The actor-director celebrates his birthday that coincides with Ganesha Chaturthi with the launch of the second film in the franchise.
It is amazing how actor-director-producer Ramesh Aravind has sustained the same zest and passion towards his craft in the last 35 years. There is never an idle moment, so there’s no chance in hell that the devil can ever make Ramesh’s mind his workshop. If he is not on a set or in a creative discussion as an actor, director or producer, he is busy writing scripts for films and web shows he wants to do, or is doing public awareness campaigns for the government or just making quick informative videos that he believes will be useful to people. As the actor celebrates his birthday (September 10), he is set begins the day with happy tidings about his next as an actor, the sequel to his 2020 Shivaji Surathkal: Ranagiri Rahasya, which was set as Case No. 101 in the detective franchise.
“Director Akash Srivatsa zeroed in on Case No.101, to coincide with the fact that it was my 101st film as a hero in Kannada cinema. The next film that we are announcing is Case No.103 and I am happy to start it on my birthday. Shivaji Surathkal was always meant to be a franchise. The idea was to have a desi Sherlock Holmes – if Sherlock Holmes was born in Karnataka, he’d be Shivaji Surathkal. With every film we wanted to tackle one case and we had the liberty to either go back in time or forward. This one is, obviously, set after Ranagiri Rahasya, but will have flashbacks to the lead character’s earlier life too,” says Ramesh, adding, “It is interesting to play Shivaji, because he has his own demons. He is on medication and goes crazy if he skips taking it. I had never done a role like that, which was fascinating to me as an actor. The quirks in the character also allow the screenplay a lot of bandwidth,” says Ramesh.
The beauty of a subject like Shivaji Surathkal, adds the actor, is that it does not necessarily have to be made for the big screen. “It has as wide a canvas as Sherlock. More recently, it had a movie version with Robert Downey Jr, a TV adaptation with Benedict Cumberbatch and with a prominent female character as seen Elementary; there’s been so many spin-offs and the same thing is possible here. There’s a detective, who is super sharp, so, we have a beautiful package ready; he just needs cases. He can walk into any exciting crime and solve it in his style. It would be apt as a web series and allow us to go wider in terms of the languages. We should go national with this character as a web series in the later stages. Right now, the original is being remade in a couple of languages and dubbed in some others, so, we’ll have to see how the next one goes,” adds Ramesh.
Shivaji Surathkal is a subject that the actor-filmmaker has taken a personal interest in, so much so that he gives director Akash Srivatsa creative suggestions even at script level. “During the making of the first film, at one point we had six iterations of the script before we locked on the final version. Back then, I was also busy directing Butterfly and Paris Paris (the South remakes of the Hindi film Queen), and we’d still squeeze in time and discuss the project. What’s nice is that there are no egos at play. Ideas are floated, many of which get trampled upon, and no one feels bad. That’s what made working on the first film so much fun. I also like Akash’s editing style, so much so that I had offered my directorial film 100 to him to edit, but then he got busy with personal commitments and I had to get someone else. Hopefully, Shivaji 2 will turn out better than the first one; let’s see,” says Ramesh.
So, what can audiences expect as far as progression of the character goes? “This time, Shivaji is going to be a little more sober; his medications are working. But then things go haywire with his personal problems. So, there will be extremes as far as his characteristics go. The story has a lot of twists and turns; it’s an edge-of-the-seat thriller,” he explains.
While Ramesh has always been conscious about how audiences react to varied content, the pandemic has made him look at it even closer. “During the lockdown, suddenly, everyone was stuck at home and the OTT boom happened. People were now exposed to all kinds of amazing content from across the world. As a filmmaker and actor, it gave me another lens to review and refresh my craft and approach things in a modern way. This sudden rush of quality content should propel us to sharpen our skills in all aspects of content creation. I think that the films that start now, in the post-pandemic era, need to be made with a new approach,” he says.
But Kannada filmmakers are still hung up about theatrical releases, even though there is no clarity about full capacity screenings or if audiences will venture out to movie halls. “As a family, we love the theatrical experience, but only if we are assured there are going to be no heath issues. If there is a promise that there is herd immunity and we will be safe, I will run back to the theatres and so will other audiences too. The first good film in this scenario will make the difference and bring back the big-screen experience,” opines Ramesh.
The question remains, though, why Kannada filmmakers are not adapting to the changing dynamics of content consumption and making films on smaller scales for, say, OTT platforms, like how it has been happening in Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu. “As a filmmaker, you need to choose a story that suits that medium. For OTT, you need intimate, niche stories, where you don’t have to bother about pleasing the majority. Once you understand the game you are in, you play it according to its rules. Don’t do a film that is more apt for OTT for the big screen and waste money on publicity, etc. Similarly, a hardcore masala film cannot be pushed to a niche audience. In time to come, both kinds of films will co-exist,” shares Ramesh. But could the fact that OTT platforms are relatively more reluctant to pick up Kannada content a contributing factor? “We need to first grab their eyeballs with some stunning content. Perhaps a couple of Kannada releases that were picked up initially did not match up to their expectations, which is a failing on our part. Two, the industry is not projected properly as being capable of delivering good content and the connection between the bright minds and the platforms may not have happened. In the Malayalam film industry, that connection has been established beautifully. That is all you need. I am just hoping it happens for Kannada too. We just need a platform to showcase bright ideas. Like, for instance, Aha is for Telugu content. We need something like that or the existing big players to appreciate Kannada content and give filmmakers a chance to show their mettle there,” reasons Ramesh.
As a writer, director and producer, how does Ramesh fit into the scheme of things as far as quality content creation goes? “My nature is such that I don’t like being idle. So, while I was stuck at home during the lockdown, I wrote a few scripts; a couple that have been written as movies and could be given to other filmmakers to develop, while I act in them and a few others that I would like to direct myself. In fact, I also developed two web series, including a crime thriller, because there was a proposal from an OTT platform. The scripts are ready and await execution,” he says.
Up next, though, Ramesh is gearing up for the release of 100, a film about cybercrime. “The film is censored and ready and was supposed to release on the 50th day of Shivaji Surathkal, but then the lockdown happened and stalled those plans. In the interim, the producer liked the final version so much that he decided to dub it into Telugu as 100#cybercrime. The message of the film is that social media is a boon that is not to be turned into a curse. I play a cybercrime police officer in this film, which also stars Rachita Ram. This will be a theatrical release,” says Ramesh, adding that he is also in talks for a Kannada-Telugu bilingual project as actor-director. “A formal announcement on that should happen shortly,” he signs off.