The teaser of MG Srinivasâ€™s Birbal - Case 1 Finding Vajramuni has undoubtledly garnered the pre-release expectation that any film wishes for. With the film ready to hit the screens on January 18, we caught up with the director for an in depth conversation ahead of the release.
The journey of writer, actor, director MG Srinivas of Srnivasa Kalyana fame is one that will reassure your faith in perseverance. Speaking to TNM, he recounts his experiences on the way to making it big in the world of showbiz.
What was your childhood like?
I come from a middle class family. I lost my dad when I was 5 years old and my mother has been taking care of his bakery ever since he left us. My peers really didnâ€™t spot any inclination within me for the performing arts, but I was this kid who always participated in all the cultural activities the school organised. The inclination to performing arts feels like it was innate and whatever I have done thus far, I have done by self-learning only.
What gave you the confidence to start your own dance school?
I did my PUC from Sheshadripuram College and actor Murali happened to be my senior there. His brother Vijay Raghavendra used to train us to dance for culturals and that, I can say, was my initial step into the world of dance.
Later I joined a professional crew that danced at award shows and other grand stage events. I shook my leg along with many stars in this phase and I soon gathered the confidence to start my own dance school. But every move of mine was towards helping myself with my wish to be an actor.
How did RJ Blade Raja enter your life?
I had this very simple and typical thought that VJing would help me put myself on Sandalwoodâ€™s map. It was that usual small screen to big screen path that I was eyeing, but destiny had other plans. When I went to audition for a channelâ€™s VJ position, they rejected me saying that they didn't want to hire men at that point of time. I felt extremely dejected and walked out of that studio, but within few minutes, the person who auditioned me came running and offered me a role as an RJ as he loved my voice.
He also added that the radio channel and the TV channel function in the same complex and that he would take me into the TV channel whenever there is a vacancy. I straightway accepted to do it as I loved the deal. And thus, my journey as â€śBlade Rajaâ€ť began! While I was a RJ, I learnt the role of music in content. I realised the importance of silence, editing, sound effects and music curation. I slowly started producing shows and also became the point of contact for acquiring the music of all upcoming movies that the station wanted to play. This process brought me closer to the industry and taught me the knack of packaging content.
Even during this phase, I did not miss even one opportunity to pursue my dream to be an actor. I met directors, gave my portfolio but now, I already had a better tag which is â€śBlade Rajaâ€ť.
A Remi award for a short film is huge! How did Simply Kailawesome happen?
On a random day, a group of friends and I decided to make a short film. Again, I thought that I could give this work as my portfolio to directors which would work better than photographs. We made a movie called Rules. It was about road humps and we were quite surprised with the laurels it brought us. It was screened in many festivals and won a few awards, too.
After all these years of aspiring to be an actor, I felt that I should attend a formal training for acting. I joined the popular journalist and actor AS Murthy sirâ€™s acting school, Abhinaya Tharanga. My classes here started at five in the morning and went on for two and half hours. After this, I used to rush to office for my morning show at the radio. During this period, I stumbled upon a work called Simply Kailawesome based on writer TP Kailasam. The unique thing about this play was that, every female character was played by one female actor while all the male characters were played by a single male actor. For an amateur short filmmaker, just double action is challenging enough but this was more than just double action. But I dared to take that challenge and I must thank my team who stood by me for this.
My cinematographer Shreesha, editor Sri and all the other technicians who embraced my raw spirit to make a movie were the sole reason for the brilliant output we achieved. This short movie was selected by the Jury of the Prestigious Platinum Remi Award at the 44th Annual WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival. Now, this DVD was the one that I was handing over to directors from whom I wanted to seek an acting chance.
How did you grab the opportunity to debut with Upendra?
I met Upendra sir in an event and got a chance to chat with him for a while. During this conversation, he learnt about my journey as a dancer, RJ and a short filmmaker and expressed his willingness to watch my film. I handed a DVD to him and in a few days, I got a call back from him. It was midnight when I answered his call and I couldnâ€™t believe the excitement he held in his voice after watching our film. He asked me to meet him at his office the next day to discuss more.
To be appreciated by a filmmaker like Upendra was not in the forecast. That meeting with him was a life changing one. He very casually asked me to make a film for him. I didnâ€™t know how to gauge the seriousness of that statement at that moment. Days later, he asked me to meet him at Ashoka Hotel for an important meeting. He offered me a role as a director for a remake movie. Though I wasnâ€™t convinced about remaking a film for my debut, Uppi sir promised that we can rework the story to make it more native and relatable for the Kannada audience. I gathered all the courage needed to resign from my RJ job and take up scripting for this remake film as a full time thing.
Unfortunately, within days of my resignation, the film got shelved. My mental state at that point was crazy as I was the only earning member of my family and my misfired decisions could trouble the peace of the family to a large extent. Upendra sir empathised with my situation and gave me a one liner for a story that he had written long back. He asked me to develop that into a script and decided to fund the project, too. That is how Topiwala started.
But, do you think it was a good debut?
When we watched the preview of the film itself, I guessed that it wasn't as entertaining as it was planned to be. I even expressed my disappointment with the output to Uppi sir. He quietly listened and asked me to leave it to the audience. This is probably why I was not too surprised when the film bombed. I analysed that I had failed in translating a few things from paper to the big screen. The phase which followed this failure is the most difficult one in my life. My friends were my pillars of support and extended their arms beyond and more. I had friends who shopped for me so that I maintain a good profile when I meet producers or directors asking for opportunities.
After all this, my friends even came forward to fund my next film, Srinivasa Kalyana.
Srinivasa Kalyana is a very delicate subject to handle. What do you have to say about that journey?
We got very thrilled after seeing the reception Srinivasa Kalyanaâ€™s teaser got among the audience. It was a very tricky subject/plot. If we tried to make it too funny, it was becoming an â€śadult content" and if we kept it serious, it was becoming too dry. We went through constant scrutiny to strike that balance.
After being so careful, we released a trailer for the film. The female character had mouthed a few cuss words which became a huge issue amidst some Mahila Sangas (Women groups) who went to the extent of filing a complaint against us in the Karnataka Film Chamber. When we invited them to mutually discuss the issue and sort it out I found that those women themselves uttered cuss words very casually and that really surprised me. The double standards and hypocrisy was difficult to handle. However, post its release, the film did really well and our efforts were much appreciated. I consciously made sure my women characters are not namesake or for the purpose of having a song sequence. As a writer, I believe if one has to make a good story and present a strong protagonist, he must make sure his antagonist and female lead have convincing character sketches.
How did it feel when you were finally on the other side of the desk?
I listened to many scripts after that. I learnt that the directors only brought rom-coms to my desk and I was not ready for getting typecast so early in my career. Thatâ€™s when I gathered more courage to make the next film also on my own and thus the Birbal - Trilogy began.
Why a trilogy?
We wanted to create a brand through a character name like it was done with Sherlock Holmes or any character from the Marvel or DC universe. That character can be placed on any canvas and the audience already knows what kind of a person that character is and the story will unfold accordingly. Birbal is our attempt to do something like that in Kannada for the first time.
The other parts of the trilogy wonâ€™t be made immediately but we will place his character or a small clue to the sequel in other films. May be after two non-Birbal films, we might have our second part released and we plan to follow the same strategy for the third part, too.
What is the idea behind the bylines that you have given to each part of the trilogy?
All the bylines for the 3 parts are based on the case that the movie will be solving. The name â€śVajramuniâ€ť is synonymous to the phrase â€śthe ultimate villainâ€ť in Sandalwood, so when we say â€śBirbal - Finding Vajramuniâ€ť we mean that it is the hunt for the ultimate villain of that particular case.
How important is it to understand the numbers and figures as a director?
Every new age filmmaker must put in his efforts to learn the marketing and distribution end of films. These factors must not come in between their creative or writing process though. This learning is purely to make sure that your brainchild is presented in the most deserving way to the audience. As this is my second film which Iâ€™m making myself with the help of my friends, Iâ€™m quite aware of the scene in the market here and I truly understand the importance of marketing.
Having said that, Uppi sir taught me one mantra. He told us that we must not knock door after door to invite people to consume our product. Rather, the pre-release material and other content should be packaged so well that they step out of their houses voluntarily to witness our creation.
The only thing I repeatedly say in all my interviews is that people who are willing to watch a film must do so in the first 3 days. If they delay that for whatever reason, we start losing shows due to a shortage in footfall. And by the time they decide to watch the film, it is not available in theatres. This mainly applies to Kannada cinema made by newcomers. Please support us and may that support be quick. The first part of the Birbal trilogy hits the screen on January 18 and we wish the film gets all it deserves and the people welcome the idea of trilogy with open arms!