Rakshit Shetty on Richard Anthony, why he likes to write films that are rooted and his compelling debut Ulidavaru Kandanthe which is considered a cult classic despite not being a commercial success
The buzz had been around for some time, but when the announcement of Richard Anthony was made by Kannada star Rakshit Shetty in early July 2021, Kannada film fans were overjoyed. It marked the return of the beloved cult classic Ulidavaru Kandanthe.
The response helped the actor, director, writer, and producer realise how much people adored his directorial debut Ulidavaru Kandanthe. When the film released in 2014, while some loved it, others struggled to keep pace with the multi-narrative world of crime, punishment, and love that Shetty had created. Many even felt that the film was ahead of its time as it hardly made a dent at the box office.
But now, Shetty has a reason to smile. He knew that he had made a film he was satisfied with, and that’s saying a lot because he’s deeply self-critical, but wondered about the audiences’ disconnect with the film’s narrative style. Richard Anthony, the movie that he is to also direct and star in, will possibly be a prequel and a sequel, traveling parallelly in time before and after the events of Ulidavaru Kandanthe. “People wanted to see Richie once again, and I decided to make one, without allotting much thought about it being a sequel or prequel. The canvas grew bigger as I was writing it. This does not mean it won’t be artistic. It will be commercially viable, and it will be my film too,” says Shetty.
He shares that he’s particular about commercial viability and regrets the fact that the producers of Ulidavaru Kandanthe took a hit. “This, when I thought I was making a commercial film. There was the mafia, mother-son sentiment, Richie, and a Balu whom you don’t know if you can believe or not. It was designed after the five elements,” he says.
The response to Ulidavaru Kandanthe also shaped Shetty’s cinematic sensibilities and approach to filmmaking. “I wondered, what is commercial cinema? I tried a few things and realised that my kind of films are not working. But, I also knew that there was no guarantee that a regular commercial film would do well, so I decided to go ahead and do what I liked to do,” explains Shetty, candidly.
Taking this conscious decision resulted in films such as Godhibanna Saadharana Mykattu and Kirik Party. In many ways, Ulidavaru Kandanthe also threw the spotlight on Dakshina Kannada and Udupi (where Shetty hails from), their unique Kannada dialect, the Tulu spoken in the region, and also the art of hulivesha or the tiger dance. These references were not peripheral but seamlessly integrated with the film’s narrative. “I’ve always believed in writing about a world I am familiar with,” says Shetty, who wrote parts of Richard Anthony in Goa. “Richie is from Malpe, but travels along the West Coast as the film goes forward. When a film is rooted, it becomes easy to write it. That way, Kirik was easy too — it draws from my personal experience in college.”
Shetty’s writing — even in the recent Avane Sriman Narayana (2019), where he is credited with The Seven Odds, his writing team — is appealing, but also layered. “The audience has to enjoy a scene irrespective of whether they are involved or not. If they are involved, they get a little extra, a bonus, some more understanding. It gets better with every watch,” he says about the fantasy comedy.
Just like for any other film written by Shetty, Richard Anthony too has gone through many drafts to get where it is. “I keep revisiting what I write so often that sometimes, even I get confused. Till the interval point, I keep rewriting. All my doubts have to be clarified before the second half,” says Shetty, who is considered among the young stars of Kannada cinema committed to reinventing the cinematic landscape.
Over the years, the way Shetty views his cinematic journey and growth has changed too. “Every film has been a learning curve as a filmmaker. Destiny has got me here today, and my journey has made me a writer and director. I’ve written amateurish stage plays and never really aspired to be a writer or lyricst or filmmaker. I wanted to be an actor and so I made short films. Those films made me write, and this process taught me to make films,” he says.
While making Ulidavaru, Shetty says that he knew he would make it “really well". "I discussed it with some people whom I trust and got confirmation that it is a good script. Visually, I knew how to shoot it. But, as a filmmaker, all these films have taught me. I’m yet to make that one film that so satisfies me. Kirik and Avane have also taught me so much”, explains Shetty.
Avane, for instance, is a film that calls for intellectual involvement. And, at three hours-plus, some people found that difficult. “There’s so much to learn in terms of telling stories well, grabbing the audience emotionally. I still see only mistakes when I see my films. I try to learn from every film and not repeat the same mistake in the next. Looking back, I think Avane should probably have been about 2 hours 20 minutes long; the audience might have found it easier to remain involved. The idea is to get better at my craft with every film,” says Shetty.
Shetty has also found a new fan following across Karnataka’s borders, thanks to OTT. “More than satellite, my kind of films work well on OTT and I am very happy about it. I think it is the legal way of watching a film, instead of downloading it from Torrents,” he smiles.
As a producer too, he’s backed films that managed a direct OTT release — he co-produced Bheemasena Nalamaharaja that premiered on Amazon Prime Video in October last year. Shetty is now awaiting the release of the ambitious 777 Charlie and has teamed up with Godhibanna director Hemanth M Rao for Saptha Saagaradaache Ello.
Subha J Rao is a freelance journalist based in Mangaluru