The Kannada film’s premiere at the Busan Film Festival is a big deal, but Natesh is not looking at it as a stepping stone to a bigger, brighter future for himself in cinema.
Natesh Hegde is currently a media darling; his debut feature, the Kannada film Pedro is premiering at the prestigious Busan International Film Festival on October 9, which he will attend as well. This is a film that’s been produced by filmmaker-actor Rishab Shetty and has actor-director Raj B Shetty in a pivotal role. It begets the question – Who is this guy who’s got Rishab and Raj on board for his first film?
Well, 25-year-old Natesh’s claim to fame were two short films he made prior to Pedro – Kurli and Namage Naavu Godege Mannu - one of which caught Raj’s attention. How did this small-town boy from a village in the Western Ghats take to filmmaking in the first place? “I am a self-taught filmmaker. Although I used to watch movies, and wrote stories that could be made into films, I began looking at filmmaking more seriously only after I came across a newspaper article about filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami and close-up cinema. One of the images, of Abbas holding a handy-cam, caught my attention and I realized that making films did not have to be a mega project and that it could actually be a more intimate practice. Inspired by this image, I began researching Kiarostami and his films and the people that were influenced by him, as well as those that made an impression on him, his contemporaries and so on and so forth. Watching films made by the likes of Kiarostami gave me the push to try and make something similar – not to make cinema, but to express yourself with it,” he explains.
Natesh, who’s got a background in journalism, then began writing stories, one of which he made into the short Kurli. It starred Natesh, his father Gopal Hegde, and a family that works for them back in their village. “I sent the short to filmmaker MS Prakash Babu, who guided me on how to send it to film festivals. While I learnt how to make films the way I want myself, Prakash helped me get it across to the intended audience,” he says.
But how did he get the technical know-how required to make a film? “If you have an idea of how to express yourself on a particular medium, learning the technical aspects becomes secondary and easier to pick up. As a filmmaker, I am not interested in beautifying my frame or making a visually-pleasing film. It’s not even about capturing everything as realistic as possible; cinema should have flaws; just as human beings have. So, I was never worried about being technically perfect,” says Natesh, who then made the short Namage Naavu Godege Mannu, which, like Kurli, was well-appreciated at film festivals.
Namage Naavu Godege Mannu also has members from Natesh’s family, neighbours and others from the vicinity of his ooru onboard. It’s a style he follows, to work in his comfort zone, with people he knows, which he has taken forward in Pedro too.
Around the time of his second short, Natesh was in the employment of a Kannada general entertainment channel, when, “out of the blue” he got a direct message from Raj (B Shetty) on Facebook. “He wrote that he liked my short films and that he would like to meet me. This was after he’d risen to fame with Ondu Motteya Kathe, so, I was initially skeptical if the message was really from him. But it was and among the many things we discussed when we met, I also told him about my plan for my next film. I had not even finished writing the story, but I gave him a basic narration of what I intended to portray, which he quite liked. He was confident that it was a subject Rishab (Shetty) would not only like, but back its making too. It all played out the way Raj predicted, so, I did not even have to stress about finding a producer,” he says, sounding mighty pleased with himself.
Has he ever thought about a different scenario wherein Raj or Rishab would not be involved with Pedro? “With or without them, I would have made the film, no doubt. How I would have done it, I don’t know, but this is a story I wanted to tell,” he quips. With Rishab on board, Natesh was able to go on floors within 2-3 months of their meeting. “This was way back in 2019 and we shot the film in about a month’s time. We then sent it to the National Film Development Corporations Film Bazaar, where it was one of the award-winning movies. Shortly thereafter, though, the pandemic struck and the film was stuck for a while because we did not want to send it the new-model online festivals. The joy of being at a film festival is about us going there, watching it with the audience and exchanging ideas with other filmmakers. If you take your film to an online fest, it becomes like any other movie. Rishab also supported me in this and after more than a year of waiting, Busan is our first post-pandemic outing,” he elaborates.
So, what is Pedro about? “It’s a simple story of a small-town electrician, who commits a crime and how society then reacts to the fact and the circumstances surrounding it. What he does to be accepted by these people again, forms the crux of the story. My father plays Pedro, while Raj will also be seen in a pivotal role,” says Natesh. The problem with film festival glory, however, is that such movies tend to get dubbed arthouse projects that are not seen as commercially viable for a theatrical outing. “We are trying to bust this concept and that a film like this can also be screened in a theatre. But for that, we need to drum up enough publicity for it by being at prestigious film festivals. For now, the focus is on the October 9 premiere at Busan, after which the film heads to the British Film Institute (BFI) London Film Festival on the 15th. There are other festivals lined up for the next 5-6 months, so a theatrical outing in India will happen only after that,” he tells us.
Natesh is also prepping for his next directorial; he’s got a couple of ideas lined up, including an adaptation of a short story. Now that he’s made a name for himself, will that reflect in his style of filmmaking in terms of the scale and the presentation? “A bigger scale is not on my horizon; that’s not my style of filmmaking. I am not looking at Pedro or maybe my next film to be my stepping stone into making big-ticket commercial films,” he signs off.
Natesh’s short films – Kurli and Namage Naavu Godege Mannu – are available to stream on the official Youtube page of Rishab Shetty Films.