Four years after the successful and critically acclaimed Ondu Motteya Kathe (2017), writer-director Raj B Shetty returns with Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana, which released earlier this week. It's been widely praised. I myself had written that it is a film that should make Kannadigas beat their chests and scream from the rooftops that here is a 'Kannada film.'
So, what goes on in the minds of a filmmaker who executes such a vision? And an actor who invests his time and energies in it? I spoke to Raj B Shetty and Rakshit Shetty to find out.
Kairam: How have you understood God?
Raj: We do not know how God is. We only know how we can comprehend and we give a name for this. What I have comprehended is that we term the whole experience of this entirety of life as God. Within that, we worship the creation, current state and destruction separately.
To me, Hari would be the one behind the rules of change in this universe. If I see going from seed to a plan to a tree to a flower as Hari, one that causes complete destruction is what I see as Shiva. The place this happens in is called Devi. There is a Bhramma character too.
Rakshit: I don't know if I can say it in words, but I will certainly show it in my films some day. For me, God is infinite. Then, everything that exists in this infinity, including myself, is God.
Kairam: How do you go about building a world around your characters?
Raj: Now for example, when the title Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana was chosen, these two Gods, attributes and themes have various subplots related to them. We might or might not use them all. For example, Shiva wears something around his neck, uses a certain vehicle and the other something else. These two characters alone can help build a world. After I selected the two characters, I looked at what other characters they needed to proceed further. Logically, of course.
Kairam: When you started writing this story, did you already have an endpoint?
Raj: Not with this, but in other stories I knew the endpoint. Like in Ondu Motteya Kathe, I knew the endpoint very well. Janardhan keeps finding faults in everyone without realising his own. This realisation changes him in the end. When I was creating him, he is someone who needs help writing love letters. From there, comes the character of Srinivas.
Kairam: So you created Janardhan as someone who didn't even know how to write a love letter..
Raj: Yes. He is someone who is worried about his balding head. I don't have much hair, but that doesn't bother me. If he needs to be bothered by it, he has to be someone who is very much into himself.
Now, as I have already brought Srinivas, where else can I use him? His purpose shouldn't be just helping to write love letters. Making him a peon, made him a little inferior to Janardhan, this intensified the realization at the end. If I had Srinivas as a principal instead, it wouldn't have been as effective. Tweaking the characters in the movie here and there can do much to the movie. While world-building, we have the basic characters first. Any other characters should also have sufficient use and utility. We shouldn't write characters who will simply come in one scene and have no other use to the story.
Kairam: We spoke about liberation or about the story being something that came through you. How important is credit and the term 'mine'?
Raj: When one person makes a film and someone else is producing it, it should always be a collaboration. A tone that someone is doing a favour is very insulting to an artist. We are all human beings first and we must be sensitive to each other. Then there is the need to 'save' and grow the Kannada film industry. Let us save human beings first. Forget about credit, there is another term which is more important — respect.
Rakshit wanted to be associated with this film. But before that, there were other producers as well. Now, we all are collaborating. Nobody should be treated like they work under someone else. When there is that freedom, which is most important, credit doesn't become an issue.
For instance, Natesh Hegde directed a film called Pedro. It says "A Film By Natesh Hegde." We don't say it's a film by Rishab Shetty even if he's the producer. The person who wrote, lived and executed the movie is Natesh. The film is his expression and it should remain with him.
Rakshit: Sometimes, both the producer and the director's name next to each other like it's a compromise. But this shouldn't be. The film is a director's expression and it should only be their name.
Kairam: Today films from different genres are releasing on OTT. With Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana you waited for a theatrical release. Is it because Kannada films don't usually get a good deal from the OTT platforms or was there any other reason?
Raj: The Kannada filmmakers should take responsibility for not having many direct to OTT releases. Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam films released on OTT are watched all across South India but Kannada films haven't reached there yet. If that is true then it turns out to be a demand-supply situation.
About why this film did not release on OTT, it was a choice we made. The film was made with a theatre viewing in mind. The framing, the wide lenses are all meant for the audience to have a theatre experience.
Kairam: Mathematically, demand for Kannada films is lower compared to Tamil or Malayalam films. But our budgets too are proportionately lower. Why can't an OTT platform buy films for their market value? Are we saying we need to be paid the same as films in other languages?
Rakshit: We are saying that. In fact, we should. Today 777 Charlie is a universal subject. Just because you haven't paid Kannada films that high so far, I cannot be expected to under-sell my film. We have to push these boundaries and I am confident that 777 Charlie has an audience across the country. Apart from a few variables, based on the industry, films should no longer be differentiated.
Kairam: Has the Kannada industry begun to look at direct OTT releases too as a channel and make films accordingly?
Rakshit: I cannot say the whole industry is doing that. I am definitely thinking about it and so must be a few others. I just don't know who the others are. There is a market here and the industry knows it. Few stars might want to experiment and others might not. But this is the future and if an actor wants to experiment, they should do both films. If we are getting a platform, then why not?
Kairam: What does the unfortunate passing of Puneeth Rajkumar do to an artist? Like you said, we have many ideas. What does such a jolt do to an artist? Does it make you feel completely resigned?
Raj: You can think of it like that or accept it. We will have to meet him one day too and then maybe we'll discuss films. When he asks about what we have done in the meantime, we better have a good answer. That man is present through his dreams, vision and service. Appu sir remains within us as a responsibility. Now, it's on us to keep him alive.
Rakshit: I look at life very differently, to be frank. Any death doesn't haunt me too much. If my call comes, I am ready to go tomorrow also. But for some reason, this one death still haunts me. He was that kind of human. The way he was with everyone, Appu sir is inside everyone, in some way or the other.