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Exclusive! The real star of a film has to be the script and not the actors in it: Sharmiela Mandre

The actress is wrapping up her first full-fledged Kannada production venture, Dasara, this weekend; an experience that’s been an eye-opener for her

Prathibha Joy
Sep 10, 2021
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Sharmiela Mandre

This weekend, actress-producer Sharmiela Mandre can, quite literally, heave a sigh of relief. It will finally be a wrap on her maiden Kannada production, Dasara, a project that she is kicked about. “It’s a journey of almost two years. We began the film in December 2019, but then got delayed because of the pandemic. We are scheduled to finish shooting on Saturday. I am excited that it is over, and that people will get to see it real soon,” says an elated Sharmiela, in an exclusive conversation with OTTplay.

Dasara is being directed by Arvind Sastry, who had earlier made the critically acclaimed film Kahi. It is also Sharmiela’s first full-fledged project as producer, having only served as co-producer on a Tamil movie. “The film has Sathish Ninasam and Rukmini Vijayakumar in the lead. I am acting in it as well, although my initial plan was to only back the project. But Arvind was insistent and spoke at length that I was apt for another pivotal role in the film. Now that it is almost over, I can confidently say that the film has shaped up well. It may sound clichéd if I say that it is different, but this one truly is. It is experimental in nature and not one of those run-of-the-mill commercial types with five songs and just as many fight sequences. And no matter what happens with the film, I am quite proud of the subject. Even in terms of the genre, although it is a thriller, it’s different,” says Sharmiela, adding, “When I turned producer, everyone around me said that I should start off with a tried-and-tested subject, with a to-the-point storyline that doesn’t go over-the-top. In that sense, starting with this subject seemed risky, but I felt that it’s a story that needed to be told. Arvind, as a filmmaker, brings a different vibe to his movies. In fact, I wanted to collaborate with him right after seeing Kahi and knew that he was the man for the job of bringing Dasara to the screen.”

Will her interest in making films that are different also reflect in her choice of projects for acting commitments? “When I was only an actor, like many others, I would always ask about the role in the film, the screen time, etc., and only then take a call whether to do it or not. But after being a producer, one thing that I have learnt is that it’s not the character as much that the actor needs to look at, but the project as a whole. These days, it’s not just about the star in a film or series. There’s so much content being produced for the OTT space with good actors, who may not be well-known, but people are consuming it and the shows are becoming successful because of the storyline. So, your real hero in this new age of content consumption is the script, or rather the writer, and not the star. Only the writer and the director who envisions it are the two people who can make the project come together, irrespective of the star cast. This will, no doubt, influence my script choices,” she explains.

What is the direction Sharmiela would want for her banner? Although she hails from a family that’s dabbled with film production and distribution for decades, production really caught her fancy only now. “Back in 2018, I decided that I want to do more than just act. I felt that new content needed be out there, a belief that has only grown stronger with the changing content consumption patterns of audiences today. With every passing day, I realised that I was finding more and more talented people. After Dasara, I am trying to get a lot of writers together under my banner. There’s a misconception that there aren’t any good writers in Kannada. In fact, there are quite a lot; they just need to be discovered and nurtured. Many of the bigger productions houses in Karnataka are already investing time and money in finding good writing talent, which is what I also want to do – put them on payroll and churn out good content first. Only after the content is in place will I look for a director and the cast,” says Sharmiela.

But is the focus still films or will she dabble with web series as well? “I am, no doubt, seriously looking at producing web series, and although the dream is to make a big commercial film with an A-list star, but it’s not on the cards for the next year at least. Right after Dasara, I will probably develop content for a couple of web serials. OTT platforms don’t make content for a certain regional language. It must be something that can be dubbed for other markets as well. So, while Kannada is my priority, it will be a subject that can be dubbed as well. You must make it like the pan-Indian films, with a universal subject and actors from the markets that the show will be taken to. There are a couple of film scripts as well that I have been reading, which I may take up before planning anything on a bigger scale. These will be strictly production-only projects for me. I will not act in them,” says Sharmiela. Why so? “Production and acting are two different spaces altogether – acting is about being creative, but with production, it is more about budgeting, schedules and it is a full-time job, where you are overseeing everyone else’s work. So, when you serve as producer, it is difficult to also act in the same project. I don’t want to be one of those producers who hands over the money to the team and asks them to do whatever they want. I want to be hands-on producer who is involved in every single process and is on set all the time. I don’t mind acting as well, but I would rather not mix the two. For instance, in Gaalipata 2, I am only a member of its ensemble cast. I only need to focus on my services as an actor and come back home,” she says.

It does seem that Sharmiela is enjoying her stint as the big boss on the film set. “Of course, I enjoy it thoroughly, but the stress that comes with it on an everyday basis is something else altogether. It does give you an adrenaline rush. You may have planned a schedule months in advance, but on the day of the actual shoot, at least 10-20 issues crop up that need to be tackled with then and there. It is stressful, but I love it,” she says.

On a parting note, the actress tells us that releasing Dasara this year is her primary focus. “I haven’t given it much thought whether to take it to theatres or opt for an OTT release, although I have already had conversations with some platforms. It would really depend on the prevailing situation when we are ready with the final product. I have joined the industry as a producer at a time when no one knows where things are headed. A lot of filmmakers are waiting it out to release in theatres because OTT platforms are quite picky about the Kannada content they choose. The problem with this situation is that not only are more films joining this list of contenders for the theatrical space, but with every passing day, the subject of your film begins to become stale. Every day newer subjects are coming out. You should never ever keep a film for too long. But what can we do in the situation we have been presented with? You should be open for an OTT release or if that is not an option wait patiently for your turn in cinema halls when they operate at 100% capacity,” Sharmiela signs off.

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