After the Tamil hit ‘Pandiya Nadu’ Sharath Lohitashwa is the most-sought-after baddie

You wonder why our filmmakers prefer to sign baddies from Bollywood who can’t mouth a single line in Kannada especially when you watch actors of the calibre of Sharath Lohitashwa who’s definitely got a raw deal. He can be menacing without being manic. Blessed with a baritone and smouldering eyes the promise of violence is palpable when he’s on-screen. He’s remembered for ‘Aa Dinagalu’ but is currently the toast of the Tamil industry after his performance in ‘Pandiya Nadu’, a sleeper hit. While critics have given a thumbs up the industry is enquiring about this new epitome of evil. Ironically, he may get more offers here simply because he’s being appreciated outside!

You chose to major in literature. Was your ambition just to become a lecturer?

I was more into cricket and theatre. I was bad at anything to do with science. In fact, RVCE offered me an engineering seat if I passed with a first class because I was a good cricketer. It was my father who suggested literature. Co-incidentally I got less marks too. The only college that had a good course in literature was National College, Basavanagudi. I’ve won prizes for acting and direction right from my school days. I was the first to dramatise Bhagath Singh on stage when in school. I used to read a lot of plays written by people like Kambar. I was a fairly good singer too. I guess all this made my father suggest literature. My ambition was definitely not to become a lecturer though I did a stint in the same college.

Why didn’t you choose theatre? Theatre doesn’t pay enough, true. I taught for about nine months and was popular too but the nine to five routine was claustrophobic. I needed freedom. Also I started getting offers to act in films in which I had to sport different hairstyles. I never gave too much importance to money. I always wanted to be an actor and thankfully now they say I’m good.

You did get film offers but it was TV that made your face familiar.

Definitely, but there are reasons for that. I got my first film offer around 1995 and was doing around one film a year. The industry before ‘Mungaru Male’ was not doing well. There were terrible films being made. People were shunning the theatres and opting to watch TV. Filmmakers were desperate and resorted to vulgarity which put me off. I was in a quandary. Around this time I met with a major road accident. I lost a dear friend, Arun and also suffered a major head injury. I was advised to refrain from doing risky stunt scenes. There is very little first aid available on our sets. When I suffered a leg injury once during a fight sequence nobody bothered. They continued to shoot and asked me to return the next morning. My father who’s acted in around 500 films felt that if I’m talented enough it will get recognition one day so I never approached anyone. TV beckoned. It started with MS Sathyu’s ‘Khayar’ and ‘Poli Kitty’.

Do you think you were offered ‘Aa Dinagalu’ because of your physical resemblance to the real life character?

There are two reasons. My father knew and interacted with ‘Agni’ Sridhar who would tell me that I would play Kotwal Ramachandra in the film. I didn’t give it much thought. He probably thought I resembled Kotwal but also knew I was a good actor. I worked on the resemblance too like the hairstyle. I would like to believe that he chose me for my acting abilities more than the resemblance.

I know your father was a great actor but you remind me more of Vajramuni. Were you an admirer?

(Laughs) To be very frank not many people with a theatre background like stylised acting. Overacting was asked for in cinema and well received. I’m influenced not only by Indian but also Hollywood actors. I imbibe and use a little from them. I try to act according to the character I play. When I play a fearsome character I tend to widen my eyes a lot. I used to like Vajramuni but never imitated him intentionally. Many people tell me that I’ve filled the vacuum he left which I take as a compliment.

Even though you are from stage you’re not a very physical actor. I try to restrict myself from overemphasis. It also depends on the director. It’s easier if they have clarity about my character. Some directors like Suseendran accepted innovation even after a briefing because they knew I’d added a dimension. Cinema is about nuanced acting. For example I admired Rajesh Khanna’s style. His movement was minimal including his lips. There was something attractive. Using body language depends entirely on the character being portrayed.

Do you have this feeling that the Kannada film industry has not done justice to your talent?

Well, it has taken time but I think I’m being recognised now. There are fans in the social media who think so too but it’s because of this industry that I’m being recognised. This is a very deep question. Our industry likes outsiders more. I was asked to dub for Ashish Vidyarthi for many films. I’d dodge by asking the producers to pay me what his assistants get. Nothing personal because he’s a great actor. Also I‘d chosen this as a profession so I did all sorts of roles. Even though I was in my thirties I did roles where I was aged. Now thankfully I’m branded as a versatile actor and not just a villain.

How did ‘Pandiya Nadu’ happen?

‘Edhir Neechal’ was my first film in Tamil. Vetrimaran, the National award winning director was looking for an interesting actor. I was recommended by Jacob Varghese even though I hadn’t worked with him. He came down, met me at Ranga Shankara, took some pictures and asked me about my abilities. I told him I’d not be able to perform dangerous stunts. I lost out on the film he approached me for but landed ‘Edhir Neechal’. ‘Pandiya Nadu’ was offered thanks to the hero Vishal who’d watched ‘Aa Dinagalu’. He’d thought of casting me ever since.

So is this your second innings?

This is a new innings. To be honest I love the professionalism there. I’d love to do more Tamil films. I want this to be a long innings.