Hemanth Rao, writer-director of the upcoming Kannada film Kavaludaari talks to Padma Iyer about the film, his association with AndhaDhun and more
What was the inspiration behind the film Kavaludaari?
I had this idea about ten years ago. I wondered what would happen if a set of bones were found in a very busy city, which was growing in all directions. I started researching the idea as that is the school of filmmaking that I subscribe to. I met many police officers of different ranks – beat cops, constables, inspectors and high-ranking officials as well.
While researching this film, I realised that cops were cinematically very well explored but I wanted to explore the human side, like the obsession a police officer harbours and the sort of sacrifices they make. It is a daily job, it is not an easy job to do. It is a thankless job. I wanted to explore those elements. The reason it is called ‘Kavaludaari’, which basically means ‘crossroads’, is because a police officer’s life is always about making choices. That was primarily the inspiration for the film.
The general perception is that a thought-provoking film cannot be entertaining, and vice versa. What do you think about this?
I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. I think it is possible to make the audience think and entertain them at the same time. It is challenging to do both but it is doable, and this has been demonstrated by lots of films. It is up to the audience to tell me if I have succeeded.
The casting of this film is interesting. On one hand, you have a seasoned actor like Anant Nag and on the other there is Rishi who is just a couple of films old. How did this work in favour of the film?
I did a film with Anant sir, called Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu. It was about an old man who goes missing and he played the lead in that film. It was a pure delight working with him. There are only a handful of actors of that calibre in the country today. He is one of those actors who can take his lines, find the context in them, and deliver a soul-stirring performance. So when I wrote this film, there was a role for an older, retired cop and he suited it perfectly.
Casting Rishi worked perfectly as well. He is the younger cop and the exchange of experience and transfer of knowledge between the two of them works because of this. When he works with Anant sir, you can see the rawness in his performance compared to that of a seasoned actor. The film has been produced by Puneeth (Rajkumar) sir. He is an admirer of Anant sir and he had liked Rishi in his previous films. So when I suggested the names, he was sold on the idea.
Speaking of Puneeth Rajkumar, how did he come on board as producer?
I have known Puneeth sir for a while now. I had assisted on the film Prithvi, in which he was the lead. I was the chief AD. When I did my previous film, I had discussed the idea with him. He was interested in it. He really loved Godhi Banna. He wanted to make films that were commercial as well as slightly experimental. So, when he asked me what I was doing next, I bounced this idea off him. One thing led to another and, very soon, he was on board.
Kannada films have had a tough time at the box office, especially with competition from other South Indian language films. How do you look at that?
Culturally, Karnataka is a melting pot of all Southern languages. You have a vast diaspora of Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam speaking people. So we share our screens, our market and our audiences with other languages.
Also, the Kannada film industry went through a phase when the quality of films plummeted and we lost a huge chunk of our middle-class audience. The films became violent and were about the underworld, and not in a Satya sort of way. They were crass and mediocre. But with the advent of family-centric films and quality films in the last 3-4 years, there has been an increase in footfalls of Kannada people watching Kannada films. I think we are on the rise in that sense. And I think the gap will be bridged.
You have to your credit AndhaDhun. How did that film come about?
My first love is writing and I have always identified myself as a writer. There was a phase in my career when, for almost a decade, I was working in different aspects of filmmaking. I was also trying to mount my own projects. But nothing happened so I moved to Mumbai for more opportunities. I connected with several filmmakers and hit it off with Sriram (Raghavan) immediately. In fact, I had initially pitched the idea of Kavaludaari to Sriram, and he was interested. I then started writing the film but it is possible that at that time I did not have the maturity to explore the subject. This was about eight years ago.
During that time, I came across a short film, which I sent to Sriram. He watched it and felt we should do something with it. We exchanged probably a hundred emails. I finally came to Bombay and we started working on this. The whole process happened organically; it wasn’t planned. But we were not able to crack the second half of the film. During that time, I went back to Bangalore and made Godhi Banna and he made Badlapur. Then he told me he was starting work on Don’t Kill The Piano Player, that is what the film was called then. Before the release, he wanted me to watch the film and give him my feedback and that is when we reconnected. That is how AndhaDhun happened.
Do you have any plans to make more films in Hindi and other languages?
I love writing and I love movies. For me, language is very important as I have to communicate with my actors. So working with Tamil or Telugu may not be possible but I do see myself working in Hindi at some point.
When is Kavaludaari expected to release? And what is next for you?
We are in the final stages of post-production. There is only a little music work left. The film should be ready by the end of the year and we are looking at a January 2019 release. We want to find the right window to release the film.
I have a couple of ideas but I cannot detach myself from this film right now. After Kavaludaari releases, I will start working on other ideas.