From supplying water cans to acting in 'Bell Bottom': Rishab Shetty speaks to TNM

Kannada actor-director Rishab Shetty speaks about his hit film 'Bell Bottom', his equation with Rakshith Shetty, and how he got into the cinema industry without any godfathers.
From supplying water cans to acting in 'Bell Bottom': Rishab Shetty speaks to TNM
From supplying water cans to acting in 'Bell Bottom': Rishab Shetty speaks to TNM

Anyone who has spoken to a person from the coastal part of Karnataka will know that the dialect and their enthusiasm are infectious. Conversation with director Rishab Shetty is one such infectious exchange.

The recently released film Bell Bottom starring Rishab in the lead has received positive reviews from critics and audiences alike. In this conversation with TNM, he speaks about his roots, his entry into the glam world of cinema, his relationship with Rakshith Shetty and more.

As a director is it easy to be an actor under another director?

I switched off my director mode in Bell Bottom. I didn’t want to be an interference or hindrance to the director’s product. I did give inputs during the discussion phase but I’m not someone who likes to alter something on spot. You must improvise on spot but not completely change anything. Even during post-production, my suggestions kept pouring and we had a healthy discussion on each input. 

At this point, director Jayatheertha segregated tasks and asked me to handle the promotion materials while he took care of the post-production of the film. I was the one who spearheaded the photoshoot and also it was me who cut the trailer for the film. To establish the period of the film, we used Harikathe as the base to carry the trailer forward. It has been a good creative journey! My next is Nathuram which is being directed by Vinu Balanja. I will continue to work for other directors too. 

Where did your interest in filmmaking start?

I’m from Keradi village of Kundapur taluk. Even as a kid, I was very interested in movies. I watched every movie that was played on TV irrespective of its language. Especially, Dr. Rajkumar’s films completely captured me. Like any kid who is crazy about films, I started to imitate the actors from the movies I watched and I naturally became the entertainer in my neighborhood.

The only two things that used to interest me were films and cricket. To be honest, the two things that attracted people’s attention. I was someone who constantly yearned for attention and I was very stern on making a career in either one of these fields.

Do you remember the first time you used makeup?

Absolutely. I was in my 6th grade when I stepped on to the stage for a Yakshagana performance. I played the role of Lord Subramanya who is also called as Shanmuga. I still remember how some friends of mine teased me by calling me “Sannu Mukha” (Small face). Keeping that aside, I did receive a lot of appreciation for my performance and I continued to be part of that troop until my 12th grade. This also opened doors to other cultural programmes like school competitions and fests.

What brought you to Bengaluru?

During my middle school days, I was subjected to a lot of bullying as I was not physically a very strong or intimidating boy. To avoid this, I started to go to a school in another town so that I could establish a new identity for myself and I was successful in doing so. By the time I was in PUC, I was the typical “angry young man” who constantly picked up fights with even my seniors from the degree college.

Looking at all this, my dad decided that I definitely need to be relocated to a different place before I start getting involved in serious brawls. Thus, I joined here in Bengaluru and a lot changed after that.

How were the initial days in Bengaluru?

I was very disappointed that there was nobody who could fight with me here! I started to channelise my physical potential and started my stint with wrestling and judo. This made me very positive and also gave me a new shade as a person. I did have a lot of language issues as I had trouble with English but what did not stop was me making friends wherever I go. I was the hands-down entertainer of the squad.

One main reason why I didn’t resist my dad’s decision to relocate me was my love for films. I equated my migration to Bengaluru to me getting a step closer to entering films. Those were the times when Uppi sir had made a mark in the industry through his films like A and Upendra. He was also from the same part of Karnataka as I am, which gave me a sense of reassurance that even I could make it in the industry in a big way.

I joined the college’s drama team. I met a lot of interesting people there and my immature interest in films and acting attained some level of maturity. I was becoming a popular person in the college and everybody encouraged me to try my luck with films. However, I had no contacts in the industry and I kept in touch only through the media. I made sure I was up to date with all the cinema news and watched all the interviews with technicians and stars.

Jaggesh sir, in one of his interviews, had mentioned how he joined as an assistant director and convinced directors to give him small roles before he got his big break as a hero. This really left a spark in my head.

What made you enroll for a diploma in filmmaking?

By the time I completed my graduation, I had saved some money from a few small businesses that I did during my college days. I also remembered Jaggesh sir’s interview and wanted to try the same route. One of my businesses was to supply mineral water cans. One random day, I was asked to supply water cans for an event in Malleshwaram, Bengaluru. The event was nothing but the inauguration of a film school and I enquired about all the course details immediately. It was a coincidence that I was sent there and that very day I joined the course.

Then how did the clapboard find its way to you?

As soon as I completed my diploma, I met Mr MD Prakash who is a stunt master in the Kannada film industry. I knew him from before and wanted to seek help to enter the industry. He helped me with Ms Indumathy’s contactis, she is director AMR Ramesh’s wife. I was asked to come over for a meeting and I discovered that all pre-production work and a full-fledged team had already been set up for the film Cyanide. I still managed to enter the team as the last assistant and thus the clapboard found its way to me. By the time we completed the film, I was the only assistant left. For different reasons, all the assistants and the co-director quit and that film taught me almost everything from a direction team’s point of view.

So did the urge to be an actor take the backseat?

Actually, after Cyanide, I again started to try my luck with acting. There were around 6 to 7 films that I got selected to be the hero but none of the films took off. They used to say that they will make the official announcement in 10 or 15 days but it never happened. In 2008, one of my friends wanted me to direct a film for him in which he wanted to debut as an actor. That’s when I started scripting the story of Ricky. But at that time, that project never happened. Whenever I got some time I kept writing that script and readied many versions.

Meeting Rakshith Shetty must have been a memorable moment. How did that happen?

After an extended period of not-so-good days, I was financially under crisis. I called actor Usha Bandari who was very close to me. I asked Usha akka if she could help me in becoming an associate director for TV serials as I had heard that I could earn around Rs 500 per day if I worked there. She immediately helped me and I started off my journey behind the small screen. I joined Arvind Kaushik’s team and one fine day I met Rakshith Shetty in the sets. He had come there as Arvind and he had just finished one schedule of Nam Areal Ondina.

My actual name was Prashanth Shetty and during the days I was struggling to get a film as an actor; one of my friends decided to find another name for me based on numerology that would favor my luck in the industry. He gave me the name ‘Rishab Shetty’ and Rakshith was the first person whom I introduced myself to using the new name. Thinking about it now, I do think that the luck has worked with the name.

What is life like after meeting Rakshith Shetty?

I initially regarded him as yet another rich kid with a dream to be a hero and that he was privileged enough to have his brother produce films for him. I am not surprised by these thoughts now as that is how a person struggling to get a break in the industry will look at any slightly privileged person. But after I watched Tughlaq, my opinion changed big time. I discovered Rakshith’s dedication and sincerity towards the craft.

We became really good friends and I was one person who stood by him in spite of his film, Tughlaq on which he had bet all his hopes, bombing at the box office. Rakshith almost teared up after the reception he saw his film get. Almost immediately, during one of our bike rides together, I narrated the story of Ricky to him. He really liked the story and was also touched by the fact that a director was still open to making a film for him post a disastrous reception for his previous film.

When I was working on this script further, he completed Simple Agi Ondh Love Story and I also acted in a small role in Lucia. As Simple Agi Ondh Love Story did very well at the box office, he was offered to make Ulidavaru Kandanthe by the same producer, Mr. Suvin. I played a key role in one of the chapters too. Amidst so many legendary actors in that film like Thara, Kishore and many more, it was such an experience for a upcoming artist like me to act in the samet film. I must also say that Ulidavaru Kandanthe is my godfather as it changed my way of thinking completely. By now, Ricky took a very different form and a new version was ready. I managed to get some cash and I wrote a cheque to Rakshith in order to block his date, I never wanted to mix up friendship and professionalism.

Was Ricky a satisfying debut directorial?

I had a lot of interferences from people to tone down the film with the typical ‘commercial’ elements. While I intended to narrate the love story of Radha and Krishna in the backdrop of Naxalism, I was forced to include a comedy track by Sadhu Kokila. So that is what happened with the film and I do understand why the producer insisted on such inclusions as any film must be a saleable one and he thought the interference increased the film's viability in the market.

We did end up having creative differences but at the same time, I understood that I was a debutant and the producer obviously carries insecurities about me as a filmmaker. This triggered me to make a film for myself. The story that I want to say and to say it in my own way. In that frustration, I wrote Sarkari Hi. Pra. Shale.

Amidst all this, when did Kirik Party start?

During our initial days of friendship itself, Rakshith and I had planned to make a film keeping our college days as the core plot. At that time, Kirik Party’s story was about three heroes and I was planning to star in one of the characters. But right then, 3 Idiots released and we didn't want to do the film immediately after that.

Later in 2016 we got back to the same script but decided to focus on just one character and that’s how we made Kirik Party and the rest is history.

Today, the ultimate dream of being a hero has come true through the film Bell Bottom. Does it finally feel right?

If you notice, all the stories I told you about my childhood and adolescence matches with Detective Diwakar’s character. It was extremely comfortable to bring that character to life. All the films I had watched in that period became my reference for this film.

From a posture to stand with my hands on the hip to the fabrics we used for the characters, everything was deduced from retro films. To give a more microscopic view, the walking style while wearing a bell bottom pant is very different and Dr. Rajkumar, Rajini, and Kamal were my idols from where I picked up those details. At the same time I was very conscious that I should make a mark of my own and people must see me; not the legendary actors I drew my inspiration from. I’m 35 years old and my big break as an actor was happening and the least I wanted to do was to stay unique.

Will Detective Diwakar return with sequels? 

Yes, we do plan on doing something like that. It all depends on the overall outcome of Bell Bottom. As the Pulwama attack happened on the same day as the release of the film, we toned down the marketing and were apprehensive if the people will be on the right state of mind for a film. After looking at the numbers, it feels like people have really supported us and the film is doing well on all screens. The film also has received good reviews from critics and audience so it seems like a happy ending!

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