Director M Bharath Raj, actor-producer Rishab Shetty on the making of Kannada film Hero during lockdown

Director M Bharath Raj, actor and producer Rishab Shetty and stunt choreographer Vikram Mor speak about making a full-length commercial Kannada movie during the pandemic, and the challenges it posed.

Subha J Rao February 10, 2021 15:18:03 IST
Director M Bharath Raj, actor-producer Rishab Shetty on the making of Kannada film Hero during lockdown

Rishab Shetty in a poster for Hero. Twitter @kannada_films

Greenery that is uniquely Chikkamagaluru, lyrical action choreography that bears Vikram Mor’s stamp, a hairdresser who enters the don’s lair, a woman in distress who seems to take charge, and, of course, Rishab Shetty, doing Rishab Shetty things on screen. This was the trailer of Kannada film Hero, co-starring Ganavi Laxman, which was released a fortnight ago. It marks the directorial debut of M Bharath Raj.

To think, the film was not a planned one. In fact, the ideation and writing just took three days, and the team suddenly found itself in the midst of shooting. “This is Bharath’s debut, and even his parents did not know that. Our dialogue writer was writing dialogues till the last day of shoot,” laughs Rishab, who is also the film’s producer.

What makes Hero special is that unlike a typical “lockdown” project, it has all the trappings of a commercial film — stunts galore, great music, a lot of characters, and the vast expanse of coffee estates. In one fell stroke, it has changed what a film shot during the pandemic must look like.

Director M Bharath Raj actorproducer Rishab Shetty on the making of Kannada film Hero during lockdown

Rishab Shetty and M Bharath Raj

“We are creators and that is all we know to do. Whatever we have now is because of this industry, and it felt terrible sitting at home. And so, two months after lockdown, we got back to meeting in the office, and took a call on the scripts we had on hand. There was Bharath’s Laughing Buddha, Harikathe Alla Girikathe, a couple of my projects... Then, the COVID-19 cases increased in Bengaluru, and we knew we could not possibly shoot those movies. That’s when we got this line of a hairdresser romancing the villain’s wife,” says Rishab.

Before they changed their mind, the team of about 25 headed to shoot in idyllic Chikkamagaluru. “We decided to do something, a short, a 90-minute film, a full feature... and release it in the theatre, on OTT or YouTube,” says Rishab. “We did not think about the format or release, we just needed to do what we were used to doing.”

By the time the team left for shoot, dialogue writer Anirudh Mahesh (who’s also co-director of Harikathe Alla) had about 40 pages ready. “This was an adventurous process, and we were all high on energy,” says Rishab.

Since restrictions were still in place, they decided to keep the team small and efficient. “Over these 16 years in the industry, I’ve seen how even in the biggest sets, there are about 25 hard working folks. We decided to take along only 25 such people,” Rishab smiles.

Director M Bharath Raj actorproducer Rishab Shetty on the making of Kannada film Hero during lockdown

Crew of Hero shooting the film

Hero was shot during lockdown, but they wanted it to look like a regular film. “Our only compromise was doing something differently from what we were used to, not on the quality,” says Bharath. “We tried to convert those limitations into a challenge that we could overcome. We were on set 24x7, and we spent every moment together. The cot you see in the trailer, that was where Rishab, Pramod Shetty and the others slept at night. We lived and shot together.”

This is something National Award-winning stunt choreographer Vikram Mor, known for his dance-like action movements, also says. He came with just an assistant, and says they decided to shun any movement that defied physics and gravity or anything that needed a crane and ropes. “The focus was on realistic fights and we used everyone. The topography lent itself to some stunts. My assistant appeared in a scene, so did the director and his assistant. You can see my back too. In fact, Anirudh even wrote out the fight scenes. It was an invigorating experience,” he says.

Rishab says that no one on set was anything less than involved. “That is the reason we have managed to do what we did. There was no hierarchy or division. Everyone did their job and went on to help the other.”

Director M Bharath Raj actorproducer Rishab Shetty on the making of Kannada film Hero during lockdown

Vikram Mor shoots for Hero

Did the restrictions also mean they worked more efficiently? Has it changed the way they will approach any film henceforth? “I won’t say that. I enjoy the normal process of filmmaking too, with hundreds of people on set. That’s a different vibe. This period called for a certain kind of austerity, yet we managed to create a film high on quality,” says Rishab.

Bharath, who has worked with Rishab in his award-winning Sa.Hi.Pra.Shaale, Kasaragodu, says this is an experience he did not expect, but one that helped him grow as a director too. “We learnt to adapt to changing situations.”

In these years in the industry, Rishab, who is from Dakshina Kannada, has built a wonderful team of sorts. In 2019, he put together Katha Sangama, an anthology of seven stories directed by seven directors. “If you don’t build a team, nothing works. Cinema is about teamwork, after all,” he says. Bharath chips in to say that the one thing missing during filming was ego. “We were ruthless with feedback, and everyone accepted what was best for the film. It was a very democratic process, just like it was during the shoot of Sarkari…,” he adds.

Anirudh’s presence on the sets helped, because from 10-15 days of shoot, Hero was eventually shot over 43 days, and he wrote till the last day. “You could always see him with a white paper and pen,” laughs Rishab.

Music by Ajaneesh Loknath has already struck a chord, and the haunting BGM has been released separately on YouTube. “I’d put it this way. We all worked hard so that everyone’s work shines in the final product. It was like the shoot of a typical commercial film, but with a lot of improvisation,” says Bharath.

As for the ‘look’ that everyone is raving about, Bharath puts it down to the fact that everyone was involved in what was happening. “Many of the cast are non-actors. I did not interfere too much in how they reacted. When you give people freedom, it shows on screen.”

Loknath’s music was what helped everyone fit into the zone the scene demanded, since everything else about the set was the same, says Rishab.

Vikram was initially supposed to be with the team for just two or three days. The film now has about 30-40 minutes of action. “I used everything we had in the spot — a stream, the undulating terrain — to create stunt sequences. And, everyone trained hard, because there was no other short-cut possible.”

This film, says Vikram, has meant a lot of learning. “We learnt to push ourselves, we learnt what we were capable of, and we learnt to have fun too.”

Watch the trailer of Hero here —

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