Urvi, Lucia, U-turn: Small films with strong content are dominating Kannada film industry
March 17 will see the release of Urvi, a drama thriller, which has four females in the lead and is helmed by a debutant director. What makes it very interesting is that it is a Kannada film.
Today, there is a new genre of cinema emerging from the Kannada film industry. While the last decade has seen its share of macho, larger-than-life heroes in masala films, there have been smaller films with strong content that are making their way to the theatres as well.
Numerous newbie directors in the Kannada film industry attribute this change to director Pawan Kumar and his 2013 film Lucia, a psychological thriller, which was made on a budget of about Rs 1 crore. Pawan Kumar took to crowdfunding for this film as he didn’t find any takers. Lucia didn’t just take the Kannada audience but also the global audience by storm, and a new wave of Kannada cinema was born.
Several directors and filmmakers have started to make their mark in various genres in this new wave of cinema. Take Rakshit Shetty for instance. He made his debut in 2010 but Ulidavaru Kandanthe, a neo noir crime drama that he wrote, directed and starred in 2014, connected strongly with the audience. In fact, the movie is now being remade in Tamil and Malayalam with Nivin Pauly. His current film Kirik Party is a super-hit and is being appreciated by the non-Kannada speaking audience as well.
Urvi's director B S Pradeep Varma explains that earlier the focus of the director and writer was mainly on whether the producer would recover his investment. “However, Pawan Kumar and Lucia gave a platform for newcomers. He was brave enough to take the risk and it has paid off for us. There are many directors who have content-driven scripts but it was not easy to get a producer on board. Today, producers are more open minded to such scripts,” he says.
Ask director Pawan Kumar about heralding a change in the Kannada film industry and he modestly says, “With Lucia, I had nothing to lose, I just jumped in. It probably helped and motivated a lot of people. The change was waiting to happen and it just happened to be my film that triggered it. I strongly believe that Kannada cinema is seeing a change. When you look at the IIFA Utsavam nominations today, all the five films nominated are small films. The audience has made so much noise that people must notice them.”
With films like Lucia and U-Turn, a mystery thriller, under his belt, Pawan Kumar has also taken to producing small Kannada films. “A decade ago, there was no space for such films. Having been influenced by international cinema, we are genuinely trying to make films that we want to see. As a producer, if I find something very interesting, I want to produce it. Our first production is Ondu Motteya Kathe and I wish I had made this film,” he says.
Obviously, the box office does matter when making films. But with smaller budget films, though the profits may not be high, the risks are lower. However, well-established, old time Kannada producers still want to bet on the A-listers who can bring in the crowds. Some, who want to look at scripts that move away from mainstream commercial cinema, are in a dilemma as to which scripts would work with the audience as this is new territory. But new age producer-directors like Pawan say that while these films have made a profit, they are more content-driven than numbers driven.
While these new genres have seen newcomers and smaller actors, would A-list Kannada stars be open to such films?
Pradeep Kumar says that the star’s image is so deeply etched in the audience’s mind that it would be tough to change. “For instance, Puneeth Rajkumar has experimented with his films but not all have worked. When we cast newcomers, the audience accepts these films more easily,” he opines.
The only fear that some Kannada directors and filmmakers have is repetition of storylines. In 2006, Mungaru Male turned out to be a super-hit and there was a spate of films that followed with a similar plot. Such endless story spin-offs can cause audience fatigue and put them off.
With the Kannada and non-Kannada speaking audience opening up these new genres, it is now clearly upto the filmmakers to capitalise on this. Strong stories with a universal chord, which cut across regional barriers and global boundaries, is what the audience is now looking forward to from Kannada cinema.