Gandhada Gudi director Amoghavarsha spoke with OTTplay about how he put the film together after Puneeth Rajkumar’s demise, and what their journey together meant to him.
Subha J Rao
Last Updated: 09.19 AM, Nov 06, 2022
A year after Kannada star Puneeth Rajkumar’s untimely demise, his grieving fans found solace — fittingly enough — in cinema. Gandhada Gudi, directed by Amoghavarsha, and documenting his journey with Puneeth through the rich topography of Karnataka, a land the star loved like life itself, has served as a measure of closure.
The duo travelled via four-wheeler and motorcycle, trekked, all while uncovering hidden facets of the state and revisiting well-known ones. More importantly, Gandhada Gudi was a reminder of just why Puneeth was so loved, and why those who weren’t familiar with his work should now take the chance to.
In an email interview with this writer, Amoghavarsha addressed how he put the film together after Puneeth’s demise and what the journey meant to him. Edited excerpts:
This is a question only three directors in Kannada have been asked — Chethan Kumar (James), Nagendra Prasad (Lucky Man) and now you. How torturous was the process of putting together the film after Puneeth’s demise?
It was initially very hard for me and the team to accept that he is not around with us physically. We had shot everything and were in the middle of editing when he passed away. We had to rethink the whole treatment of the film after his demise.
However, Ashwini [Puneeth’s wife] was of great support throughout this process. She never made us feel his absence, though we did miss him being around to see the film. She has been an integral part of the film from the first time I met Puneeth. She even came to some of the shoots. There was no change in the creative freedom that was given to me and that helped us complete the film the way we had envisioned.
You have managed to provide closure to many of his fans with Gandhada Gudi. It's almost like Appu decided ‘these are things I want to tell people; show them’. But have you found closure?
I am happy to know that his fans have said that their grief has reduced after watching the film. Some said they feel he is still around. People were very happy to see him being so joyful and smiling throughout the film. Ashwini, his children and his fans are happy with the film and that’s my closure.
While the film credits show a writing/scripting team, Gandhada Gudi seems like a very organic conversation. Did you ever have to steer it or did Nature drive the interaction?
That’s right. In a film like this, not much is in your control. You cannot plan for animals to appear. Nature has its way and we just have to follow, and go with the flow.
However, we did have a broad structure for the film. The cameras would roll for hours. There were times we would forget that the camera was on and continue talking while waiting in the forest or while driving from one location to another.
Our conversations were very organic. Puneeth was a very curious person, so he would ask questions and the conversation would just go from there. There was no steering needed. He was someone who could talk about Nature, technology, animals in South America, and local food. So it was all very effortless.
How many hours of footage did you shoot and how many days long was this journey?
The film was shot over a year. The footage runs into terabytes. There were days when the cameras rolled continuously for five to six hours. Unlike Puneeth’s other films, there was no “sound, camera, action” and “cut”.
Each one of us has found something different to love in the film or found something poignant. For instance, the scene where he says he has to get back to his wife and children and three films. What’s the scene you carry in your heart?
For me, the most special moment was when he took me to his ancestral home. When we were planning the locations and decided on Nagarhole, he said he wanted to take me to Gajanur, which is not too far from Nagarhole. It was a surreal experience. My parents and multiple generations have been Dr Rajkumar’s fans. He is an icon and to be taken to his house by his son was a very touching moment for me. It was truly an unbelievable experience and you can see that in the film too.
Can you speak a little about the genesis of the film?
I feel blessed that after seeing my previous wildlife films, Puneeth called me to meet him. He was very curious about my work and I invited him to come along. What followed was a very organic process of creating this film together. We met in August 2020 for the first time. In September I showed him a sort of a concept video and we were shooting in October. I have never seen a film being greenlit so quickly. I am also glad that I could show him a rough cut of the footage. And he loved what he saw. He had even shown some of the clips to his close friends and spoken about the film with a lot of excitement.
Would the film have shaped up differently had Puneeth been around?
Yes, the film would have been different from what it is right now in some ways, but I don’t feel I had to give up anything. In fact, I felt I always had a guiding force with me. Things just worked out for us to give this film whatever it needed. Whenever I would get stuck with some decision, I would think about what Puneeth would have wanted and what his fans would want, and that has always helped me make the right decisions.
As a human being and an individual how was this journey for you and what was the biggest takeaway?
I discovered what a real hero is. A universal human. Simple, humble and down to earth. Initially, I was a bit worried about taking a superstar into the wild, where there are few facilities, no electricity and no running water. But Puneeth was always easygoing and adjusted to every situation. He never said no to anything. His childlike curiosity was endearing and made the whole journey even more enjoyable. I never felt I was shooting with a superstar of that stature. He made each one of us comfortable. And that’s the true mark of a hero.
Do you see the scope for more such collaborations with performers?
Yes, I think it’s time for ‘Man with Nature’, and I hope more such films will get made across the country and the world.
What was the most heartfelt response you experienced with Gandhada Gudi?
The fact that his fans got closure, that their grief lessened, that’s very, very precious for me. That I could be a bridge in this journey of grief for his fans moved me.