Explained: The delay behind star-driven Kannada films

Theatre owners and fans are frustrated about the prolonged absence of Kannada stars on the big screen. Filmmakers say the issue is a tough nut to crack

Updated - April 27, 2024 06:57 pm IST

Published - April 27, 2024 06:54 pm IST

Dhruva Sarja in ‘Martin’.

Dhruva Sarja in ‘Martin’. | Photo Credit: Lahari Music-T Series/YouTube

Kannada film buffs and theatre owners in prime centres of Karnataka have often complained about the lack of frequent releases of big-star movies. The industry is currently awaiting Upendra’s UI, Dhruva Sarja’s Martin, and Duniya Vijay’s Bheema. The delay has been longer than usual, say frustrated fans. However, how fair is it to demand more than one movie from each star in a year?

“It’s not an easy task to achieve,” opines Lahari Velu, director of Lahari Recording Company, the co-producer of UI. “We are producing something extraordinary, and that takes time,” he adds. 

Launched in June 2022, UI has been in production for close to two years now. Upendra, back to direction after Uppi 2 in 2015, released a teaser without visuals on September 18, 2023. The gimmicky move was typical of the actor-director’s quirky ways to generate buzz around his movies. He followed it up with Troll Song, a song that takes a dig at major controversies. While the promotional content has worked to an extent, the makers haven’t been able to lock a release date.

Upendra in ‘UI’.

Upendra in ‘UI’. | Photo Credit: Lahari Films/YouTube

“The movie is VFX-heavy, and it requires extensive work,” says Lahari. Reports say the film has 40 minutes of visual effects and around 400 cameras have been used to make the movie. Mounted on a budget of Rs 100 crore, UI has also adopted the 3D body scanning technology. “People won’t come to theatres if you give them just good content. They need something more. We promise world-class quality with UI, says Lahari.

“Witness the madness,” reads the teaser of Martin, released in February, 2023. The visuals show a bulked-up Dhruva Sarja in the middle of high-octane stunt sequences. The film has been in production for more than two and a half years, leaving fans and industry insiders puzzled about its delay. When, exactly, will they witness the madness?

Recently, the film’s director A P Arjun posted on X that reports about his rift with producer Uday K Mehta were false.

“All my films so far were wrapped up in 120 days whereas we have shot the stunt sequences of Martin in those many days. Hence, you can imagine the scale of the movie,” says Arjun. The film’s estimated budget is Rs 100 crore, and Arjun says the high-end CG work is causing the delay. “We want Martin to be a pan-Indian treat,” he adds. Dhruva Sarja, who was last seen in Pogaru in 2021, is also shooting for KD-The Devil, a period gangster drama.

Never-ending wait for updates

The most-anticipated announcement from the Kannada film industry took place on December 08, 2023, when Yash made it official that he would be starring in the big-budget film Toxic directed by Geetu Mohandas. It took the KGF star more than one and a half years to reveal his next. It was apparent that Yash was being extra-cautious after the KGF franchise catapulted him to national stardom. The wait was agonising for fans, with the hashtag ‘Yash 19’ trending on social media multiple times. When Toxic hits the screens on April 10, 2025, it will end Yash’s three-year absence on the big screen.

Sudeep is also busy wrapping up an actioner. Titled Max, the film is bankrolled by veteran Tamil producer Kalaippuli S Thanu, and directed by debutant Vijay Karthikeya. Fans expressed disappointment when the star was seen competing in celebrity cricket leagues when all they needed from him was to be more involved in films. Perhaps aware of the situation, Sudeep put out a post on his X account in February. “Updates will come when the team has something concrete to let out to the market or to announce. Max is shaping up well and it’s our top priority to give the best results”, he wrote.

Sudeep in ‘Max’.

Sudeep in ‘Max’. | Photo Credit: Saregama Kannada/YouTube

Ground realities

Depending on star films alone isn’t a good sign for the industry, says Tharun Sudhir, director of the blockbuster Kaatera, starring Darshan. “The Kannada audience loved the Telugu relationship drama Baby and Love Today in Tamil. These films didn’t feature stars. We ought to have such small-scale films performing well in theatres,” he says.

Tharun, who finished Kaatera in a relatively shorter duration of 14 months, says Kannada filmmakers face plenty of challenges. “Not all filmmakers can afford Ramoji Film Studio. We struggle to find locations since there isn’t an alternate studio in Karnataka. For Kaatera, I was lucky to get a location to erect sets inside Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living International Center,” says Tharun.

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In the last 15 years, veteran Shivarajkumar and Darshan have consistently starred in two films yearly. Darshan, who gave a flop with Kranti at the start of 2023, gave one of the biggest hits of his career with Kaatera by the end of the year. The actor is currently nursing a hand injury, and it remains to be seen if his next, Devil, will hit screens in 2024.

“Shivarajkumar’s films do decent business in theatres for at least two weeks. That’s a minimum guarantee,” says a senior producer, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Puneeth Rajkumar was the most consistent in giving two films a year. “His demise is a huge blow,” says the producer. “He had big plans for the industry, and was never part of films that took a long time to be made,” he adds, before comparing the success of KGF and Kantara to a double-edged sword. “Now, every star wants to make pan-Indian films,” he rues.

Deep-rooted problems

Veteran producer Jayanna from the Jayanna-Bhogendra duo explains how the budgets of star films have changed drastically. The producer duo bankrolled two blockbusters — Gajakesari and Mr and Mrs Ramachari — in 2014. “That was a huge feat. In fact, we produced six hits of Yash in just two and a half years. We made Jaanu with a budget of Rs 3 crore, Drama with Rs 3.5 to Rs 4 crore, Googly with Rs 4 crore, Gajakesari with Rs 7 crore and Mr and Mrs Ramachari with Rs 8 crore. These films were richly made and did great business at the box-office. But today, the remuneration of stars and technicians has gone up due to the pan-India wave,” he says.

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Filmmakers are struggling to seal pre-release deals, forcing them to delay the theatrical release of their projects. “Earlier, a film team earned maximum revenue from theatres. Today, the success percentage at theatres has taken a huge beating. Filmmakers depend on OTT and television rights. However, the streaming platforms are hesitant to buy Kannada projects due to less number of people subscribing and watching Kannada content online,” Jayanna says.

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