In a candid conversation with OTTplay, Rakshit Shetty discusses working with Hemanth M Rao on the intense love story, creating a market for niche cinema and more
Amid his busy promotional tours for Sapta Sagaradaache Ello Side B, which is officially in theatres on November 17, but opens today with paid premieres, Rakshit Shetty took time off to head to Chennai where director Hemanth M Rao has been couped up on the final mix and upload. “I watched the film yesterday and was so overwhelmed that I did not want to do anything else thereafter,” Rakshit says apologetically about the delay in his conversation with OTTplay. In an hour-long chat, the focus of which was to refrain from repeating most of what he’s said as part of the film’s promotions so far, the actor-filmmaker discussed his approach to backing niche films like Sapta Sagaradaache Ello.
Rakshit, you’ve said that one of the major driving forces for you to do Sapta Sagaradaache Ello was that Hemanth M Rao was doing a love story. What was it about this that intrigued you and what was your first thought when you head the script?
I love Hemanth as a filmmaker. I know that when he tells a story, he will experiment with it. For instance, the way he treated our first collaboration, Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, is very different to how he did Kavaludaari. I could see the change, not only in his story-telling capabilities, but in him as a filmmaker as well. The way he tries to convey a story is not straightforward and I knew that is an aspect that he will work on and do even better for Sapta Sagaradaache Ello. That’s how a filmmaker grows – as he does more films, he discovers himself. While Hemanth’s choice of a love story, no doubt, got me curious, I was more intrigued about how much he has evolved as a filmmaker. I knew he would do his best. When I heard the story, it was not exactly what I was expecting, but I began looking forward to watch him make this film.
Hemanth makes a film once every 2-3 years, but when he does it, he gives himself completely to the project and when a filmmaker does that, the end product will be good. How it then performs at the box office is a secondary aspect. What I look forward to is being a part of good cinema.
Hemanth, though, has a reputation of being a highbrow filmmaker with a niche audience, whose films may not be to everyone’s liking. In fact, the response to Sapta Sagaradaache Ello Side A has also been mixed on this account. As Rakshit the producer of the film, how do you put content ahead of commercial viability with a Hemanth film?
When I say that commercial aspects of a film are sometimes put in the backseat in favour of allowing a good movie to be made, I know that I will not invest in a loss-making venture. I will recover my investment and make money over and above that. If you consider return on investment of Sapta Sagaradaache Ello, for instance, what I have made is multiple times what I spent. See, a massy commercial film needs higher investment, as a result of which the returns are also high on account of there being a larger audience. We are looking at striking a balance of mass and class and getting the mass audience to theatres. It will take some time for them to develop a taste for a film like Sapta Sagaradaache Ello.
See, today, Ulidavaru Kandanthe is considered a classic and has a massive fan base. But back when it was made, it did not do well at the box office. Today, we are at a stage where we make films for niche audiences and we still manage to make money. Of course, as a producer, I have the option of not making a film like this and instead doing a more commercial project like Avane Srimannarayana, which made most of its money in the first week itself. Sapta Sagaradaache Ello may not be doing that, but that is okay, because ultimately, we are getting our money back and some more.
Fair point, but the guarantee of that return on investment comes after the release. What gives you the confidence to back a project like Sapta Sagaradaache Ello, which will depend on good word-of-mouth publicity to get the momentum going?
I am well aware of the kind of audience that I have. Even if I were to do a massively experimental film, there is a section of audience that trusts me and, in this case, the filmmaker Hemanth. They know that these guys will not deliver a bad film, so they will come and watch it. Only when that happens can we begin to extend the market for these kinds of films too.
For the kind of budget that I invest, I know that it can be recovered from theatrical, satellite and digital right sales. As much as I want to be a part of good cinema, it won’t be in the artistic space where it doesn’t make any money at all. Right now, we have built an audience for niche cinema that is enough for us to be in profit.