Kannada films have successfully balanced realistic scripts with formulaic entertainers. The actors too are divided along the same lines - some would never think of crossing boundaries for fear of losing fans.
So it’s interesting to note how leading actors of Sandalwood are actually experimenting with arthouse projects. Like Yogi. The actor who has mostly been part of masala films is now doing an art film called Mathe Satyagraha that talks about the present system of governance and the need for a satyagraha. “I play a farmer who has been a freedom fighter. I personally love doing art movies or what we call serious films. I know for a fact that my fans won’t like them, but I really loved Mathe Satyagraha’s script. This is personal choice I am making not a professional one,” says Yogi.
Neha Patil is the female lead in the film being written and to be directed by Shivananda. “Doing a commercial film is the same as doing an art one because at the end of day it is all acting for me. Not that I am expecting an award. When I was not expecting one, I got it for Ambaari. My director felt I was suitable for the character, and so he asked me to play it,” says Yogi.
Parallel cinema is not everybody’s cup of tea. Actors like Soundarya, Suresh Heblikar, Dattana, Umashree and Tara, to name a few, are typically known for picking up author-backed roles and have earned major recognition in their film career through this.
Bhavana, who has been part of many commercial films, enjoys being part of art movies too. “I don’t how actors purposefully choose to be part of art films. Of course, realism is great to display, but most often art films don’t have the budgets nor luxury of time to work with. To top it, there are not too many viewers as compared to commercial cinema,” she says.
Yet, the pull of a good script is undeniable. “There are always certain directors or camerapersons who have the vision for such films and that interests me. They have a different approach to filmmaking. As a child, I ended up watching more realistic cinema not knowing they were so and that I would be an actor some day. Directors like Girish Kasaravalli or Satyajit Ray have influenced me, and back then I wanted to be part of such cinema. It is was about self realisation for me,” says Bhavana.
There are some versatile actors in Kannada like Prakash Raj and now actor Kishore, who fit in both commercial and realistic films. The reason being they don’t differentiate between art and commercial films. “I always like to be part of films which have strong, detailed and interesting subjects. More than audiences coming to see me, I like to give them an interesting story to watch. I can’t attract people with just any role. I really need to go for good scripts. However, I can’t say I am a bridge between commercial and art cinema. The regular entertainers are my bread and butter and I enjoy them thoroughly,” says Kishore.
For Bhavana, audience expectation is higher with niche films. “There’s no point counting numbers (of viewers) here. It’s the appreciation that is genuine. The audience doesn’t come because of the stars or directors. Bhageerathi was shown at various festivals. There were interactive sessions that followed the screenings. It’s great because it felt as if the film had extended beyond the screen,” she says.
Taking on a niche experimental script needs mental toughness. “Because you know what you are risking,” says Kishore and adds, “You need to be a little bold as you might lose mass audiences. You might not make money also. Such films are made only when similar minds come together.”
That is what drew Kishore to a film like Jatta. “There is no rule that a commercial hero cannot be part of a serious film. It all depends on the filmmaker and how he fleshes the character. I am a product of extra-ordinary writing and extra-ordinary execution. That’s how I am where I am,” he says.