With Rajinikanth-Akshay Kumar’s 2.0 clawing its way up the Indian box-office — arriving on the heels of Baahubali 1 and 2, which proved the theatrical potential of epic crossover films — Kannada cinema seems ready with a massive offering in the period action genre, KGF: Chapter 1. Directed by Prashanth Neel and produced by Vijay Kiragandur under his banner Homebale Films, KGF has been under production for over two years and suffered major technical setbacks, including extreme weather and destruction of sets due to heavy rains.
The film traces the journey of Rocky, a Mumbai gangster in the ‘70s who returns to his home district of Kolar in Karnataka, and leads oppressed gold miners in an epic battle against their tormentors. Kannada star Yash, who plays the role of Rocky, champions the script of KGF as the driving force behind the struggle that went into making the film.
“I believe a good script always gets what it needs. Talents, technicians… everyone flocks to good material automatically. It’s the writing that matters. The story of KGF is fresh and special for Indian cinema. It has a huge backdrop, and has got all the commercial elements required for such a film, and yet, there’s a very strong emotional journey these characters go through. It’s these core emotions that make a film universal and break all cultural or linguistic barriers,” Yash told us in an interview in Mumbai.
Set to be released in two chapters, KGF has been dubbed in four other languages: Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi. To present the film to Bollywood audiences, Yash and his producers have tied up with Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani’s Excel Entertainment. Considering the benchmark set by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions — which presented both Baahubali 1 and 2 and more recently, 2.0 — the collaboration between Excel and Homebale represents a logical step-up for Kannada cinema in the pan-Indian arena.
“We are honoured that this collaboration happened. It’s important to have a proper presenter when you are foraying into a new industry. In Karnataka, my fans know me and stay updated about my work, even without any publicity. But when you enter a new territory, you need someone to introduce your film. The presenter needs to be reliable and have a lot of credibility. Our association with Excel happened after they watched the film. They liked it and felt it needed to be presented in a big way to Hindi audiences.”
Besides its sprawling scale — spanning several decades and capturing the grit and grime of the historic Kolar Gold Fields — the film also features ‘hardcore action’ and ‘whistle-worthy dialogues’. While commercial cinema often tends to swerve away from realism, KGF is ‘rooted in the heat and dust of its backdrop’. Striking a balance between fact and fantasy, Yash agrees, was the biggest challenge in making the 200-crore extravaganza.
“We wanted to make a realistic action film without disturbing the ‘commercial hero’ aura of my character, which is loved by the B and C audiences. Sometimes people come to theatres just to see things that cannot happen in real life. So that blend was tricky and we consciously planned everything out in advance. You will see very nice action but you won’t go… ‘Yeh kya bakwaas kar rahe hai…’. Even when it comes to VFX, we have used very little of it in the film. We took the pain and effort to go out and shoot in real and harsh locations,” Yash noted, admitting that he loves being in action-mode and won’t give up the space for at least a couple of years.
KGF’s director, Prashanth Neel, made his feature film debut with Ugramm (2014), an action thriller film starring Sriimurali and Haripriya that became a blockbuster at the Kannada box-office. The film ran for 100 days and was re-released in select theatres on account of the positive response. Asked if the producers of KGF were comfortable in trusting Neel with such a large budget for his second film, Yash reasoned, “Look, at the end of the day, every producer needs the assurance that he will make his money back. What happened in this case was that my own films have been quite successful in the past.
At the same time, I loved Prashanth’s earlier film — he has never assisted anybody but that doesn’t show in his work. I could see potential in him. He too had seen my films and was already writing something for me. The thing is, whether we accept it or not, our industry is still very hero-centric. So I needed to put my weight behind the project to get everyone on board. Thankfully, our producer, Vijay Kiragandur, was a very ambitious man and went overboard to support our vision. He urged us to go all out and make the biggest film we could.”
The eagerness among Indian film industries to dish out big-budget spectacle films has been dubbed as a desperate pushback to dropping footfalls in theatres — fueled further by the onslaught of streaming and OTT platforms such as Netflix and Amazon. Urging all his big-screen brethrens to pull up their socks, Yash rallied, “When you get entertainment at your doorsteps, why would anyone want to step out? Personally, I believe no technology can replace the experience of going to the theatres.
I don’t think the lure of cinema is going away in the next 10-20 years. That said, a silent understanding has settled among filmmakers that in order to survive they must make bigger movies. KGF, for us, is only the beginning. We wish to scale up even further in the coming years. We just have to.”