TNM caught up with ‘Gandhada Gudi’ director Amoghavarsha to discuss the making of the docu drama, his experience travelling and shooting with the late star Puneeth Rajkumar, the response to the film in theatres and more.

Filmmaker Amoghavarsha and late Kannada star Puneeth RajkumarAmoghavarsha
Flix Sandalwood Tuesday, November 01, 2022 - 15:12

The release of Gandhada Gudi has been bittersweet for wildlife filmmaker and director Amoghavarsha and his team for a number of reasons, understandably so. It is perhaps for the first time that a docu drama has opened to packed cinema halls on the day of its release. Fans had welcomed the film with placement of cutouts outside theatres. Gandhada Gudi’s team is happy that they have accomplished what they had set out to do. But like legions of the late star’s fans, the makers of the film too have not yet been able to come to terms with the loss of Sandalwood star Puneeth Rajkumar.

Gandhada Gudi, the docu drama which features the late star experiencing Karnataka’s wilderness, travelling across the forests and exploring the underwater flora and fauna, marks his last silver screen outing. Dubbed as his passion project, the film is bankrolled by PRK Productions, the home banner of Puneeth and his wife Ashwini Rajkumar.

Interestingly, the wildlife documentary is inspired from matinee idol Dr Rajkumar’s 1973 film of the same name, which was one of the first mainstream films in the country based on the themes of wildlife conservation and protection of forests. Following its successful run, a sequel featuring his son, actor Shiva Rajkumar hit the big screens in 1994. Shortly after the release of Gandhada Gudi (GG) in theatres on October 28, TNM caught up with its director Amoghavarsha to discuss the making of the docu drama, his experience travelling and shooting with Puneeth, the response to the film in theatres and more.

When and how did the collaboration between Puneeth and you take shape?

It took shape in a very organic manner. We had met a couple of times. He was very keen to explore, and I had taken him around to show the kind of places I had been shooting in. He said he wanted to shoot something interesting and experimental. We started discussing the project in 2020. We also went for the shoot the same year.

If you watch the film, you will be able to see that we had a very nice and relaxed equation. He did not make me feel like I was in the presence of a star. That is the biggest reason behind us being able to achieve whatever we set out to do. He is a very light hearted person to be around, and that comes across on screen as well. In fact, there was very little direction. What he has said on screen and the way he has said it are all very natural. Half of the time, we were not even aware that the camera was rolling. There were a lot of candid moments.


Filmmaker Amoghavarsha and late actor Puneeth Rajkumar

GG marks Puneeth’s last silver screen appearance. What has the response been like post the theatre release?

When we both set out to do this, the aim was to share the amazing natural wealth and brilliant cultural landscape that makes Karnataka so rich. That’s what we wanted to showcase. We really wanted a lot of kids and the upcoming generations to watch the film, and take pride in [Karnataka’s wildlife]. Looking at the response, I think that has been achieved.

I was in the theatres yesterday (Sunday, October 30) and I have not seen so many kids come to watch other films in cinema halls. People have felt a lot of grief since [Puneeth] left. I remember him as a happy and joyful person. That is my memory of him. When I think of him, I have a smile on my face. I felt I had to share that Appu with the people. A lot of people who watched the film told me that they felt relieved. They said watching GG made them feel like Puneeth was with them. That was very heartwarming to hear.

Be it for the people who were part of the project, or the film itself, what has changed after Puneeth’s death?

Ashwini (Puneeth’s wife, who is also the producer of GG) has been part of the process from day one. After Puneeth’s loss, she has been a great pillar of support. She made sure that we did not miss anything when it came to implementing the vision we had for the film.

We have not made a lot of changes either. What we filmed has been shown. We are, of course, sensitive to the fact that he is not with us anymore. But we have tried our best to bring his dream to life and do justice to that. The final version is close to the first rough cut that he had seen.

GG tracks two people who have set out on an exploration. What kind of roadmap did you have when you began the project? How much of the film was scripted?

We had a story arc, a structure, and the places we are going to shoot at in mind. But what we said and encountered — those are things that were not and could not have been scripted. You can have a plan. But with this kind of film, a lot of things happen spontaneously.

Watch the trailer of Gandhada Gudi here: 

Your previous projects (Wild Karnataka, Jaya Hai Kannada Thaye etc) have also covered Karnataka’s wildlife extensively. How is GG different?

For me, the most important factor is that GG has chosen a very different way to show wildlife, as opposed to Wild Karnataka which was purely focused on natural history. Besides, the audiences are more connected to GG emotionally, because they see Appu and the journey of a true hero. There are many sub layers to the film. I was on a quest to understand and show what it means to be a hero who is loved by so many people.

Even in terms of the format, it has got chit chat and music, which are all common tropes of commercial cinema. The difference here is that it is unscripted.

Could you tell us a bit about the film’s music by Ajaneesh Loknath and cinematography by Pratheek Shetty?

Audio plays an important role in making people feel the same way as we felt while travelling in the forests. We have tried to capture atmospheric sounds because we want the audience to relive our experience. Ajaneesh too said that it is a new format of music he has done for the film. He had access to the sounds we had captured while shooting. I told him that when we show a waterfall, we also want the audience to hear it musically. After watching the film, people said they felt like they had just travelled with Appu. This was possible only because of how immersive the music and cinematography was.

Does GG take inspiration from the earlier films of Dr Rajkumar and Shivarajkumar? Are there similarities between the three films?

Those films have been an inspiration for all of us. That is pretty much how we got access to the concept of wildlife, or started understanding what it meant. They were the core building block of my understanding of our land. We have definitely taken inspiration from them and have paid tribute to them in GG. We have also used takeaways from the technology and the storytelling employed in the earlier films, and we have tried to employ it here in a manner that the current generation would like and appreciate.

READ: Puneeth Rajkumar and his lasting legacy in Kannada cinema

Your previous project Wild Karnataka was shot in 4K Ultra HD and saw the use of drones and low-light cameras. Hidden camera traps were used to shoot River Terns of Bhadra. What were the kinds of tech and equipment used for GG?

We have used about 15 different types of cameras for GG. Technology has advanced quite a bit since my last film came out, whether it be drones, underwater cameras or high speed cameras. We have made use of new equipment when we needed some scenes to be shot in a specific way. Using ‘tech for tech’s sake’ is not the approach we have taken. For instance, during the rain sequences in the film, we wanted the water droplets to be captured up close. Those scenes were filmed using a camera that was only made available in India a couple of years ago.

Did you find it difficult to obtain permissions for the shoot from the Forest Department?

I would not say that it was easy or difficult. It is more about making them understand what we are doing, the reasons and the cause behind it. It is more about following the rules and regulations of the forests, and ensuring proper safety measures.

Wild Karnataka was criticised by a section of experts for not focusing enough on conservation and the effort taken by local communities (forest dwellers and tribes) towards wildlife conservation and restoration. What are your thoughts on the criticism? Does GG address this?

We don’t tell an artist what to paint. I have never said that my films are majorly or solely focusing on conservation. I have made films to share the beauty of wildlife, and get people to take pride in it. As filmmakers, we are free to make the kind of film we want to make. My response to the criticism is that, if they want to make a certain kind of film, they should make their own films. For example, Kantara is a brilliant film. There is also KGF, which is another brilliant film. They are watched for different reasons and were made with different purposes in mind. In our country, artistes and filmmakers should have the freedom to express and make the films that they like to do.

Wild Karnataka was a different format of cinema. It was more informative and educational. GG is very unique and special to me. Because as per my limited knowledge of cinema, it is for the first time that a film of this scale has sent across the message of conservation in a concise and instant manner. My previous projects were inspired from a lot of natural history films, but they were also made keeping our audiences in mind. GG feels like the next step in my journey. We all evolve as filmmakers and content creators, and all of those learnings have come into play here.

Did the team study the behavioural patterns of the wildlife shown in the film before the shoot?

It has happened both ways. We have gone to certain places and filmed because we knew of the behavioural patterns of the wildlife there as per prior research. But it happens the other way around as well. Sometimes you watch a film and see the wildlife exhibit a certain behaviour, which in turn becomes the subject of research.

READ: Gandhada Gudi review: Puneeth Rajkumar’s final outing is heartening and emotional

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