Edited excerpts from an interview between Baradwaj Rangan and Hemanth Rao, whose film Kavaludaari releases this week.
Your first film, Godhi Banna Sadharna Mykattu was a father-son drama. How would you describe Kavaludaari?
It’s a murder mystery. A thriller. It’s one of my favorite genres. I grew up watching a lot of Hitchcock and I’ve tried to take elements from those films. It’s a police drama. It’s about a guy who tries to solve a case. But like Godhi Banna, I’ve tried to explore the human angle to a police officer. But it’s not the filmy sort of treatment. It’s more about what it really means to be a police officer.
So there’s a bit of noir and a bit of drama in it?
Yes. It’s like an homage to noir, but it’s a drama.
But if you were to give me one noir film as reference, which one would it be?
Oh, there would be too many. The Orson Welles one…The Third Man would probably be the closest. We’ve tried a lot of shadow play, the use of mirrors. A lot of the classic elements. Even in the music and sound design.
Your first film was a bit under the radar like most first films. But it went on to become a hit. Kavaludaari is being presented by Puneet Rajkumar. Does that create any additional pressure?
Not really. The thing is, I put a lot of pressure on myself, to begin with. Of course, the box office numbers do matter, because ultimately it’s a very expensive art form. So it’s my job to make sure the producer is in a safe place but I must also express my perspective. The pressure is from the business side. But I don’t feel much of it. I just want to push myself.
Till a few years ago, there was a section on the Internet that had said they had stopped watching Kannada films in theatres. But now some of them have returned. What do you think was the reason they stopped watching Kannada films in the first place?
I have seen it from quite close because my dad is crazy about films. I’ve heard stories from my grandmother about my dad taking a bus to Bangalore, watching four films and then returning to Mysore on the last bus. That had carried forward to me as well. But I remember a period when that theatre going experience suddenly stopped happening. It was because of the kind of films that were being made. Those were the years when Bangalore was going through a real estate boom. There was suddenly a lot of easy money. A lot of that money made its way into Kannada movies and the quality suddenly took a back seat. I think we marginalized the middle-class movie watching audience who had grown watching classics of Anant Nag sir, Ambarish sir, Vishnuvardhan sir or Rajkumar sir. It was very clear right from the promotional material of these films that they were not for you or me. It was for what you would call the “masses”. I felt they drove that message strongly and consistently for five or six years, which is when we lost that audience. But they are slowly coming back and they are quite responsive. Speaking from experience, I have seen that they are very eager to go and watch a good film.
And your film is a classic example because your film is not what one would call a mass film but it did good business…
For me, it was a matter of great pride when people message me and say that they hadn’t watched a Kannada film in the theatre for nearly 15 years and my film was the one to bring them back. Aside from the box office, those are the kind of messages that give me strength.
Would you say Lucia was the film to bring about that shift in Kannada cinema?
I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that. What Lucia did was it showed us that all one needs to make a movie is an idea. Technology was just finding its way into filmmaking, especially digital. I remember because we all started at the same time. Pawan showed us that if you were mad enough and crazy enough, you can make a film. It empowered to a lot of people. Though it was not a chain reaction, Rakshit Shetty too went ahead and made a film like Ulidavaru Kandante. Lucia did a lot of good for the industry.