Vijaya Prasad was once seen as an unconventional, sem-radical voice in Kannada cinema but
In 2012, filmmaker Vijaya Prasad caught the attention of Kannada cinema patrons through his debut outing Sidlingu. The film, which in essence is a coming-of-age chronicler, turned out to be an atypical experience for the audiences not only because of its subject matter but also the manner in which it was told. One saw a kind of rawness and candour with which the story unfolded but beyond that, it was the lyrical rhythm in Vijaya Prasad's dialogues that did the trick. Of course, the same dialogues were also laced with double entendres, or cheshte maathu, which would soon become one of the main attributes of the filmmaker.
Sidlingu was a commercial and critical success and Yogesh, who played the titular role, delivered arguably his best performance to date in the film. But more importantly, the film revealed a different side of actress Ramya, whose unfrilled and realistic portrayal of a school teacher won her a lot of praise from both critics and viewers. Vijaya Prasad would be judged Best Director by the 60th Filmfare Awards South with Suman Ranganathan, another cast member, winning Best Supporting Actress.
But contrary to expectations, Vijaya Prasad did not effectively burst onto the scene because it took him nearly four years to bring his second outing, Neer Dose, onto the big screen. "It is true that Sidlingu was appreciated all around, it even won five awards including a state award. But I needed three years to get started on my next project. The factors for that are plenty - it could be my choice of stories, my worldview or even that Sidlingu did make as much money as expected. But it is true that I could not bring producers on board easily. You could win awards but you cannot bask in that glory for too long nor do those awards could help you financially. Of course, they encourage you, validate your efforts, etc. but that is about it," shares Vijaya Prasad.
The Vijaya Prasad template
It cannot be denied that with only two films in his repertoire, Vijaya Prasad managed to mark a small niche for himself in Kannada cinema. His ideas followed the off-the-beaten track and he did not hesitate from breaking away from the rigid principles of filmmaking either. Neer Dose, starring Jaggesh, Dattanna, Hariprriya and Suman Ranganathan, was a non-linear film that traversed the lives of four starkly distinct personalities - a retired government employee, a mortuary van driver, a sex worker and milk stall owner - and later unites them under peculiar circumstances.
During its making, Neer Dose was also a subject of controversy involving actress Ramya, who was initially roped in to play Hariprriya's role. Ramya, reportedly, was unavailable due to the 2013 by-election and as a result, the production was delayed significantly. Although the team had already wrapped up 60% of the shoot, the makers were compelled to bring Hariprriya on board and complete the film.
Neer Dose was a commercial success and critics, too, enjoyed the film, although the director was pulled up by them for the overdose of sexual innuendos or "double meaning" jokes. Nevertheless, there was a 'Vijaya Prasad' kind of film that one recognised in the ether.
"I was soon flooded with offers and almost 7-8 producers approached me for a film. I chose to make Thothapuri at that point because I believed that I did not want to make a half-baked attempt to earn some money and not deliver something worthwhile to the audience. Sure, the film has all the double-meaning stuff but so did Neer Dose, and that film wouldn't have worked if it did not have a solid story or any underlying philosophy. I could say the same about Thothapuri (part 1) - even though the film did not work commercially, I feel the poignant subjects it attempts to discuss resonated with the audience at least a little. Else, it would have been a much bigger flop," adds Vijaya Prasad.
A new journey awaits
Thothapuri, of course, would be made in two parts with Part 1 releasing on September 30, 2022, clashing with two mighty releases in the form of Kantara and Ponniyin Selvan I at the box office. Poor reviews and the might of the other two heavyweights meant that the film fared underwhelmingly, meaning that the release of Part 2 of Thothapuri (Thothapuri 2) is jeopardized.
Prior to the release of Thothapuri 1, Vijaya Prasad also directed Petromax (starring Sathish Ninasam, Hariprriya and others) but that film, too, failed miserably, attracting mixed reviews. The same Vijaya Prasad template was beginning to look and feel slightly stale and incessant at this point, urging the filmmaker to go back to the drawing board and break that mould he has created for himself.
"Of course, I wish to make a film that speaks of how I look at life, my social and interpersonal values, etc., but at the same time, it has to be commercially viable. Audiences are the ultimate judges and producers must make their money back at any cost. With this in mind, I am heading on a new journey that will be unlike what I have done before. Everyone is understandably expecting my trademark movie but if I don't muster the courage and take the plunge to reinvent myself now, I will be stuck with that tag forever."
"The new film, whose title I won't reveal just as yet, is about senior citizens in our society. People who cross the age of 60 don't seem to warrant a place on this planet and I am out to question their plight. It will have emotions, drama and humour but packaged without any of my innuendo-filled jokes. One would be surprised saying "Did Vijaya Prasad actually make this film?" and I want that reaction out of them," he shares.
But easier said than done, Vijaya Prasad is yet to take the new film on floors. He would take to social media a few days ago to vent his disappointment over not finding anyone to produce this project, mainly because of the lack of the same trademark humour. The filmmaker, though, hasn't given up.
"I am very close to narrowing down the producers and we will arrive at a decision most likely by the end of this month. This untitled project will be my next, after that I will plan to take Parimala Lodge on floors," he says, before signing off.