Komal is now Kannada's comedy king. The actor, who spurns vulgarity, says he can promise hard work and not success

Komal is the king of comedy in Kannada cinema. From being spurned by established stars professionally, to churning out the biggest success of the year, “Govindaya Namaha” his journey to the top has been like a game of ‘snakes and ladders'. The film industry can either make you bitter or better. The vicissitudes have thankfully made him the latter.

Komal comes in a few minutes late, apologises profusely, poses for pictures and settles for a chat over steaming cappuccino.

You're an actor by accident.

I always had the passion. My brother himself was a struggling actor so I was a bit confused. I did my schooling in Ooty and was studying law. In my third year when I was sitting in front of Sandhya Lodge a person approached me and asked if I was interested in acting. I was shocked and wondered if he knew my brother, but he was from Kerala. That film didn't happen but worked as a trigger.

I did a couple of films and realised I could act. My passion gave me the confidence because I was not a trained actor. People said I was photogenic, so I discontinued my studies and concentrated on acting. I got five films and in one of them I was a hero, with my brother playing the supporting role. I would ask the director umpteen questions.

One director took me aside and said he'd worked for 25 years so I should trust him. He was impressed by my argument, but the film flopped and I was dejected. No one offered me a film so I decided I should learn the ropes. The person who buys the finished product is the boss so I turned distributor. To my bad luck, of the 30 films I distributed, only a few made money. I returned to acting and they paid me Rs. 1000. The film never got released, but I was offered a role as Shivraj Kumar's sidekick. I was paid Rs. 5000 but won the State award. I didn't turn back after that. I started working in shifts, but suddenly offers dwindled. Heroes didn't want me in their films.

I decided to turn hero. My film “Garagasa” was a hit, but I was not given credit. My next film, “Chamkayisi Chindi Udayisi” which I produced didn't help me too. I turned to playing villain. I was not happy though I was successful. Every actor wants to do a film that'll hit the bull's eye. I craved for that and that's “Govidndaya Namaha”.

You were talking about heroes getting jealous.

That was because I knew how to take advantage in weak scenes. It's not my fault if they were not good at repartee. I can give you examples where I stole the scenes from under their nose. I guess it hurt their ego.

Did your brother feel the same way?

I don't think so. I've done more than a dozen films with him. There's nothing like sibling rivalry. He showed me the way so I don't think he had any problem. I don't kick the ladder I climb. There are so many people who owe me money. I don't crave for money. I wouldn't have worked for forty days for 1000 rupees. Even a bonded labourer gets more.

It's quite a tough decision for a comedian to say he'll only do hero roles.

It's dangerous but one of the reasons was the TRPs my films got when shown on TV. They paid a sum for the satellite rights which were enough to complete a film in. That lessened the risk. I'm pretty flexible except when the narration lacks logic. It's not pure luck that the film has collected so much.

But all said and done you can't plan a hit film.

That's very true. Our hard work and efforts work only till Friday morning. My experience as a distributor helps me minimise my losses. Knowing the marketing side helps a lot.

A broker can do wonders between a producer and a distributor but that's another story.

One of the disadvantages you have is that established heroines will not work with you.

We don't want an established heroine. I take a leaf out of Raj Kapoor or Mani Ratnam who mould a newcomer and set her free. A big heroine is someone who can fetch extra money from the distributors. Malashree was one. A newcomer comes with fewer tantrums too. We paid Parul a pittance but now she commands a huge sum. She also says I'm lucky for her. Nidhi Subbiah too started off with me.

Do you feel that the success of “Govindaya Namaha” is because you worked with a new director?

You can hand over the key of an expensive car to a driver you have confidence in. If he feels sleepy you take over. If you reach safely and within the given time where's the problem? It's team work. I can only help. It's not easy to keep the audience laughing.

People like Vivek and Vadivelu have a team of writers.

That's one of the biggest disadvantages I faced. The story I had narrated to a friend came back to me from someone else. But I do require one now. I've also realised the importance of songs. I've started sitting in when they are composing. My movies always have hit songs. I'm on the lookout for writers who read a lot over those who depend on DVDs. I'm not saying it's the sole reason for the success but was all that vulgarity necessary?

This is something we discussed. I diluted the vulgarity. The director insisted this is how a character who doesn't respect love speaks. There were umpteen places where I've refused or diffused the situation. Vulgarity is very rare in my movies. The director wanted such lines in sixty scenes. I brought it down to six. I even changed some during dubbing. Vulgarity can never sustain a film. I'm for clean comedy.

You've hit big time at last but maintain this is going to be more difficult.

Absolutely. I've learnt not to over expose myself. Imagine Rajnikant doing five films a year. I'm not comparing myself to him.

I take time to design a project so that everyone is benefitted. I cannot guarantee success, only hard work.