Pawan Kumar has had two recent OTT releases with Leila and Amala Paul-starrer Kudi Yedamaithe. In this interview with Baradwaj Rangan, he talks about why Lifu Ishtene and Lucia would have done much better had they come out on OTT today, the difference between directing a film and a web series, and his next film Dvitva, starring Puneeth Rajkumar and Trisha . Edited Excerpts…
You're a writer, director and producer. Which job excites you the most or gives you the most satisfaction?
Till I did Kudi Yedamaithe, I had never really directed someone else's work. I had done a couple of episodes in Leila that were heavily written by many people. I also took it up at that point because I loved its theme. I also wanted to see how I handled someone else's script as a director. But with Kudi, I did do some adaptations to it too.
I think I like all three jobs equally. I just finished writing the shooting script of Dvitva and I really enjoyed the process of writing. When I write, I'm literally going through the emotions the characters are. I'm too sensitive a person, sometimes I'd literally be crying. When I direct, I see these emotions through actors. You're writing by yourself but as soon as you're shooting, you're collaborating with a hundred people to reach your vision. Many times you will not be able to get there. Directing is understanding that what you saw in your head isn't really going to happen, and yet, you enjoy it.
Technically, the process must be the same for films and OTT. So, what makes a web series different from a movie? Is it just the writing or is even the directing a little different?
At least as far as I've seen, you have to do a web series with one-fourth the budget but twice the length. I had to shoot Kudi Yedamaithe — over four and a half hours long — in forty five days. I shot Lucia — about two hours — also in forty five days. So, it's a challenge in terms of directing, you're trying to squeeze in a lot more at the same time. But for writing, you can explore characters so much more.
Your next film is a big one, Dvitva, starring Puneeth Rajkumar and Trisha. Is Pawan Kumar moving away from an independent space to a more mainstream space?
People have started watching content from around the world on OTT. The stars also see that their audience is watching such films. When there was a single screen theatrical business, the taste of people who came to watch the film on the first three days dictated the business and the scripts. I've known Puneeth Rajkumar sir since 2008 or something when I was assisting Yograj Bhat. Everytime I met him, he used to talk to me about world cinema. He was a big fan of Tom Hanks. I thought that someday we should collaborate.
He called me after he saw Lucia. He put up a YouTube video after seeing U Turn. He's appreciative of the work I've done. In 2019, when I had a draft of Dvitva, I sent it to him just for feedback. He said it would be great to make it. The script and the character suited him. Hombale [Productions, the producers] also told me: do your film. So, I'm not changing how I view things, but I get all these people to be a part of my vision.
If Lucia had been made today, would it have worked better in the OTT space?
Definitely it would have reached a wider audience. Why Lucia, even Lifeu Ishtene would have done much better. Its story line was basically like Premam and I had made it in 2011. There were many similar films like My Autograph. My first film had to be in a safer genre but some people I meet tell me that it's a better film than Lucia or U Turn.
Do you think Kannada cinema is having a moment right now, with films like KGF and Dvitva…
It's definitely a beginning but we hope it leads to more. Though I don't take credit for it, I'm glad I was a part of Lucia, which is said to have started it all. I hope with Puneeth Rajkumar and Trisha being part of Dvitva, it leads to more high concept big budget films.