn't want to repeat myself. I don't want to be called a one-hit wonder.
Kavaludaari holds merit as a film also because it's actor Puneeth Rajkumar's first home-production too. Tell us about the rapport you share with him.
I genuinely feel Puneeth Rajkumar sir producing Kavaludaari under his home banner is the best thing that could have happened to my career after Godhi Banna. His vision for Kannada cinema is huge and he has great ideas about the films he wants to produce. He happens to be an avid lover of world cinema and we even used to exchange hard disks of our favourite movies for a long time. He entrusting me to kickstart his production house is a big honour for me and it's a big responsibility. I need to make sure what we put out is a quality product. If I do well, Puneeth sir will produce five such films with new age filmmakers.
The premise of Kavaludaari, about two cops investigating an old case where their character is put to test, seems one with a universal appeal. Did you ever think of making it for a wider audience (say Hindi)?
I would love to explore a Hindi film at some point in my career for sure. But for me, my nativity, the place where I come from is central to the stories that I tell. Iâ€™m keen on adapting the middle-class sensibilities of our society to my stories.
The kind of writing that interests me is picking something I see every day. I see police officers every day and I know how the society treats them. It's a very thankless job in many ways. In regular films, we see them kick and kill people, but otherwise, they have their own share of hardships and some are even called â€˜mamaâ€™ (which means â€˜pimpâ€™). They are very underpaid for the duty they do. I'm not giving a hunky dory image of their profile but I'm saying it's a very difficult job. We need to look at ourselves and treat them better. Kavaludaari has a universal appeal because the situation is the same across the country.
Starting from the title (Kavaludaari-meaning crossroads), the promos have hinted at a film that's metaphorical in nature. Two cops who're young and old, who need to choose between truth and lies, and are unsure about their resolve. Was it on purpose?
Certainly. I have added a lot of layers in the film, but the metaphors are only for the people who want to see it. Only five percent of the audience may connect to the film at a metaphorical level. 95% of them will just want to go to the theatres and enjoy the film. My biggest inspiration is Charlie Chaplin because he made films for everybody, regardless of crowds in South Africa or North Korea. For me, that is the power of cinema, I make it accessible for everybody and also weave in metaphors, political commentary, play around with the title, use shadow play, mirrors, and reflections. For those who want to observe, it is out there for them to see. Even if you don't, it's still okay, I did it for my fun.
Andhadhun, Kavaludaari, and Godhi Banna are essentially films on the move, where a lot of activity in the plot happens on the road. Is movement an intrinsic quality to your writing?
I feel it's my reaction to seeing a lot of monotony. Sometimes, the movement is required when the plot is progressing. Two characters sitting and talking in a film sometimes kills the momentum. It works better when they are in movement, going to a place. That makes the process of discovering a character's path interesting.
I have grown up watching films where the sequence is very important and the characters are merely sitting amid a lush green backdrop and are having a conversation. And I'm like, this does not make sense. I think this characteristic of my films is an over-reaction to that.
Veteran actor Anant Nag has been the go-to protagonist in both of your films. It seems like you've rediscovered his capabilities as an actor and tapped an unexplored side to him.
I feel it's sad and a travesty that an actor of his calibre needs to be rediscovered. The world has produced only a handful of actors of his calibre, he's right up there. The biggest advantage of working with Anant sir is that I've got to know, how far I can push him as an actor. There were a lot of scenes in Kavaludaari where adding a dialogue would have made matters simpler but I didn't, because of my trust in his abilities.
After my experience with him in Godhi Banna, I knew what he could bring to a scene, merely by his presence, eyes, intonation, hand movement or body language. He has a knack of communicating with the audiences sans words. With our mutual understanding, he had always told me to not stay in the comfort zone. There's a lot of swagger to his personality in Kavaludaari.
Do you feel Kannada audiences are more accepting than ever before in their film-watching choices?
I actually feel the audience is ahead of us, it's us filmmakers who are playing the catch-up game. Kannada audiences are unique because of many reasons. We are extremely multi-cultural, the audiences here are exposed to all the latest Telugu, Tamil, Punjabi, Malayalam and Marathi films. They are really evolved in terms of taste.
Even if God forbid, Kavaludaari doesn't work, I would be the first one to admit that I didn't do something right and won't blame it on the audience. Kannada audiences have shown that they are very welcoming to try out new stuff. The slightest hint that they get about a good film, they come in droves. It is the responsibility of the filmmaker that the audience turns up at the theatres. And when they do, I make good use of their time.
There's hardly a gap of a few weeks between film releases in theatres and on digital platforms these days. Is it a bigger challenge for a filmmaker now to make his film click at the theatres?
Making a film for a theatre audience is a case of a snake eating its own tail. It's an expensive art-form. When you do straight-for-platform content, it fills you with joy as a filmmaker and you suddenly don't have any shackles.
Having grown up watching films in theatres, seeing films run for 50 and 100 days with several houseful boards, which filmmaker wouldn't want that? No filmmaker would ever want his audience to sit and watch his film at home. The theatre experience is something that no digital platform can challenge. I hope there is a better balance, a film getting a fair run at theatres for like 30/40 days and then making it accessible on the internet to a wider diaspora of audiences. Yet I maintain that the equilibrium between theatres and digital platforms is good for cinema and content in general.
So you think, a better focus is required on marketing a film? The audiences get a glimpse of any regional film only before a week these days.
With Kavaludaari, I was clear that I wanted to put the trailer out only 10 days before the release. The kind of film that it is, you instinctively know that the film needs to be marketed in the last 10 days. It's a film where I can't reveal too much over a period of time. With Godhi Banna, I was able to market the film 45 days prior to its release. The content decides the strategies. Film marketing can't be generalised and is central to the nature of the film.
Watch the film's teaser here: