Awards are decided by a select few but whether the winners are deserving is open to public opinion. Very few winners are unanimously applauded and Rakshit Shetty is one of them. His ambitious ‘Ulidavaru Kandante’ did not set the box-office on fire but introduced a director with great promise. Many felt the film did not live up to the tantalising trailer. The languid pace did not help. It has become a cult classic of sorts in Kannada, but Rakshit’s creative freedom will be fettered in future. He will make a great film when his writing matches his terrific visual sense. His ‘Ricky’ is a multiplex hit and he’s scouting for locations. The interview:
Congrats! I’m not going to ask how you feel but would you trade the award for commercial success?
Thanks! Yes, I would. Because commercial success would have inspired more films in this genre. Ultimately, the producer invests for suitable returns. Failure also discourages them from investing in such films.
I guess if the film had succeeded you’d have made your second film much sooner.
I think I would have. I faced a lot of other problems too. Success would have helped me be more prudent in my choice of acting roles too. Now we’re trying to find a balance between our taste and commercial possibilities. I did ‘Vasthu Prakara’ because I thought it was commercial and then ‘Ricky’ where we had to add a lot of saleable elements. ‘If ‘Ulidavaru Kandante’ had succeeded we wouldn’t have worried.
‘UK’ is the kind of film a director makes because he likes to watch such films.
Correct. That’s the reason, but I also thought there were many who shared my taste. That was there but it was not enough. A filmmaker has to make the kind of films he likes to watch. The whole point is lost if I don’t like my own film. I think ‘UK’ and ‘Lucia’ paved the way for films like ‘RangiTaranga’.
I liked most parts of the film but for a debut effort wasn’t it self- indulgent and over ambitious?
Sometimes I feel I should have let someone else edit the film. I don’t know how to articulate this.
It’s a case of the maker falling in love with whatever he’s shot and refusing to cut.
Very true. That’s a mindset, but you don’t feel it’s wrong when you’re doing it. A third person would have been more clinical in his views. I did get feedback from people who love such films. I did change some things and prune the length. The real feedback came only after the release. I’m not perfect but I relied on the feedback of people who shared my taste. There were deliberations and suitable changes made. No one then accused me of self indulgence or pointed out the lack of crispness.
I call it over ambitious because there’s a sprinkling of Kurosawa, Guy Ritchie and ‘Sin City’. You wanted everything in one film.
It’s not that. I’m completely inspired by whatever you’ve mentioned. Maybe Guy Ritchie was subconsciously there. I’m a great fan of Kurosawa but I never thought of ‘Rashomon’ while writing the film. For me it was more of ‘Pulp Fiction’. That’s the film I consciously thought of while writing. I even named a few characters from ‘Pulp Fiction’ as a tribute.
Ironically your perspective didn’t match with the viewers.
(Laughs) You can’t say that because I know that a lot of people have loved the film. Even after two years, people talk about it. I believe more people have watched pirated copies of the film than in theatres. When I go for the promotion of ‘Ricky’, people don’t talk about ‘Vasthu Prakara’ but ‘UK’. Recently, I went to a mall. Trainees there told me they watched the movie around ten times in three months. Now it’s reached even the guy who sells popcorn. I know people who’ve liked the film after a third viewing.
I was fascinated by this constant reference to 'Scarface' meeting Dheenanath Chauhan. What was all that?
(Laughs) Well, the character Dheenanath Chauhan in ‘Agneepath’ was inspired by ‘Scarface’ but they both have a cult following. I’m a huge fan of both the characters. Richi, my character was inspired more by Scarface. The first draft of ‘UK’ was written in English and the dialogues and tone were similar to Tony Montanas. It’s only while translating the draft that the characters were like those watched in and around Udupi.
In ‘Vasthu Prakara’ you look like a boy who is being forced to study a subject he doesn’t like.
(Laughs) Very true. When I started working there I wasn’t very sure I would enjoy the process. It was an experiment I had to undergo just to know my comfort level in such films.
‘UK’ shows you have a terrific flair for cinema which doesn’t come with training. How did this happen?
I reason everything out. I’m open to opinions and contrary views. I've evolved because of the films I've watched and the interviews with the director. I realised how much thought goes into every single shot. It was inspiring enough to try that out. Since I’ve not worked under anyone, I don’t follow the usual procedures that training brings. I’ve learnt only by watching and reading. I’ve made a few changes to match my sensibilities.
Are you disappointed that your cinematographer didn’t get an award?
I’m completely disappointed that he didn’t win and also the kid who played the character, ‘Democracy’. They both deserved an award.
You’ve been working on ‘Thugs Of Malgudi’ for a long time. Why is it taking so long?
Yes, one thing is there was no pressure while writing ‘UK’. Right now there’s a writer’s block maybe because ‘UK’ didn’t work at the box-office. That haunts me. With Sudeep and a huge budget involved I can’t afford to take risks. I think if ‘UK’ were released today it would be a big hit. This script has been in my mind for ten years. I thought I’ll make it when I can afford it. I’ll make it with Sudeep because I feel he’s a great actor. The film has a pan India feel. I feel it can be made in Hindi and Kannada. I have a few confusions in my mind but the film is on. Writing ‘UK’ was not difficult because I was born and brought up in Udupi. Malgudi is a fictional South Indian town and I know how the characters will think. I’ll have to blend them with my inspirations from world cinema. It will be made though.