‘Kabzaa’ and the after effects: Director R Chandru on ‘Kabzaa 2’, criticism and conspiracy

R Chandru, the director of Upendra’s recent gangster drama ‘Kabzaa,’ looks back at his journey as a filmmaker and on his plans to release the sequel

April 26, 2023 03:07 pm | Updated 03:07 pm IST

‘Kabzaa’ director R Chandru with the film’s lead actor Upendra

‘Kabzaa’ director R Chandru with the film’s lead actor Upendra | Photo Credit: @rchandrumovies/Instagram

Kannada filmmaker R Chandru takes the business side of the film industry very seriously. He believes that a director’s biggest motto is to ensure his producer doesn’t suffer big losses. But there is also a flip side to this kind of approach. In an attempt to generate enough buzz around a film, a director could miss out on the importance of writing.

Except for his delightfully-subtle coming-of-age film Charminar, none of Chandru’s films is particularly known for its in-depth writing. His latest much-hyped period gangster drama Kabzaa — starring Upendra in the lead and Sudeep and Shivarajkumar in cameo roles — is no different; the common criticism has been its similarities to theKGF films.

It isn’t the first time that Chandru has capitalised on a blockbuster film’s template. On the back of Mungaru Male’s sensational success, the industry saw many tearjerker romantic dramas, with Chandru making two such films in Taj Mahal and Prem Kahani.

People might call him an opportunist, but for Chandru, it’s all about being aware of the different trends in the industry. For someone who rose from humble beginnings with no formal training in filmmaking, it’s remarkable how he has withstood failures, and continuous criticism to remain in the business. Like it or not, he has even gained the confidence of the biggest of stars in the industry, like Shivarajkumar, Upendra, and Sudeep, who heap praise on “ his hard-working nature”.

Having recently announced a sequel to Kabzaa, he talks about the criticism to the first installment, the shortcomings in the film, people mistaking his straightforward nature for brazen confidence, and the “conspiracy” that stopped his maiden pan-Indian film from tasting success in the Hindi belt. Excerpts:

You started in the late 2000s with romantic dramas made on modest budgets. Today, you are planning the sequel of your maiden pan-Indian film. How does it feel when you look back at your journey?

I am happy with my growth. I hail from a farmer’s family in Keshavara village in Chikkaballapura. Growing up, luxury was an alien concept to me. I could only dream of eating at places like Leela Palace and Lalit Ashok. I might not be much educated, but I learnt the craft of filmmaking by observing. During my five-year stint assisting director S Narayan, I understood how the industry functions, the market of different heroes and how the neighbouring industries see Sandalwood. My first aim as a rookie filmmaker was to make a solid film within the budget given to me and ensure that the producer was safe. After a while, I decided to turn producer as I didn’t want to put anybody at risk. At the end of the day cinema is business.

When I made the Telugu remake of Charminar, I wasn’t given a huge budget despite the original being a hit. Today, Kannada filmmakers are making heads turn with their content. The industry’s market has increased. So, I sensed an opportunity and made Kabzaa. I have had a ‘do-or-die’ attitude in life. Like a farmer, I believe in hard work. While shooting for my debut feature Taj Mahal, Anant Nag sir told me that he had seen different types of filmmakers but hadn’t seen a director with a farmer’s determination like me.

Ever since ‘Kabzaa’ began, people were upset that you were trying to make another ‘KGF.’ What other criticism did you face till the film came out? 

Of course, Kabzaa began when I told myself that, “If KGF can happen, then I can pull off a big film too”. So I called a set of industry friends and spoke to them about my dream project. I chose Upendra because I was convinced he was well suited to the role of a pilot-turned-gangster. As for the production quality, people aim for the sky, but I touched the galaxy. People commented behind my back. They said Kabzaa would be a washout, and I would lose everything. Even Upendra wasn’t sure if I would invest in him more than his market value.

Today, I can proudly say that I don’t owe anyone any money. The film is a huge hit on Prime Video. It’s in the list of trending films on the streaming site, just like how KGF: Chapter 2and Kantara were. Representatives from Prime Video called to say they were happy with how the film has performed so far on the platform, and said they are interested in buying the sequel as well.

You were once denied a chance to make a film with Allu Arjun. Now you have made a pan-Indian film with three big superstars of Kannada cinema. Do you feel you have proven a point to your detractors?

It’s true that I was sidelined because I was a Kannada filmmaker. But now, I have come far ahead. Not many know that Lyca Productions called me to think of a story for Ajith (Kumar) sir after seeing the trailer of Kabzaa. Pawan Kalyan sir was impressed with the film. Anand Pandit, who co-produced Kabzaa, told me that Amitabh Bachchan was impressed with my making. Big B, through Anand, had invited me home after he released the trailer of the film’s Hindi version. That said, I don’t get excited by compliments. I am focused on Kabzaa 2 right nowI want to make more blockbuster films, and perhaps in the future, produce films of talented newcomers.

How receptive were you to the criticism that ‘Kabzaa’ received?

Of course, I made mistakes, but you have to understand that this is my first pan-Indian film. I know where I went wrong even if I haven’t discussed my mistakes openly. As a producer, I was involved in a lot of work weeks before the film’s release. I couldn’t focus on the film’s technical work. I need to plan the sequel’s release in a better way. There were learnings too. I understood how well we can release films globally. Kabzaa 2 will release in more countries.

I respect critics. My grandfather would say you must be close to those who criticise you, because you can always improve yourself and understand what people think of you. In fact, I don’t get carried away by positive reviews; I look for critical reviews because they expose your mistakes. As for critics who make derogatory comments and personal attacks take money to write reviews, I have decided to take legal action against them.

A still from ‘Kabzaa’

A still from ‘Kabzaa’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

But film buffs weren’t satisfied either...

People were impressed with the technical aspects of the film. The film enjoyed a good response in south India. In the north, it suffered due to several framed reviews. It was a planned attack on my film. I feel there is a popular distributor behind this conspiracy. We didn’t give the film to him for distribution in the Hindi belt. Obviously, he wasn’t happy about it. On the day of the film’s release, there were negative video reviews at 6:30 AM, three hours before the morning show. I know how to ensure this won’t happen again to my films.

Your answers are point-blank, but people call you overconfident. How do you perceive this image you have?

I have thought about this. See, I am not a son of a famous actor or a director. To do a Kabzaa, I don’t have a Vijay Kiragandur (from Hombale Films), or a Dil Raju (a famous Telugu producer). So I became a producer myself. I gave everything to this project. Only I know what all I had to lose to make this film happen. Since I am the one bankrolling it, I have to talk about the film a lot to widen its reach. That’s when jealousy creeps in. I don’t want to talk about it much and I just want to focus on my work. But if I am left being a one-man army, then I have no option but to sell my film extensively.

Will ‘Kabzaa 2’ do justice to the strengths of Upendra, Shivarajkumar, and Sudeep? Can you meet the expectations of the fans?

If I only look to cater to a star’s image, the story will suffer. If I focus only on the story, then the stars will look out of place on-screen. So I will strive to strike a balance between the story and the reputation of the stars involved.

I will plan well and offer timely updates. If I say something now, people will form their theories, and come to the film with wrong expectations.

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