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The nomad's found a firm footing


Prem, the lad who came to the big city from Mandya with dreams of telling real-life tales on screen, is a sought-after director after the success of Jogi

NEW HERO Prem: `What I have played up is the mother sentiment and not glorified violence'; with Shivraj Kumar on the sets of Jogi, which completes 100 days on November 27

If there's one common mantra that binds both urban and rural spaces of the present times, it is the Jogi mantra. Even before the film was released, tickets had been sold out. Black marketers struck paydirt with people ready to buy 50-rupee tickets at a whopping Rs. 1,500! Grapevine has it that Puneeth Rajkumar was flooded with calls on his mobile with people asking him to use his "influence" to get them a ticket for his brother's film.

The well-informed auto-driver, as usual, knew it all. For weeks, he passed on Jogi gyan to his out-of-sync fare. The maid had more Jogi tales to tell. College guys rushed to the nearest parlour for the new Jogi look. Friends spoke of how Jogi changed the dynamics of the till then depressed Kannada cinema. So, the film became an all-pervasive thing and it continues to, even as it races towards its 100th day, on November 27, in all the 58 centres it was released in.

Who's the hero?

Debate still rages on as to who the "real hero" of the film is: Prem, the director of the film who pulled off a stupendous coup, or Shivaraj Kumar, the lead actor. This point has seen huge rows, with the one in Mysore gaining some publicity. Shivaraj Kumar fans, incensed over the equal-sized cut-outs of the actor and director, pulled down Prem's. The truth, however, is that Prem, after Jogi, has been booked for the next three years. He has people queuing up before his home and office not just to buy rights for making Jogi in other regional languages, but also hoping he'll change their fortunes. Producers are just gently pressing bulging suitcases into his hands, saying, "Parvagilla itkolli saar... " even as Prem pleads he doesn't have dates.

Prem is a busy man. In fact, I too was a victim of his busy schedule! Each time I called seeking an interview, Prem apologised and procrastinated. "Please don't mistake me, anna," he said, with an unmistakable small town courtesy. Finally, when we did meet, he looked hassled, and a good two hours behind schedule.

Prem is certainly not the trendy, new kid on the block kind of guy who has studied cinema at one of those happening universities. His beginnings are humble and passions genuine. This Besagarahalli boy of Mandya district was hooked into movies as a boy. His craze was such he even pawned his mother's jewellery when he didn't have money to buy the ticket. For every single incident that occurred in his life, Prem, in his mind, constantly worked out a screenplay. His habit of rendering ordinary day-to-day events into the cinematic mode brought him straight to his dream destination, where the reels were actually wound — Gandhinagar.

He began his career in the films as an assistant director to filmmaker Sunil Kumar Desai. As he learnt the art of story telling, in a disciplined manner, he intently watched every film by Ramgopal Verma and Manirathnam (practically two ends of the spectrum!) for inspiration. "It triggered my imagination in the best possible way," he says, talking of how he watched all their films many times over. In fact, he recalls how he watched Dil Se five times, five consecutive shows.

Of the three films Prem has made, two films are based, very realistically, on the underworld. Kariya, with Darshan in the lead, famously had 27 notorious rowdies from real life. "Every aspect of my film is inspired by a real life incident. My brother's friend had an encounter with rowdies and I was witness to it. That's probably where the authenticity comes from." If all his three films have done well at the box-office, it is because of his observation and the manner in which he integrates real life episodes into his films. "My formulas have worked so far."

He is very clear that he makes his films for the common man. "My talent is to depict everyday stories without making them maudlin. I write my own screenplay, though I'm yet to learn the art of making a story or a novel into a film."

But in the name of authenticity, wasn't it perpetration of violence? A larger-than-life representation that is made to seem so real. If the machhu-longu dialect has quietly crept into the vocabulary of even a child, then Prem has to be blamed for it. "No, that's not true!" retorts the man. "I've not showed any violence on the screen. In fact, what I have played up is the mother sentiment. And many estranged children have gone back to their mothers after watching my film. Isn't this good for society? Why doesn't anybody talk about this?" He goes on to say how Jogi is a complete package and doesn't simply sell because of violence. How then does one understand the manner in which the very violent song "Hodi maga" shares space in the film with the sentimental "Keluvenu varava, kodu thaayi nammavva"? Isn't it a perfect commercial ploy? It's surely not as naοve as Abbayi Naidu's successful Thaayi formula, which played up maternal sentiment to the hilt.

Hoards of admirers

But, I don't persist with my line of argument because Prem kept telling me how he is swamped by calls from admirers. Even as he was telling me this, he received a call from a fan who can't stop gushing.

At this point, it's only fair that I admit the film was indeed compelling. It kept me on my seat and didn't encourage me to flee as most Kannada films of recent times have done.

The intriguing thing is, despite the plot being Kannada, the treatment being ditto, and the language so native, why aren't there enough Kannada names in the film? What is this penchant for heroines from other languages? Prem was defensive: "I have offers from producers of other languages, which I've declined. Kannada is the language of my thought and I'm comfortable only with that." What about the heroine, I persisted. "Yes, Kannada heroines are hard to find," he laughed, even as he conveniently ignored the question on playback singing swarmed by Bollywood names.

"Everyone is anxious to know what my next film is going to be like. I have to tread the path carefully," observed Prem, who's about to turn an actor. "Success will never get to my head. In this industry everyone bets on a winning horse. If you've made it, you get publicity whether you want it or not. And I am in no hurry. I will go with people who are willing to give my stories a fair treatment and grant me complete freedom."

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