Coronavirus outbreak has shaken up Kannada film industry; how directors, producers, actors are coping with the crisis
As many as four big Kannada films were scheduled to release from April to September had the coronavirus outbreak not compelled the industry to shut shop.
If everything had gone as per plan, the Kannada film industry would have seen four big films release from April to possibly, September. Tharun Sudhir’s Roberrt, starring Darshan, Shiva Karthik’s Kottigobba 3, starring Sudeep, Santhosh Ananddram’s Yuvarathnaa, starring Puneeth Rajkumar, and Nanda Kishore’s Pogaru, with Dhruva Sarja.
After that would have been the turn of two much-awaited films backed by Pushkara Mallikarjunaiah — Kiranraj K’s Charlie, starring Rakshit Shetty, and Suni’s Avatara Purusha, starring Sharan. Most of these were touted to be sure-shot money-spinners, and now, they either languish in post-production or with some portions left to shoot. The last hit in the industry was possibly investigative-thriller Ramesh Aravind-starrer Shivaji Surathkal, the box office run of which was truncated.
Since the lockdown was put into effect, the Kannada film industry, like the other major film industries in the country and outside, has been facing one issue after the other. But members have also been working hard to ensure those without an income manage to sustain themselves.
Director Pawan Kumar, known for his indie film projects and crowdsourcing ability, teamed up with actress Shraddha Srinath to read out an old script, written by him, live on Instagram. And then, they encouraged everyone to donate money towards the welfare of workers who have been without work for more than a month now. Pawan raised upwards of Rs 9 lakh, and distributed it among 507 people. To streamline the system, he even launched a website, with a section devoted to donation. There are a thousand names in the database that appear on the landing page by turn, and a donation of any amount can be made to them via UPI.
“I have a home to live in, where I can survive. But what about daily wagers? It was an impulsive decision to do something sitting from home, harnessing technology, to do something worthwhile. Shraddha was game, and we decided to do a script reading. It was a two-character play I wrote when I was 21, and we decided to go live on Instagram. I think what we did was not just talk but creatively engage the audience. But everyone has started doing something so that’s an inspiration to come up with newer creative ways of engaging people while speaking about causes,” he says.
For Shraddha, this was an opportunity to break the predictability Instagram Live had become, and give people something creative to absorb as they spoke about the 'invisible' force driving every film industry — the daily wage workers. “Pawan sent me the script after we went live, and we had decided to wing it. I thought people might like it, hate it… but they’ll engage. I was nervous, but very happy with the eventual outcome.”
Pawan says the lockdown has been a period where he has not written, but keeps pondering about creating a system that will help in a post-lockdown environment, something that will create more employment, help kickstart more projects. “I think creators should now think like entrepreneurs. There’s so much drama outside that we are all trying to address, and I’m not able to ideate drama in my head,” he says.
Producer Rockline Venkatesh, who has some big films coming up, says the industry is hanging on a thin thread. “I fear we will have to go back to the very beginning, even 60-70 years back, when our pioneers built the industry step by step and strengthened it, created a market. In all this, I’m glad Roberrt and Kotigobba 3 did not release just before the lockdown. If they had, and were pulled out, everyone down the line would have suffered. There is a lot riding on them, and we need those films to do well financially. Satellite and digital rights will not help recover money. If theatrical revenue is gone, that’s 50 percent of your revenue. Even after lockdown lifts, we need at least three months to get the audience back. When they don’t have money to eat, who is going to watch a movie?”
Venkatesh also has projects in various stages of production. “One schedule of Raja Veera Madakari Nayaka with Darshan is already complete, and I’ve spent Rs 5 crore on that. I’d booked a 70-day schedule in Rajasthan, which has now been scrapped. The government has to step in to help us financially. Else, things will be really bad. Everyone’s money is locked,” he says.
Rakshit Shetty, actor, director and producer, has a pie in both the creative and business side of the industry. Some of his films are in production too. He will star in Charlie and Hemanth M Rao’s Sapta Sagaradaache Yello, and is writing Punyakoti. He will also co-produce Karthik Saragur’s Aravinnd Iyer-starrer Bheemasena Nalamaharaja, along with Pushkara and Hemanth. For now, he is focusing on three hour-long online sessions he is planning for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to discuss three of his films — Ulidavaru Kandanthe, Kirik Party, and Avane Sriman Narayana. “Many wanting to become directors have asked about these films, and the audience would like to know some behind-the-scenes trivia. So I’ll probably team up with Ajaneesh for UK, Rishab Shetty and The Seven Odds (Rakshit’s writing team) for Kirik Party, and Sachin and The Seven Odds for ASN. I’m still figuring which social media platform I’m going to do it on,” he says.
As a producer, Rakshit feels films will probably get bifurcated down the line, as films meant for the theatre, and those targeted at OTT but with limited theatrical release. “In recent times, Dia and Love Mocktail have done wonderfully well on OTT, impressing non-Kannada audiences too. I believe OTTs are a great space for small films. I think this will also nudge us to make films that we don’t make under the present set-up. Now we know there’s an audience for a well-made movie. Yes, budgets will get tighter, pre-planning will increase, and we will learn to stretch the rupee. But, the industry will get back to what it was.”
As someone who has interests in both ends of the spectrum — big budget extravaganzas and small beautiful films — Pushkara is in a unique position to speak about how he envisions the industry in a post- COVID-19 world. “I had eight films for release from August 2020 to August 2021, and Boxer, Bhimasena…, and Senna Hegde’s Malayalam film before that. Every schedule has flown out of the window. Post-production and patchwork are pending but I am hopeful we will see shooting resume by May end, with precautions in place. By August, I expect shows to resume, and I think September is when we will see people get back to the theatres like before. I, for one, am waiting to watch a film and whistle in the theatre. No OTT can make up for the theatrical experience. I definitely envision lesser number of releases. Only the serious producers are going to stay and make films, and I definitely see more quality films being made. Producers have taken the brunt of this lockdown. We are paying our staff, absorbing the burden of the lockdown because their home budget is balanced to the last rupee,” he says.
As for the OTT space, he feels if platforms fund small films, he can even make 10-15 films a year, in a budget of less than Rs 5 crore each. “In a way, that will be great. New talent, new stories, non-generic films… the audience will be the winner.”
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