Atlanta Nagendra, filmmaker. The name might be a dead giveaway about where he is based, but soon people will realise that he has a Mumbhai Connection too. The latter is the name of the film he has penned and directed, and which has received tremendous appreciation at film festivals all over the US. Now, Nagendra is expecting an encore in his own country.
For a long time though, he had to keep his passion for filmmaking under rein and follow a career in IT. “Being from a middle class family, emphasis was placed on education. So I had to keep my desire to become a filmmaker under wraps and like most others pursue either engineering or medicine,” says the Bangalore-bred filmmaker, and adds, “When my parents gave me money for photocopying notes, I copied notes by hand and used that money to watch movies.” A bit like the character in Cinema Paradiso perhaps.
Against all odds, he entered the Kannada film industry as a producer in 2004 with the highly entertaining comedy Joke Falls to be followed by another hit comedy Rambo in 2012. But Nagendra’s first love was always direction. After Joke Falls, something kept bothering him and he realised “one needed to tell a story”. Moreover, he wanted his to be unique. Out of that quest was born Mumbhai Connection in Hindi.
The film has also steered clear of the stereotype of the great Indian dream of living and settling in the US. Nagendra says, “The moment an Indian filmmaker mentions that he is making a film in America, the perception is that it will highlight the cultural clash of Indians living abroad. I wanted to change that. There were movies made with IT as backdrop and about the mafia. But no one connected the two. That’s how Mumbhai Connection was born. Like how one of the characters in the movie argues that being in business, the mafia too would need IT support.” Nagendra adds: “Let’s just say its like Godfather meeting Office Space.”
The film is probably treading new territory and also has new faces to boot. “Shooting in the US is very expensive, getting known faces from India is a big hurdle because of visa issues. Few US artists who have acted in small roles in Hollywood films are part of the cast,” says Nagendra.
So why Hindi and not Kannada or English? That’s simple, says Nagendra, for the concept of underworld (bhai) works better in Hindi. In fact, it’s a hodgepodge with 80 per cent Hindi and 20 per cent English, Italian and Spanish with English subtitles, he adds. Probably just like Al Pacino being a must for a mafia film!
Nagendra, who still juggles an IT job with filmmaking, remembers, “During Rambo, I had immense pressure to succeed or else my first film would be written off as a fluke.” Regarding Mumbhai Connection, he is optimistic about its chances and has targeted the multiplex audience as they have always welcomed new ideas. In fact, the director is very much clued into the dynamics of the Indian film industry, be it Bollywood or the south film industry.
Interestingly, Nagendra prefers thrillers and love stories to comedies. And that’s why with Mumbhai Connection, he has taken the thriller route.
So, does the film have a message? “Don’t sell IT to the mafia,” he says cheekily before disclosing that it is a homage to the human being’s fighting spirit. That necessity is truly the mother of invention.