Kannada star Yash's KGF has set the box-office on fire. The two part film released to mostly positive reviews and has made Kannada cinema more visible than ever before. Yash, the film's hero, is among the big reasons for why KGF clicked with the audience.
In this chat with TNM, Yash speaks of his humble beginnings, how he ran away from home to become a movie star, and the success of KGF across the country. He also shares his plans for KGF 2, which he feels must be made on a grander scale.
Yash, tell us about your beginnings?
My dad Arun Kumar was a BMTC bus driver, a government employee. My real name is Naveen Kumar. My mother’s name is Pushpa, a housewife. We also had a provision store. I used to take care of it, buy all the vegetables, etc. We faced a lot of difficulties.
Initially, my parents were not happy with my decision to become an actor. My dad wanted me to be a government officer. I wanted to be an actor from my childhood when I would participate in a lot of dramas and dance competition. I got addicted to the applause and the whistles from when I was very young. I loved it! Even my teachers called me ‘Hero’ . I believed I was a hero. I thought I’d be a superstar the minute I got here (in Bengaluru). I lived in my own dream world. Even now I feel I am living in a dream.
You left your home to come to Bengaluru?
I ran off from my home. When I came to Bengaluru, I was scared the minute I reached. Such a big, intimidating city. But I was always a confident guy. I wasn’t scared to struggle. I had just 300 rupees in my pocket when I reached Bengaluru. I knew if I went back, my parents would never allow me to return here. My parents gave me an ultimatum. I was free to try my luck as an actor but after that, if it didn’t work out, I had to do what they asked me to.
And you took up the challenge?
They thought I’d come back. I began doing theatre. Someone luckily took me to do theatre. I knew nothing about it. I began making money backstage. Chai se lekar poora sab kuch (from bringing tea to everything)… Initially, I also assisted a director to enter the Kannada film industry. While I did theatre, I travelled a lot. My first appearance on stage was noticed.
Was it a long period of struggle?
No big struggle. Everything went smoothly. Then I got into television (though I didn’t want to) to start earning money. I shifted my parents to Bengaluru. Since then we all live together. My debut film Moggina Manasu got me a Filmfare Award. There were four heroes and four heroines and still I was noticed. In fact, my future wife Radhika was one of the heroines in that film. We started our careers together on television. Then we made our film debut at the same time. We were not seeing each other at that time. We were only friends.
When did you decide to marry one another?
We dated for about five years. I knew she was the one for me. We have practically grown up together. We were recently blessed with a baby girl. My baby is being made into news on many news channels. We find it hard to keep her out of the limelight.
Yash, did you expect KGF to become such a nationwide hit?
I can’t say I am surprised. Not really. When we were planning the project, we knew it had a universal appeal and that it would connect with people everywhere. The entire team worked really hard and I am so glad that it has worked.
But I am not allowing myself to get excited. I’d rather plan ahead than celebrate. I want to go beyond people’s expectations. To know that that they are clapping and cheering in Mumbai and Patna makes me believe there is magic in this world.
The downtrodden hero revolts against injustice is a theme that never fails?
(Laughs) I have to agree. It is a feeling inside all of us. We need to be treated with dignity. And a film like KGF gives the audience the sense of dignity that we all crave for.
The scale and budget of KGF replicate Baahubali. Would you agree?
No, KGF is not a byproduct of the Baahubali success. We wanted to do something big, something that would prove the Kannada film industry to be on par with cinema in the rest of the country. I never liked it when people discriminated against the Kannada film industry, as compared with the other south Indian industries. As a prominent and proud member of the Kannada film industry, I wanted to change the perception that we were a small industry.
And you have done that?
No industry is small. It is the people who work in it that make it big or small. We of the KGF team thought big, and why should we not have? I always knew a KGF was possible. We wanted to prove that we had the potential and resources. We had a terrific story idea, and I was lucky to get a fantastic director like Prashanth Neel and a producer like Vijay Kirangadur who is like my brother.
The entire team has worked really hard to make KGF special. I can’t alone take the credit.
Baahubali did to the Telugu film industry what KGF has done to the Kannada film industry?
We are definitely inspired by the passion of Rajamouli sir. He saw our rushes and showered generous praise on me and my film. I am thankful. He has inspired us for sure. He broke all linguistic barriers. After Baahubali, people started taking regional cinema seriously.
Yes, in the sense that we did look at their format eventually. Initially, we had no plans of dubbing KGF into non-Kannada languages. We wanted to put out only the Kannada version with English subtitles. But then we saw the Baahubali dubbing and thought of getting a wider audience. So we decided to dub in several languages.
Subtitles would have been better. Dubbing takes away from the flavour of the original?
But we were very careful with the dubbing. We spent a lot of time making sure it doesn’t look like a dubbed film. And the result is for all to see.
Audiences are not treating KGF as they treat my other dubbed films. We worked on each and every line to ensure the dubbing was flawless. We altered certain phrases and dialogues according to the culture. We had a writer each in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu to supervise the translation.
Your film has done better business nationwide than Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero?
I firmly believe it’s the content that works. See, I have an audience in Karnataka who will flock to see my releases. And yet I feel like a new actor every Friday. Because I know initially, every release is Yash’s film. After the weekend, it becomes the audiences’ film. And when people embrace a film, they own it and begin to promote the film like their own. I know people are calling and messaging to tell their friends to see KGF. I am very happy that in spite of being pitched against such a big film, we are doing well. Then we must have done something right.
You are known as the Rocking Star in Karnataka?
(Shyly) Yes they call me that. They have other names for me too. See, here in the south, they give such epithets to all the stars. We have a lot of fans association which coin these names and then these names go to the media. Producers also begin using these epithets for the stars. It’s the love of the fans. I respect it.
They also call me 'antamaa' which means ‘Bro’. It’s a term from my native village Mandya in Mysuru. They also call me ‘Rajahouli’, which is like ‘Sheron Ka Raja’(laughs modestly). Just like they call Shah Rukh ‘Badshah’ and ‘King Khan’.
Does this fan love put a lot of responsibility on you?
I am a responsible person by nature. But fan-love humbles me.
The film industry is notorious for nepotism. How did a humble boy from Mysuru make it?
No, I don’t think it is right to say only star children make it. It all depends on your own determination. There are self-made success stories all over the world and in every walk of life. And even star children come with their own problems, like fans’ over-expectation. So I can’t say it’s easy for them. To sustain your success you have to work really hard. And I believe one thing: it doesn’t matter where you come from or whose son you are as long as you can entertain the audience. If you have a connect with the masses, they will accept you. Otherwise nothing you do can help you become a success. It is what you bring to the screen that matters.
What makes you so popular with the masses?
I really don’t know. I know the audience's pulse. But I cannot define the reason. Probably they acknowledge my hard work. My life story, my journey from a village inspires them. A lot of people come and tell me, ‘Being a driver’s son you’ve come such a long way. You inspire me’. But I’ve to admit the audiences love me. Every time I come with a film they embrace it. ‘Dus rupaiye ka kaam aur hazaaron rupaiye ka inaam’. There are other actors who do better than work me. I am the blessed one.
How do you cope with your stardom?
It’s not like it happened overnight. Success came to me slowly. Gradually people started noticing me. Initially I had a tough time getting producers. Gradually people were convinced of my good work. I have seen failure. I have seen a lot of hardship even as a child. So I don’t take success too seriously. I know it won’t last forever. I know how people treat you when your are not successful.
When is KGF 2 coming out?
We have the script ready and with the success and response we had to the first part, we will make the second part even bigger. I am not taking the success of Part 2 for granted. We have to analyse each and every component.
Are you planning to turn producer?
I am like the producer on the set. I make sure no money is wasted. Producers are very happy with me. One producer has done five films with me and is ready to do another. Producers don’t want to leave me (laughs). I am happy about KGF. But I don’t want to celebrate. I don’t want to think about the success. That’s a waste of time. I want to thank my producer Vijay Kiragandur and director Prashanth Neel. They are the visionaries who believed in my dream.