• How he got the novel idea of bringing together seven sons of the leading villains of the Kannada film industry.
The idea just evolved from the story plot which was brewing in my mind ever since the time I went to Chamundi Hills on cycle with my college friends. I was then in my second year degree. On seeing the Dasara Howdah, we just joked how it would be if we took it away and become filthy rich! Later, I became more serious about the idea when I decided to make films my career. I along with my friend Mallikarjun, learnt the art and science of direction from my guru, Ramesh. Our first debut film was Jothe Jotheyalli, and after it became a superhit, I got emboldened and worked on the raw story idea for Navagraha. It was then that I hit upon the idea of bringing together seven sons of the leading villains of the Kannada film industry. Incidentally, all of them are family friends and I enjoy a warm and affectionate relationship with them. It was great working together and they were fully involved in the film. I think it is for the first time that such a thing has happened in the film industry.
• On giving Darshan, an action hero, a negative role, and did he have any apprehensions about whether this will be acceptable to Darshan’s fans.
Darshan has always been positive about a negative role! Our father, Toogudeepa Srinivas has acted as a villain in 385 movies! Though Darshan has made his fame as an action hero, he started his career in negative roles. Later, he took up challenging roles like that of a visually impaired, and made critics sit up and notice his talent.
It is true that some of his fans find it difficult to digest Darshan in a negative role, specially his female fans. But as against this, we have tried to strike a balance by giving them the usual Darshan touch – lots of songs and action scenes.
Darshan is keen on taking up a diverse kind of roles and win recognition. My father, despite acting in around 400 films, was not given any major award. We would like to see that at least his children get it.
Also, the response to Darshan’s character and acting in Navagraha has been tremendous. Some of the people who saw it said I should have made the film in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu also, as it was so well taken.
• Your first film was a romantic film (Jothe Jotheyalli), now you have taken a suspense thriller. What next?
As of now I am not planning anything, but my friend Mallikarjun is planning to make a movie for Darshan, which I will be producing under my family banner.
• Some people say you shouldn’t have tampered with the Dussera Howdah, which is much revered by the people of Mysore.
It is not the first time that someone has ventured into delicate territory in Kannada. However, my intentions of taking this risk are not to hurt the sentiments of the people at all. On the contrary, I have shown due respect to the Howdah. For instance, in the movie, the characters even while stealing the Howdah, worship it with due respect, and even in the climax we have shown that this cannot be taken away out from Karnataka. Later the Dussera ceremony continues successfully. We have taken full care to ensure the people’s sentiments are not trampled upon by the script.
• On the public response for the film. Has it been better in ‘A’ class centres or in the towns and villages?
Usually the so-called Gandhi class first gets filled for Darshan’s movies, and then the balcony class, but in the case of Navagraha, it has been other way round. Initially, the hardcore fans did not take kindly to his negative role, but the response has picked up. We are now in the 5th week and the film is still showing to packed houses. Even a film like Mungaaru Male had a poor initial and only later did it pick up. From the commercial angle, the film has been paisa vasool. My brother Darshan too believes that a producer should not lose his money from his movies, and when it happens, he is willing to sign up another film for him without charging any remuneration. We know the difficulties of producing a film, we have seen tough times after my father passed away.
• His style of working
I do a lot of homework the previous night before the day of shooting and at the time of shooting, do not refer to my scene script. I am also open to make any changes I deem fit while shooting, call it inspiration of the moment or instinct. That is what I learnt from my guru.
• Your favorite director and your actor.
Manirathnam, Puttanna Kanagal, KM Chaitanya of Aadinagalu, Upendra, my guru Ramesh, Ravichandran. Among actors, I admire my father Toogudeepa Srinivas, Dr. Rajkumar, Rajnikanth, Ravinchandran, and many such to count
• After a prolonged lull, Kannada songs have suddenly become hugely popular, like the golden era of the seventies and eighties. To what do you attribute this transformation?
This is mainly because of the new generation directors who have a good sense of music and understand the mood of the audience. In Jothe Jotheyalli we had 6 songs all of which were mind blowing, another example is Mungaaru Male, more over the Kannada industry is bringing good talented singers from north and south, and the new breed of directors understand the psychology of the audience and have open mind unlike earlier
• The Kannada industry is seeing a lot of new faces. What is the reason for this unending flow of talent?
Kannada industry has changed drastically, we are safe in recovering our investments, compared to Tamil and Hindi. Currently the success rate in Kannada industry is 10% whereas it is only 2% in other industries. Even big budget films like Rajnikanth’s Baba flopped, but in Kannada we have rarely seen such losses.
* On the main lesson he learnt from his father, Toogudeepa Srinivas.
Life, my father used to say, is like a journey from one destination to another, with a lot of traffic signals in between. The traffic signals are red, green or yellow, meaning problems, opportunities and caution in life. One can travel the distance by car, two-wheeler or bike, but eventually all can reach the destination only by crossing all the signals, i.e. by overcoming the problems, grabbing the opportunities and adopting a cautious approach. In Jothe Jotheyalli, I conveyed this message in the form of a catchy dialogue. The film says that one should not merely find success, but hold on to it by resuming the journey.
• You have also permitted the other characters to share the limelight with Darshan.
That is because I believe that a story is not told only through the main role, but by all the other characters in it.