Rakshit Shetty talks to Baradwaj Rangan about completing 10 years in the industry, his thoughts about stardom and how he balances being a director and an actor. Excerpts.
Congratulations on completing 10 years in the industry. Let me begin with the cliched question. What does it feel like at this point, on completing 10 years in the field that you wanted to be in?
I didn’t realise that I was nearing 10 years. It was only three days ago that it hit me when I started seeing posters on the Internet. It has been more than 10 years since I came to Bangalore. I started an IT company at first and ended up in the film industry a couple of short films later. It’s been 10 years since, and I find it impossible to digest that.
But it feels like a milestone, right?
Well, I’ve many more things to do and this is just the first phase that I’ve crossed, and the next phase begins now.
You mentioned that you’d done short films before entering movies. Were films always part of your thing or were you one of those kids who watched films and felt that you wanted to be an actor or a director?
Filmmaking was not a part of my list but I always wanted to be an actor. I was a part of a lot of theatre and was active in culture programmes as well. But I never shared this thought with any of my friends because I felt they’d think I was crazy. I come from Udupi, which is a small town, and over there everyone wants to become a doctor or an engineer and nobody wants to be in the arts field. Once I came to Bangalore and began working on short films, that was when I also wanted to be a filmmaker and not just an actor.
In his Memoir And Then One Day, Mr Naseeruddin Shah says that in his hostel days when he went up on stage, it used to give him an incredible high and he realised that he wanted to be an actor. He describes it wonderfully as having a warm water bath with rose scented petals. Was it something similar for you?
Time stopped for me when I was on stage. Whenever my parents took me for a function, I would go there ready with my dance costume, because if at all I got a chance, I wanted to make use of it. In my college days, I used to write plays and make my friends perform. I wrote my first play when I was in the sixth standard. I remember it being Independence Day and I wrote a play for it, it was childish but that’s where it all started from. I loved the appreciation that people gave me after watching my performance and it gave me a kick back then.
Does it still give you a kick when people come and say they loved your performance?
These days, I look at the shortcomings of my work, so when people appreciate me, I find it hard to accept it, because I am only thinking of what could’ve been done better.
You began in 2010 but 2014 was the defining year of your career. As a hero, you had Simple Agi Ondh Love Story and as a director you came out with Ulidavaru Kandante. Both of them were very different in their sensibilities and had nothing in common. What is Rakshit Shetty’s sensibility like?
I think it has to be Ulidavaru Kandante because it was something that I wrote, directed and something that I’ve seen throughout my childhood. I wanted to bring Udupi culture onscreen. We were not making films in different dialects in Kannada. The coastal areas of Karnataka are rich in culture and tradition, and I knew that it’d look beautiful onscreen because it looked beautiful in my head. In Ulidavaru Kandante, the tiger dance forms a major part of it. I’ve been fascinated with the tiger dance since my childhood. I remember the dancers being painted before Janmashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi, and the woolen thread that was used to get the texture of the make-up right. I wanted to recreate this magic onscreen. Having done a few short films, I was confident that I could make a movie even though I had no idea of writing for films. Simple Agi Ondh Love Story gave me a break as an actor, and it was one of the best scripts that I had come across till then.
Ulidavaru Kandante did not do well at the box-office but it brought you acclaim as a director. Simple Agi Ondh Love Story was well received and became a box-office hit as well. It is rare that someone makes a mark both as an actor and a director in the same year. Most people would have wanted to consolidate their position as an actor after a big hit but you didn’t do that…
When I came to Bangalore, I wanted to be a star but when I started doing theatre, I understood that if I wanted to be an actor, I needed to learn to be an actor and if I wanted to be a filmmaker, I had to do it for passion and not for fame and money. I also read a lot of books which said that money follows passion and that one shouldn’t chase money. So I had my mind set to it.
A couple of years later you did a drama Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, which was a two-character movie with Anant Nag, and on the other hand there is Ricky. Did you do them because you liked them or was there a commercial calculation?
With respect to Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, we didn’t know that it would do well because films in that genre were not made in Kannada until then. I loved the film and was excited about two things. One was the wonderful script and then the opportunity to work with Anant Nag Sir. Hemanth (Rao, director) came in with a small teaser kind of poster even before we went into shoot and that was when I was sure that this guy is a superb filmmaker. I don’t think of commercial success and always just want to be proud of the film that I am associated with. Because, down the lane, people will forget box-office success and only the film will remain.
Kirik Party did much better than Simple Agi Ondh Love Story and Avane Srimannarayana opened phenomenally better than Kirik Party. Would you say that along with your desire to direct different kinds of films, your stardom is also rising?
I don’t consider myself a star, because when you take that kind of baggage you’ve concluded on what kind of films you should do. For me, I know that I am an actor and I have a certain market and I can plan my films based on that. I am happy with the kind of market that I’ve created over the last 10 years, but being a star is a baggage that I don’t want to carry. Admirers are good, but I don’t relate to star worship.
Who did you admire as a star while growing up?
I was a huge admirer of Kamal Haasan Sir and his works. I loved Shankar Nag Sir’s work as both an actor and director. A few characters done by Anant Nag Sir were legendary. I’d also watch all the mythological films of Dr. Rajkumar and that has always been my field of interest.
Hemanth M Rao has a question for you. In your heart of hearts, do you prefer acting or directing?
If I am working with a director like him, I love acting. But, otherwise, with the kind of passion I have for writing and taking that to screen by directing, I am more passionate towards that.
How is it to act and direct at the same time?
When I write a film, I write it on my own. That is because I want to know the film completely inside out. And by the time the film is on the floors, I would know each and every shot of the film. I’d have also prepared my team and they would know exactly what and how things need to be done. When I am acting, because I know the script, character and dialogues well, I just have to perform. I’ve been used to this kind of work since my short film days.
When you work with other directors, does the director in you tell them that a particular scene could have been done differently?
(laughs) For Kirik Party, I’d written the script and Rishabh (Shetty) was directing it and he is a good friend too. So, when I felt that a particular scene needed to be done differently and told him why I felt that way, he would understand it. Of course, I wouldn’t push him to do it. But there are other films where I just don’t think as a director at all and concentrate only on the character.
You said that you’ve completed the first phase of 10 years and you’re looking forward to the next phase. What do the next 10 years look like for Rakshit Shetty?
This is the first time in a long time that I’ve sat at home for four months. The last time I did this was during my short film days, when I would write a lot. So that is exactly what I am doing these days. It has given me a josh, like when I started 10 years ago. But now, I’ve have better experience, a better team and a bigger market, so I believe it will be fun from here onwards.
If I were to interview you in 2030, where would that Rakshit Shetty be if everything goes according to plan?
I would’ve done more films by then. After Thuglak and Ulidavaru Kandante, I had confusions, but that is not there anymore and I am more focussed than before. Obviously, there will be new experiences and I’ll have to face them, but then I would be a better actor, better filmmaker and better person.
Tell us something about the films that you’re immediately committed to – 777 Charlie and Sapta Sagaradaache Yello.
We’ve completed almost 80 per cent of 777 Charlie but the remaining portions are to be shot in Himachal Pradesh and we are not sure when we’ll get the permission for that. Sapta Sagaradaache Yello will start only after that. I am also writing a new script other than Punyakoti, which can be shot during these times because it is entirely inside a studio. So, if I can rent a studio for a month, I will be able to take the entire team in and work on the project, just like how we’d do in a short film.
Many people have been saying that post-lockdown, people’s attitude towards theatres will change and that it is going to be like Hollywood where people go to theatres only to see films like Marvel and Avengers. Do you think that is going to happen?
It might happen. But, if you make a film and the trailer is very interesting, then they are going to want to come to theatres to watch it. It might take some time, but I think things will come back to normal at least in a year or a year-and-a-half.