Karthik Gowda, executive producer of Hombale Films, is a busy man. Five years ago, he backed Yash-starrer K.G.F: Chapter 1, a film that he knew had potential, but no one imagined the level of love it would go on to receive. Two days into the shoot, the team took a break and decided to make the film in two parts. On April 14, 2022, chapter two of that film released across thousands of screens in India, and the world will get back to saying salaam to Rocky Bhai!
Between parts one and two of the movie, the world as we know it, has changed. The world of Kannada cinema has changed too, to be classified as before and after KGF. Prashanth Neel's film produced by Hombale Films showed people outside Karnataka what Kannada cinema was capable of, and people eagerly bought into the story of an underdog taking on the system, guided by his dead mother's words. Despite all its jazz and grandeur, at its core, KGF is just that — the story of a person making it against all odds.
What is also a big story is how the team of a film ideated and made in Karnataka took it to the country and made people in other states see merit in a movie that was rooted and shot stylishly. Prashanth Neel created a world unlike what people had come to expect of Kannada cinema, and he packed it with some great stunt choreography (it won the National Award too) by Vikram Mor and Anbariv and music by Ravi Basrur.
Vishal Ramchandani, Business Head and Producer at Excel Entertainment, Mumbai, still remembers the time distributor Anil Thadani brought the makers of KGF: Chapter 1, and Yash, to their office in 2018 with a four-minute showreel of the film. "It was in Kannada, and though we did not know the language, it drew us in. Prashanth had created a fantastic world that blew us away. Later, Yash came down with a four-hour cut of the film, and literally translated every line for us. That was the kind of passion the filmmakers had, and we knew we would love to be associated with such a film," recalls Vishal.
In 2018, the north-India market was familiar with Telugu and Tamil cinema, and to an extent, Malayalam too, but the market for Kannada films was still nascent. And so, Excel constructed a campaign for the film keeping that in mind. "We shot a song 'Gali Gali' for the north market, and we knew we just had to pitch it properly," says Vishal. KGF: Chapter 1 competed with a Hindi biggie, and the team tied up with YouTube influencers, and promoted the film big time in the north. "And then, the content took over. From ₹2.5 crore on the opening day, the film made much more in the coming weeks. It was huge in the Maharashtra belt," he adds. KGF: Chapter 2 will release in over 4,000 screens outside of Karnataka.
While the first part did achieve commercial theatrical success in the north, Maharashtra and other southern states, it took on a new life after it hit television and OTT (Amazon Prime). "That took the film to another level," says Vishal.
KGF: Chapter 1 also marked a collaboration among the players in the south. Part 1 was backed by actor Vishal in Tamil Nadu. This time around, the film is being presented by producer SR Prabhu in Tamil Nadu. Actor-producer-director Prithviraj is presenting it in Kerala. "It was very kind of them to present the film. Cross-border promotions are highly underrated, and they open doors in a big way. Thadani opened doors for us in 2018 and Amazon Prime made it bigger. These collaborations help a film reach its potential audience. All these years, we made good films but did not deliver it to all interested," says Karthik.
The executive producer of Hombale says that KGF's success proves that positioning and marketing of a film need to be given as much time as scripting and shooting. "If not, a film will not work. We need both to work hand-in-hand. Only then will a good film have the oxygen to sustain itself at the box office," Karthik says, adding that the rootedness of the film worked well with the audience. "People could relate to it because of that. Why do Malayalam films resonate globally? Because, they showcase a way of life that's real," he shares.
While director Prashanth has been speaking of the pressure to deliver a second time around, Karthik says that the second part was easier to make. "We did not have to prove anything to anyone. We had the story in place, we just had to deliver. The team was already in sync with the world of KGF, and we entered the sequel hardly months after the first part was released," he says.
However, Karthik is also pragmatic enough to know that this interest must be sustained with a stream of good cinema. "At Hombale, we are backing films rooted in the Kannada ethos. We need a good film to come out every two weeks and reach the population outside of Karnataka. Everyone speaks of the huge market for Telugu films in Karnataka. But, do remember that it began with a small scratch too. It took sustained work over years. We have to make that effort too," says Karthik who shares that the team went through five to six reworks for the dubbing of the film across five languages. "We wanted it to look and feel and sound like a straight film. If we are reckless and careless, the audience might treat us the same way."
For SR Prabhu, tying up with KGF: Chapter 2 happened by chance. "Everyone was excited about the project and we felt it was the right film for us to branch out. In today's world, geographical and linguistic barriers don't matter and people are willing to invest their time and energy if a new reel world is presented to them. I'd compare the effect of KGF: Chapter 2 to what Kaithi and Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru meant to us. This is a very big franchise film and we are looking forward to the audience reception. That said, there is a dubbing boom, and with physical distances not mattering anymore, we can move data online and give a film the best resources we can," says Prabhu. The film is releasing in 250 screens in Tamil and there are plans to release the Kannada, Hindi and Telugu versions in pockets of Tamil Nadu.
Vishal of Excel says that while the end result is in the audience's hands, the love for the film has multiplied over the years. "This is among the most awaited films in Hindi now. Right now, I don't think the audience in the north differentiates between Telugu, Hindi and Tamil films. They can smell quality content, and the sheer numbers for the trailer and the teaser that run into millions are proof of that," says Vishal.
He also feels that the strong emotional core of the film is what drew people in. "In its essence, it is a mother-son story, and when we uploaded the bun scene on our YouTube channel, it got the maximum views," he explains.
In Tamil Nadu, the buzz for the film is very good, shares veteran distributor Tirupur M Subramaniam of the Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners Association. "Cinema has become global and KGF's success story is proof of that. The audiences here see it as a Tamil film. And, I foresee a future very soon where these films will get dubbed into English too. There was a time when people in English films spoke only in English. Now, they are heard in 150 languages, worldwide. The same will happen with our films."