Karan Johar, who had earlier distributed the Hindi version of the two Bahubali films, is presenting 2.0, the spiritual sequel to Shankar and Rajinikanth’s 2010 blockbuster Enthiran (Robot).  In this interview with Baradwaj Ranagn,  the director/producer talks about his love for Rajinikanth, his introduction to South Indian cinema and how it was a ‘no brainer’ to partner with 2.o. Excerpts:

Since you’re distributing 2.0, can you tell us what your favourite Rajinikanth film is?

 Can I say it’s a Hindi film? (Laughs)

I remember watching Chaalbaaz in a packed single screen and I burst out laughing every time he appeared on screen. When she (Sridevi) says, ‘mein madira nahin piti ji’, the way he reacts to that…I became an instant Rajinikanth fan.

Subsequently, I remember me and Aditya Chopra going to watch Sivaji(2007) in a packed theatre that plays Southern films. We just went to see that mania and what happens. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of an audience explosion…I thought there was going to be a stampede. And this is in Mumbai, where the biggest stars make introductions. So of course, I’ve loved him in everything after that.

But my first memory of being absolutely in love with him is from Chaalbaaz.

I had seen Dhayavan, but not Nayagan. I consider Nayagan to be the best gangster film that’s possibly made in Indian cinema

Were you ever a big consumer of south Indian cinema? Can you name some films you watched and liked?

I assisted Aditya Chopra and he was a huge fan of Mani Ratnam. I remember him telling me, ‘You haven’t lived, if you haven’t seen Mani Ratnam films’. He took me to watch Thiruda Thiruda and he said, ‘Once you see this, I guarantee you that its form and technique will suck you in’.

I had already heard of Mani Ratnam but I wasn’t a cinephile like he was. I was this kid who grew up in South Bombay who was happy with his Hindi cinema. I went with him and watched Thiruda Thiruda, not Mani Ratnam’s best, but at that time, I was just totally obsessed with the way he shoots his films, the music, Rahman etc…

Subsequently, I saw everything he made right from Mouna Ragam, to Geethanjali, to Nayagan. I had seen Dhayavan, but not Nayagan. I consider Nayagan to be the best gangster film that’s possibly made in Indian cinema. Through Mani Ratnam, I watched a lot of South cinema.

Then there was this one movie my dad showed me…I think it was Shankarabharanam. So I had heard of K Viswanath too. I hadn’t watched a lot of Telugu films until I discovered Rajamouli. I saw Magadheera, which blew my mind. I was also obsessed with Ega. I know a lot about the industry because of Rana, who I consider a producer-actor. He’s my link to the industry. I’m very aware of the superstardom cinema of Telugu and the nuanced cinema of Tamil.

But I’m not too connected to Malayalam, though I know the best actors and technicians come from there. Not too aware of Kannada films either.

What interested you or excited you about 2.0?

Rajinikanth, Shankar and Akshay Kumar. I’d be stupid not to have the conviction to present such a film.

But the last Shankar-Rajinikanth film didn’t do too well in the Hindi belt.

But this film is a continuation of a much-loved character, Chitti. Robot was new for Hindi cinema at that point and it’s also a film that did phenomenally well with its television ratings. Plus this film also has Akshay Kumar. It has a strong North-South connect and it has scale and opulence.

It will 100% open huge. Where it goes from there depends on the feature film and I’m sure with all the time, money and effort spent of it, it is going to be a fantastic celluloid experience. But for me, it was a no brainer. It is an honour to present the film.

Have you seen the film?

No.

There are rumours that the film has cost more than 400 crore to make. Is such an amount recoverable in the current climate?

I don’t know about the economic logistics of that film. I know about the deal I have with them for Hindi and the Rest of India. But I know the film can be a phenomenal experience and it has the ability to travel across every state and territory to do magical numbers. From what I hear, the film also has a strong message as well. There is also Shankar’s genius. The thing with directors like Shankar and Rajamouli is that they capture a strong conviction with the narrative that is very specific to them.

You mentioned Akshay Kumar being a huge draw. But given the fact that he’s mostly unrecognisable in the film, do you think it would work for his fans?

I don’t think that’s going to be a road block. I know that he has a very unusual role but I think that’s one of the initial USPs of the film. It’s like he’s in an avatar you’ve never seen him in. And once you’re in the theatre then you’re sold by the narrative. Whenever an actor breaks the mould, it really works.

Would you say the north-south divide is slowly being bridged?

I think the world is becoming a closer place. Suddenly the Oscar film, (Village Rockstars) is a film from the North East. But I think the North and South industries are slowly inching towards each other. Films like Bahubali and 2.0 are helping this. And now, Vishnuvardhan, a director from Chennai, is making a film for us.

I think the give-and-take of the two industries will result in the audience becoming the winner. This has also enhanced the possibility of a wider release which will go on to help the filmmaker as well. First I think we should learn to crossover internally within the country, then let’s talk about crossing over to the outside.

Watch the full interview here:

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