In this interview with Kairam Vaashi, KGF director Prashanth Neel talks about the making of the films, the screenplay, earlier drafts and his favourite gangster movies.
Edited excerpts below:
"Epic" is a loosely used term or expression in social media today. But in the true sense of that word, if you consider literature or films, what is epic to you?
Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, Maya Bazaar, and a lot of Dr Rajkumar's movies. Recently, it was Baahubali for me, the world itself sets the space where I can call it an epic because I think epic, for me, is doḍḍadu (large, grand). And costume drama is fixed as an epic in my mind. I started watching movies from the late eighties up to today, so an epic is something big and grand for me, Gladiator is an epic for me. So that is my definition.
Both as an expression and artistically, KGF's start is an epic start. There's the Prime Minister declaring someone as the biggest criminal, announcing a death warrant against him. A journalist Deepa Hegde is talking about the book and she says, where is your El Dorado? All of this happens within the first five minutes and it was fantastic. So how did the introduction pan out this way?
It is the screenplay. The story started with the idea of one person's ambition. There, we brought in a backdrop for that, which is KGF. There are a thousand ways that we could have started the movie, but we chose this so that we bring in the narrative. We wanted the narrator to come in first because the narrator is going to be the presenter of the movie, he's going to be the voice of the movie.
To begin with, we have to term him as a mad man. When Deepa Hegde is reading that book, she's like, "Are you crazy? Who the hell has written a book like this?" We want the audience to feel the same and we build it up to that. So, he scratches out "based on a true story" and says to just read it as a story. That is where we thought that we are going to bridge that gap between the audience starting to think that this is complete mythology to a believable subject that could or could not have happened.
Now, is this man right or not right? — We started off on that note and we built upon it. The Prime Minister's bit is part of the screenplay where everybody wants to bring in a glimpse of what happens towards the end. Is the Prime Minister going to get rid of this guy or not? And why did he become such a big criminal? You have a curiosity based on the first five minutes of the movie. So that is a part of the screenplay that we thought was right for the whole story.
The PM plays a bigger role in K.G.F: Chapter 2. Is it to drop some beans about the USA – USSR conflict because you are going back to 1980 and showing politically what is happening? Is that how that comes?
That narrative was supposed to be much bigger in the movie. I'm making commercial cinema and you got to get the hero in fast, so that got lost in that narration. Personally, that is the kind of movie that I wanted to make. But if I try to make a movie that is me and the way I want to present it, then the audience will not enjoy it. Because first of all, I've put a star in the movie. I am not making a movie with a newcomer where there is no expectation and I can seep the story into the audience.
They expect that the hero's introduction is a bang! They expect that I build him up to that point and from then on, it is about the hero. I mean, not to digress from the whole subject of only heroism, but there was a story also. Where is he going? He was in Bombay, from there he went to Bangalore, then to Kolar Gold Fields. That story was written, you got to get the hero in as soon as possible. So, all these things will get lost. And though that was the initial part of the story, I had to cut it down because that was not as important as the entertainment factor.
I'm very happy that in one of the drafts, you had thought about giving the political conflict a weightage. So, does that mean that you are looking at some political subjects or do you have some political ideas for a film to be sort of mounted in future?
I don't think about it as a political subject. But for this particular character, there is a threshold for every criminal. Say there is a criminal in a small area, then the Sub-Inspector alone will look into the issue. As it gets bigger, it will be handled by a Minister and then by a Chief Minister. Likewise, now we are talking about the national issue, that is the growth that we show in K.G.F: Chapter 2 for the prime minister to get involved in this whole thing. So, for that particular thing, that political angle became very big for us.
I'm talking about the USA-USSR conflict. Was the concept like due to the conflict, the gold prices started increasing, or you just married the two of it because at the end of the day we are talking about gold.
Firstly, I wanted to make a movie about the 70s and I understood why almost every Amitabh Bachchan movie had gold in it, as a smuggling backdrop. I understood why that happened in the 70s is because the USSR and the US were in conflict, and the gold prices went up. I thought that was a very interesting point so let me set the movie in the 70s.
If I put it in the 70s, I get that as a backdrop and that is how the whole movie started for me and that became a very easy choice that I represent. Though initially, it started off as a very big part of the movie, the development of the movie became in such a way that it became a very small part.
Do you have a natural liking for gangster drama?
Yes, I have mainly been influenced by The Godfather, Scarface and Ram Gopal Varma. The way he portrayed crime was very heroic to me at some point of time. But of course, I cannot do something like that, like an underworld movie in its true sense, because it won't sell. I understand those numbers also, what he had derived from his style of filmmaking. There is a lot of commerciality and that's why I love those movies. But it is not the kind of commerciality that reaches out to everybody. So, for me, I just changed that a little bit in my head.