A 33-year-old former engineer, Rakshit Shetty might have seemed like an unlikely candidate for storming Sandalwoodâ€™s star bastion. But with the critical reception for Ulidavaru Kandanthe and the massive critical and popular acclaim for Kirik Party, Rakshit is suddenly the man to watch out for in Kannada cinema. As actor, writer and director, he has set his stamp on Sandalwood in a way few others can boast of. In an exclusive chat with TNM, Rakshit Shetty opens up about cinema and his journey so far.
How did you get into films?
Growing up, I loved films and I always wanted to be an actor. Iâ€™d look at all the film magazines, talk about the actors in the colourful outfits in songs, and so on. But I never told any of my friends about this dream of mine because I was worried theyâ€™ll laugh at me. Post my engineering, I started making short films to get the hang of cinema. And that gave me the confidence.
A scene from Ulidavaru Kandanthe
In just your fourth film, Ulidavaru Kandanthe (2014), you not only wrote the script but also directed and acted in it.
Yes, I had written the script and thought someone else could play the role of Richie. But then I felt I could do justice to it because I understood what was required for the role as I had written it as well.
How easy was it to get a producer on board considering you werenâ€™t a big name at the time?
For me it was simple at the time because I had just finished Simple Agi Ondh Love Story (2013) with director Suni. That was his debut film as director too. We developed a great working relationship and when I told him about the Ulidavaru Kandanthe script, he said that he would produce it. Things fell into place.
Simple Aagi Ondh Love Story (2013)
Was Ulidavaru Kandanthe a turning point in your career?
The movie got a lot of critical acclaim but wasnâ€™t a blockbuster at the box office. I was very upset. It was a film that I think was ahead of its time for the Kannada audience. They had never seen a film like that. Many people didnâ€™t go to the theatre to see the film when it released but saw pirated copies of the film and reached out to me saying how good it was. Even now I get good feedback about the film.
Itâ€™s now being remade in Tamil as Richie, starring Nivin Pauly.
Once the film released, there were many people including actors who reached out to me about remaking it. I am glad Nivin Pauly is doing this film â€“ I think he will do justice to it. I think they wanted a good film to launch him in Tamil and Iâ€™m glad they chose this.
A scene from Kirik Party
As an actor, Kirik Party (2016) was a big commercial success for you. How did it come together?
In fact, I had written the first draft of Kirik Party before Ulidavaru Kandanthe. All my films had done average business but I hadnâ€™t had a blockbuster. I was keen on commercial success. Rishabh and I have been friends for a long time and he directed me in Richy.
When we decided to do Kirik Party, we said that we would it do it our way and make a film exactly the way we wanted to. We didnâ€™t want to go to an outside producer because of the negative experiences we had had. So, we produced it ourselves.
Kirik Party became the highest-grossing Kannada film in the overseas box office making Rs 4 crore. The Tamil film rights have been bought and so has Telugu. The Hindi rights for the film have been acquired by a big production house and will feature a Bollywood star. I canâ€™t divulge details at this point.
Donâ€™t you want to direct other actors as well?
I like to act in all the films that I write. But I will be directing a film with Sudeep. After Ulidavaru Kandanthe, he reached out to me saying that he would be interested if I had any scripts for him. That was a big moment for me. I do have a story in mind and I will work on it once I finish my current films.
Whatâ€™s your take on awards?
Well, it keeps changing. For Ulidavaru Kandanthe, I was told that it had won three National Awards. I was elated. Then three days later, I was told that the film had been disqualified because one of the jury members had been part of this film. It was very hurtful and disappointing. I didnâ€™t care for awards post that even though the film won many.
I was happy when I won awards for Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu and Kirik Party. But now again, I donâ€™t care much. (Smiles) I always want to win awards as an actor rather than as a director.
Godhi Banna Sadharna Mykattu
Acting, writing or direction â€“ whatâ€™s most important to you?
I came into the industry to become an actor and I want to be recognised as an actor. But being a writer is more satisfying and the appreciation you get means much more than what you get as an actor.
Filmmakers like you and Pawan Kumar are taking new age Kannada cinema to the world. Was that part of your agenda when you started out?
What is the point of remaking films from other languages into Kannada? Only the Kannada audience can appreciate them. Commercial/masala films are important as thereâ€™s an audience for them. But I also think thereâ€™s an audience for the other kind of cinema â€“ parallel cinema if you will â€“ and this has opened a new market for Kannada films over the last few years. Original content is key here. This is what people like Pawan and I are striving for now.
Whatâ€™s next for you?
I am writing and acting in a film that will go on the floors in July (Avane Srimannarayana) and then I am writing and directing a film for myself in 2018. It will be Sudeepâ€™s film post that.
In just six years youâ€™ve reached the top. Whatâ€™s your dream now?
(Laughs) I canâ€™t reveal that because I donâ€™t want people laughing at me. When it comes true, Iâ€™ll talk about it. Success comes to anyone who works hard â€“ you should just follow your dreams. I believe nothing is impossible as everything has been achieved by human beings just like us. But I knew Iâ€™d be among the top five filmmakers in the industry at some point â€“ it was just the timeline that I wasnâ€™t sure of.