He looks so convincingly like Veerappan in the bilingual film Attahasa (Kannada)/ Vana Yudhdham (Tamil); on a first face-to-face meeting, one instantly looks out for those features in actor Kishore Kumar’s face. That nose with the crooked bridge is there, those brooding yet menacing deep-set eyes are there, that scrawniness is there. It is only in profile that Kishore matches Veerappan some more.
“I did look a bit like him; we have similar features. I did have a thin and huge nose. That’s what director A.M.R. Ramesh also imagined I suppose,” Kishore breaks into a disarming grin. “While making a biopic on Veerappan, looks were important…he’s popularly known.” The last person you would imagine playing Veerappan would be someone who started off as a Kannada professor! But then again, Kishore had already established himself as an intense actor in both the Kannada and Tamil film industries, ever since his debut with the Kannada film Kanthi in 2004.
Known for playing characters that fit the bill of the anti-hero — be it a cop, politician, or character role, the reticent Kishore has also made a space for himself in Telugu and Malayalam films. “But the recklessness and intensity of a hunter that I had to portray as Veerappan were new to me,” confesses the 38-year-old.
Talking about the saga of the Veerappan biopic, Kishore says: “I never wondered if I would suit the role. The opportunity came to me almost seven years ago. I was a beginner then and couldn’t ask for more. I didn’t do any preparation as such for the role, though director Ramesh had been researching and interviewing many people in the meantime. I only read the newspaper clippings he had collected. I joined him in the process two years ago, during the scripting stage. We met the four associates of Veerappan who are going to be hanged, for inputs, while writing the screenplay. We had to check the same information from multiple sources to get their version of the truth. They were so reluctant to talk; only Belavendran did.” The only reason he was sceptical about taking up this role was the way Veerappan was abhorred after he kidnapped Kannada thespian Rajkumar. “But Ramesh had made the film Cyanide , so I knew he would take a neutral stand in this film too.” Veerappan, Kishore believes, lives on in our memories simply because of the scale of terror he created over 35 years, killing more than 126 people and 2,000 tuskers.
As he speaks and reveals a bit about his life and work, he comes across as one of those happy hippie floaters — he speaks of his dream to breed Indian cows and the plan failing, and his current attempt at a farm, of living in a one-room house with his wife and large number of dogs, and many such other things.
A student of National College, Basavanagudi, he started off with college theatre during his degree days doing plays like Teregalu and Samrata Ashoka . Kishore then did his masters in Kannada literature from Bangalore University “because I liked the campus…I roamed around for two years there,” he admits candidly. Then he started teaching at Sharada College, where he lasted a whole two years. “I believe you don’t need to teach literature; you discuss it and look at it from different perspectives. Of course, the management didn’t appreciate my approach, and by then I landed two films. I quit before they could throw me out,” he laughs.
Kishore always wanted to act in films and had given it many a shot; he says he has many “blink and miss” kind of roles in earlier Kannada films too. He has a rather complicated story of how he landed his first big role, but he says ultimately the role was just there, waiting for him, rejected by several known actors. But Kanthi, and the 2005 film Rakshasa, which won him the Karnataka State Film Award for supporting actor, really set the ball rolling for him.
“I don’t prepare for any role. I’m a lazy actor and all credit for my performances should go to the directorial team. I didn’t believe in formal training in acting, and moreover, I would comment on all the actors I watched!”
Kishore struck it big in the Tamil film industry when he got the villain Selvam’s role in the Dhanush-starrer Polladhavan . More recently Aadukalam too brought him much attention. And just over a week ago, his latest Tamil venture Haridas, where he plays a cop and father of an autistic child, released to much critical acclaim. “Everything in this film was new to me. Playing a villain is easy. You can beat up guys and be done. So in this film, I played safe. I just reacted to what the heroine Sneha said and did…what is called ‘being natural’. All our mistakes are patched up anyway in editing, dubbing. Music and cinematography really elevate the mood and you can’t see my flaws,” says the self-deprecating actor. He even dubs for his Tamil films himself. “I still believe I speak Tamil in Kannada, though after 11 days of dubbing for my role in Polladhavan , I learnt something!”
Though the Tamil and Kannada film industries seem to be at loggerheads, Kishore insists there is no animosity. “Yes, opportunity wise, the Tamil industry is making better films. Here in Kannada also we do, but there is no consistency. In Kannada, even if you make a good film people won’t come to watch, assuming its bad,” he notes the current attitude.
Next on the cards is Dalam , a Telugu movie, Tamil movie Valai with Vishnuvardhan and Ajith, and Jatta in Kannada.