The Kannada film industry has never been short of high ambition, aspirational directors and producers who wanted to put the industry on the national map. Though yeomen efforts were made in this direction since the 1990s, it could garner commercial success and acceptance only in 2022 with ‘KGF Chapter-2’.
Veterans say that it was a matter of pride if Kannada movies were released in 200 theatres across the country. ‘KGF Chapter-2’ has been released in more than 12,000 screens. If the Chinese market opens up, the movie would get 20,000 to 30,000 screens. They recall that whenever they visited the US, people would talk about Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. Now, they are talking about Rocking Star Yash.
They still remember how the Kannada film teams would hunt for the cheapest available slots, how they would have to wait until the big ticket movies in Telugu and Tamil languages would complete their shoot for their turn at the studios in Chennai.
Kannada films were just brushed away by other industries. It was the love of Kannadigas, love for the language that the industry thrived on with low budget movies and finally arrived on the national stage.
The movie ‘Africadalli Sheela’, a fantasy adventure film released in 1986, produced and directed by Dwarakish was one such notable effort. It was made on similar lines as the Hollywood film ‘Sheena’. This was the first Indian film to have been shot in the African forests. The music was composed by Bappi Lahiri. The remake version was released in Hindi starring Nana Patekar. However, the grand success eluded the team.
The hopes of the Kannada film industry rose with ‘Muttinahaara’, a 1990 Kannada war drama directed and produced by veteran director Dr Rajendra Singh Babu. Later Kannada superstar Vishnuvardhan starrer bombed at the box office, making producers turn to low-budget movies.
Kannada film industry showman V. Ravichandran’s ambitious project ‘Shanthi Kranthi’ was simultaneously shot in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. The film starred V. Ravichandran and Juhi Chawla. Tamil superstar Rajinikanth was the lead in Hindi and Tamil, while superstar Nagarjuna was the lead in Telugu.
Pegged as the most expensive movie of the Kannada film industry, it also failed to make a mark or achieve commercial success. At a time when high budget movies bombed at the box office, hopes were again raised with the release of ‘Om’ in 1995.
The movie was directed by Kannada star director and superstar Upendra and Shivarajkumar played the lead role. The film managed to garner huge success and even national film makers appreciated the movie. It was remade as ‘Arjun Pandit’ in Hindi starring Sunny Deol.
Somehow, the Kannada film industry never got the attention of the film world. Darling Krishna, the Kannada superstar, producer and director of super hit ‘Love Mocktail 2’ explained that the process of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation which started in the 1990s has turned into a reality for the Kannada film industry in 2022 with the success of ‘KGF Chapter-2’.
“This is a matter of pride. The movie showed the market for the industry. It is a matter of joy and big achievement. Before I came to the film industry, during study days, we had seen how other language guys would talk so highly of movies from other states. Though we tried to talk about Kannada movies, they wouldn’t take it seriously,” Darling Krishna explained.
“What happened with ‘KGF Chapter-2’ is magic. It is the result of team work. Getting a team like that on board is a challenging task. To compete at the national level, a huge budget is required. They spend about Rs 30 crore to Rs 40 crore just on advertising,” he said.
Sudhakar Bhandari, senior producer and director, explained that there was a time when senior producers would reach Chennai and wait for the other languages cinemas to pack up and search for the cheapest available floor to shoot. The path was not easy, the Kannada film industry grew stage by stage.
Though Kannada films won national awards, with budget constraints, the industry was not able to match the audio-visual grandeur of other language movies, he explains.
Sudhakar Bhandari remembers amidst all the compulsions, how veterans came up with movies like ‘Babruvahana’ which could be compared to Hollywood movie ‘Ben Hur’. With very limited facilities, limitations, the special effects and experimentation was a great effort, he says.
‘KGF Chapter-2’ has changed all that. “I got a call from Bombay. In the conversation they said ‘sab south ka samachar hai’ (it’s everything about south now). I must appreciate the young men who took up the challenge, never bogged down, and believed in their dreams. They have got the passion, which is a good development for the Kannada film industry,” he says.
The southern movies which made a mark in north India like ‘KGF’, ‘Pushpa’, ‘RRR’, ‘Bahubali’ were close to nativity. Indian software professionals have world class talent. They are working for foreign companies. If their talent is utilised for creative work, world class products in the entertainment sector can be achieved, he says.