You’ve always been on the forefront of Kannada cinema. Yet you’ve never shied away from playing supporting characters in various other languages. Do you think you were always a supporter of pan-Indian movement that has now become a fad?
I never had such agenda in my mind. I just knew I was catering to all those people who wanted to work with me. There were few people who had approached me and said ‘they needed me for their scripts’ whether it is a film like ‘Rakta Charitra’ for which RGV called me, or whether it was for ‘Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy’, whether it was ‘Puli’ and all these films. So I think I’ve just catered myself and that way I wouldn’t have even done ‘Eega’ if I would’ve felt that ‘oh it’s a negative role, why should I do it?’ I don’t think such intentions can travel a long way. I just wanted to cater self. There were some exciting stuffs also in those movies. So, as long as I knew there is some exciting thing, I went behind it and I never had this concept of ‘pan-India’ and all that stuff. I just went and it just happened by itself. I just go with what my instinct says. What is the first thing that comes in your mind? Chalo karte hain, usme kya? Bahot soch mat, zyada dimaag lagane se kuch achcha nahi hota hai. (laughs)
But don’t you have to think a lot when you are a producer?
When there’s good food in front of you, will you apply your brains or use your hand to eat it? If you love someone, will you use your brain or your heart?
How do you feel about Salman Khan supporting ‘Vikrant Rona’?
It is like Oscar, Grammy, all put together on one platter, not because he is supporting the film but because even the thought came to him. Woh ek thought aaya na ki main support karunga isko, wohi kaafi hai mere liye. Today, I feel immensely proud seeing SKF on the banner of my film, it looks very beautiful. Hamare Bhai hain udhar. We have his blessings, his support and his love. So, I’m not looking forward to anything else. Because of this, the film has to do extremely well. Even if nothing happens, the love will remain as it is. What support he has lent has been very unique to me, very precious to me for the rest of my life.
Your fans want to know why have to stopped writing and directing?
There was a time when no one else was writing for me, they had taken a pause. But, now there are many who are very lovingly writing for me and they are making films for me. So, I’m just catering myself to all those people. I’m not really looking into what is it that I should be doing again. If a time comes when something unusual comes to my mind, I will start writing again. It’s not that the films that I am making, there is no contribution of mine in it. I do write and give in my inputs there as well. I don’t go to work solely as an actor. As long as we are making films that will be really loved, I would like to be the child on the set. It not only reduces the responsibility, but we also know that the film is in the hands of a good director. Before the production of a film starts, all the in-depth discussions have already been done. Once we go to set, that means we are all sorted. Then you must simply enjoy the shooting, the characters. That’s what I do. I will write when the time comes.
There is this constant debate about South films and Bollywood films. When you read all this, what is your reaction?
There is no battle of that sort. I want you to understand in South as well, there are a lot of films that are released every week and theatres are going empty. Just like any other industry. Even if you take Hindi, there are a lot of films that are seeing light of day. Some are not even reaching the theatres, even if they release in theatres, they are not doing very well. It’s happening in all languages. It’s not a struggle against each other, it’s a struggle against survival right now. Just because few films are doing extremely well doesn’t mean that the whole industry is flourishing. There’s a lot of scare in every industry, we are trying to battle that out first. This is all very irrelevant. They’re taking the highest success of a South film and comparing it with one here and making it a war. It doesn’t operate that way. If I go back to Karnataka, there’s a lot of concern. It’s not just about me. All the filmmakers, everybody has to survive. Before Covid-19, at least there would be a minimum revenue that would come from theatres. Now there are no shows. People are not stepping out unless there’s something else that is attracting them. That is very scary. Cinema is not that there is this hero and this big production house, their film works so they will only rule. For an industry to do good, lot of people have to do well and lot of films have to do well. There are many Fridays in a year, how many Fridays can one cater? And it’s not that we cater and it becomes a big hit. If that is the case, why are we here promoting our film? It doesn’t work that way. My concern is towards all those films which are good but people are not coming. I think we should be worried about that. These clashes are stupid things, very irrelevant.
Considering ‘Vikrant Rona’ is huge film getting a pan-India release, do
you see language as a barrier anymore?
The language barrier never existed in the first place. We had created the language barrier ourselves, because we weren’t fluent in other languages. So maybe we wanted to take a backseat and communicate in our language or in English. Now when you identify the emotions behind what I want to communicate, it becomes easy. Talking of films, people enjoy watching films just as films because these 2 years of Covid-19 brought about almost 10 years of change. So I think it is very different right now.
The conversation between you and Ajay Devgn over Hindi being the national language went viral on the internet. Do you think it should have happened privately instead of Twitter?
How can I do it? If you ask me publicly, then I am bound to reply publicly, no? If you ask me publicly and I call you up to reply personally, what does that make me look like to the society? Ajay sir should have thought about it, not me. That doesn’t mean he is wrong. I look it in a different angle. I have immense respect for Ajay Sir, he is a gentleman. I met him once and he spoke to me very well. I respect his work. He is not a controversial man even in his personal life. He remains to himself. I only look at him as a senior who may be from a different industry, but he has the right to question me ‘What is it that you said?’ So I keep myself in the position of a younger brother and respond accordingly. What’s wrong in it then? I look at the larger picture than the small thing. Many people tried supporting me on that but I do not look at that picture. I have respect for that man and I think what he asked was his opinion and what I gave was my answer.
Did you get a chance to speak offline to him after that?
I don’t have any contact number, whom will I dial? (laughs)
The ‘KGF’ series managed to
set a high benchmark. Do you think now
there is an added pressure on
other films and even the
has gone up?
There is a belief system in me and there is a logic in me.My belief system says I am going to make 5000 crore. The logical part it that whatever the other films have done, they came with a brand. The brand being, ‘RRR’ came with Rajamouli. Now ‘RRR’ without Rajamouli is definitely a valuable film because it has got Jr NTR and Ram Charan who are big stars, but then there’s a small thing taken away from the film if it is not Rajamouli. So, Rajamouli sir is a a very big brand. Coming to ‘KGF’, ‘KGF: 1’ had done fairly well at the theatres and in OTT it did great, ‘KGF: 2’ came with a high demand and ‘KGF’ was the brand. And ‘Pushpa’ was a magic, now we don’t know what happened then, it just happened. Now, I have come with a ‘Vikrant Rona’ with the same intentions like ‘Pushpa’ but I don’t know if I’ll be able to create the magic or break the magic. But if there’s a film that is being released in various languages, that itself is a success journey. How far will it go is for all of us to see and party. Why should I feel pressured looking at someone else’s success? That’s what I say there’s a belief system and there’s a logic system and I will never let my belief system overtake my logic. If the film does well, then we will also talk of the next film with that brand-value. I started my journey as a pan-India actor in 2012 with ‘Makkhi’. Back then it was a different scene, now it’s different. If the film is nice, it does wonders today. We keep our fingers crossed but not our ambitions high. We only wish that our film gets what it deserves. How big, we’ll see later. If we are trying to promote our film, it’s not after looking at the revenue of other films. We are promoting because we have given it 4 years, so we wish to get its due. I will party otherwise also but I think it shouldn’t matter.
There were reports that the budget of ‘Vikrant Rona’ was increased from Rs 15 crore to Rs 95 crore. As a producer, how do you decide how much to invest in a film?
It’s because of the efforts that the budget has increased. I guess because of the huge sets, because of the promotions that we are doing, the actors and the number of days of shoot, 3D coming in, it became (bigger) like that. So, I think what we are calling as Rs 15 crore was not even 15 crore, I think it was 7-10 crore planned by the director before I came onboard. When he narrated it to me then we started looking at it as a bigger picture. I started designing it in a bigger way and I think that’s when I told Anup Bhandari that we should take it into an era and start telling the story. He wanted to narrate this in the 90s, which is fair enough, it is his script but without changing anything, if we could go back, it was a debate that went on for 2-3 weeks. Then once we designed this, I think he is a fantastic visionary. So, he started visualising it and once we gave him the freedom, he utilised the budget very beautifully. It has gone beyond Rs 95 crore.”
Recently Akshay Kumar had mentioned that South actors are not scared to do multi-starrers. Whereas actors in Hindi cinema are reluctant and insecure about it. What do you have to say about it?
It’s not like they don’t fear. It depends on the others also. It depends on whether there’s a good director to handle. The fear of multi-star cast is not because there’s another hero, whether the person who’s handling it can handle it well. If you have two heroes in a film, two sets of fans will come in, hardcore fans. And they want to see their hero getting justice. If they see the other hero overtaking even a little somewhere in a scene, they will be upset. There’s no justification. Akshay sir is also right, those who do are also right. So, this cannot be justified. Many films don’t justify. Like today, if you say, there’s Shah Rukh sir and Salman sir in the same film (don’t go 20-25 years back), today if you want to see them together, how do you want the film to be? And who is going to handle? What is your expectation from the film? And this is not cameos, a two-hero film. The expectations are going to be sky rocketing. Who will direct? Who will be smiling by the end of the film? Usko toh heart attack aa jayega! So, there is is a pressure there and maybe it is because of that many people don’t want to do multi starrers. I am one such person who used to do multi-starrers and one such film we recently did and I realised that the other fans coming in were not very happy. They are also right. They wanted their hero to do something more. Now, I think in that way everybody is right, but it’s not like just because they do multi-starrer they are okay with everything or if they don’t, they are not okay with everything. Akshay sir has been doing lot of slapstick comedies, and I have seen that he is very open to lot of experimental scripts. He has a different way of selecting scripts which many actors don’t. But both are correct. We can’t compare.
Your co-star Jacqueline Fernandes has gone through a testing time recently. How do you extend your support?
Things go wrong for many people. I don’t know the legalities, I do not know the story behind it, but I know that she is a great person. She is a very genuine person and I am very sure she is strong enough to fight it with a smile. She is smiling all the time. She is not shying away from the media, she is not shying away from the world. She will get rid of it. If she is right, she will get out of it in style and I think, knowing her, she will do it in style. I know her as a human, that’s all. I don’t know the other side and I’m no where connected to her in her personal life but with what I see at least I think I’m experienced enough in life to see who is genuine and who isn’t. She is very real. I think she will fight it out and be out of it soon.