After Gurudev Hoysala, Dhananjaya talks to Subha J Rao of his 25-film journey, holding on to the love of his fans, and the quest to prove himself.
SITTING DOWN for the first day, first show of Dhananjaya-starrer Gurudev Hoysala in Mangaluru, a young boy still in school walked in. He saw me taking notes and during the interval stepped up to say: “Aunty, adhu namm Daali (Aunty, he’s our Daali).” The kid, who hailed from North Karnataka, had just landed in the city for entrance exam coaching, but rushed to the theatre to watch his idol’s 25th film. Because, like thousands of others, he considers Dhananjaya his.
This, says actor-lyricist and producer Dhananjaya is his greatest treasure and earning from his 10 years in the industry.
In Gurudev Hoysala, directed by Vijay Naagendra, Dhananjaya plays a trigger-happy cop who takes on those who kill in the name of “honour”. Amid all the gunfire, there are nuggets of wisdom, drawn from the sayings of social reformers. In real life too, Dhananjaya takes a pro-people stand when it comes to any issue affecting the common person.
He’s also an intuitive actor who gets the nuances right — think Monsoon Raga and Rathnan Prapancha.
In a conversation with this writer, Dhananjaya spoke about making it this far, the challenges he faced and how he surmounted them, and why fans are his greatest strength. Edited excerpts:
It’s been 10 years since you entered the industry. How do you see your journey?
At some level, even before I entered the industry, during my theatre days, I knew I was an actor. They would celebrate my presence there, and as a performer, that’s the only thing that matters. This love of people told me this is where my future lies. I had a string of flops — eight to be exact. None worked at the box office till the character of Daali happened [in Tagaru, with Shivrajkumar]. Even then, my fans were waiting for me to click at the box office. They kept watching, kept watching. When Daali happened, they celebrated it like they’d won. Just imagine, they spend their hard earned money to put up posters, to buy stickers for their vehicles. I’ve grown up seeing other heroes being celebrated thus. I’ve celebrated cinema, growing up. And, when I saw my photo being stuck on someone’s bike, I was incredibly moved.
Dhananjaya, you’re known to be a versatile performer, who can be loud as well as sensitive on screen. Is this versatility accepted well?
Ah, let me put it this way. I strive for versatility and love it when I get a great script and director and a film that calls for nuanced acting. Sadly, those films did not get audience approval. Right now, I am in a situation where box office returns and business too matter. And so, like others before me, I strike a compromise. I cannot afford to take that kind of risk now. I’ve come this far after great difficulty and I have to focus on the business. I have shown my versatility, now is the time to focus on the business and expand my audience. I hate using the word, and I’ve rarely used it, but I wish to answer my “haters”, who keep pushing forth propaganda. I did let it slide initially, but now have decided to tackle that hate.
Does this social media prattle affect you?
It never used to, but when there is a concerted campaign to reduce your film, reduce you, it hurts. This came to the fore most with Head Bush. I took it as a challenge and released the movie. It made money. It worked on OTT. But the fake numbers talk did get to the team. Here’s how I see it though: When you are the subject of propaganda, it means you are worth their time, that you are someone they fear, that you are not irrelevant as they claim. Also, I don’t understand comparisons. Every film has its journey. Every film need not be a 200-crore film or a pan-India film. We all grow step by step. I’m still taking my first few steps.
You speak so fondly of the stage. Do you ever see yourself going back to it someday?
It’s a fond space and I do see myself going there sometime. The stage provides a high that is addictive.
Are you a director’s actor or someone who works for long on chiselling a character?
It depends on the role. Depending on what it requires, I change the method I adopt. For a Daali or a Seena (Popcorn Monkey Tiger) or a Jayaraj (Head Bush) or Ratnakara (Rathnan Prapancha), I completely get into that zone.
During Tagaru, I became Daali. I would pick a fight with random people on the set. I switched off only after the last shot. That said, I am definitely a director’s actor. Whatever I do, I do it with the director’s conviction.
You’re also one of those very few film industry folks who speaks for the common man with a certain understanding of what you’re speaking about. What are the roots of your philosophy?
I think like a human being and would like to believe that my life philosophy does not fall into the brackets of left or right. I am all for love, not hate. I do not want to identify with any political train of thought. I am a common man and I stand with the common man. I stand with the weak, always. I think the root of all this goes back to how I was raised, the thoughts I was fed. Basavanna and his vachanas, poet Kuvempu are huge inspirations. What did they teach? To be human. I try. I don’t point fingers at anyone.
Over the years, you’ve turned from someone who needed mentors to being one yourself now…
I’ve received a lot of kindness from the industry. I’ve worked with the stalwarts, the reigning stars… and they were uniformly kind. Appu (the late Puneeth Rajkumar), Shivanna (Shivarajkumar), Darshan, Sudeep… I love my seniors. And no one usually rejects love and respect. Now, I’ve turned mentor with my production house. I’m trying to introduce new actors, new directors. The industry needs new talent, and I am happy to be in a position to help.
What response to your recent release Gurudev Hoysala affected you the most?
So far, I’ve always made my audience laugh or entertained them. This was a serious subject and I was wondering how they’d respond. But, the fans loved it. My fingers ached from all the retweeting! But, I also see the audience maturing. They responded to the mass dialogues with whistles and to the philosophical statements with a lot of empathy.
How do you relate to a narration?
I remain a lower middle class boy at heart and a film appeals to me based on what that boy within me feels. I like to see family bonds, action, romance… the works.
What is your goal?
I think getting to this point was itself a goal. I was the boy who would be walking around Jayanagar 4th Block. I have had a great journey, and not many have received the gift of such a journey. I’ve reached my 25th cinema [sic]. No one could stop me.
Let’s speak about Dhananjaya the lyricist. Some of your songs in Orchestra Mysuru were lovely.
I connected so well with the film. [Dhananjaya had a cameo in it as well.] It was like my journey — coming from nowhere, seeking a stage. Like me, the hero of the film is an underdog. I tried to bring out the story in every song. I wrote the first song before Tagaru. I just could not bring myself to come up with lines for the climax song, where he is delighted at having got a stage. The day after Tagaru released, the lines came to me.
You are very interested in the written word, right?
Yes, that’s how I grew up. Waiting for the bus in Arsikere, I would read Champaka, Bala Mangala, Bala Mitra and a whole bunch of books. I’d wait eagerly for the next month to read the next batch of books. I scored 123/125 in Kannada in the Board exams. My words are good, my handwriting not quite [laughs].
Looking back over 25 films to your first, what are your fondest memories?
So, so many. My first short film — Jayanagar Fourth Block — which ran for 27 minutes. Those days, there was no concept of a film going viral. It started getting popular after Tagaru. [With] Tagaru, when the film began playing, I was Dhananjaya. When the end credits rolled, I had a Daali attached to my name… I’ve worked with some fabulous directors, got the chance to spend time with stars. I’ve earned people’s love. I’m rich with this love.