Covid, death warrant for some; lifeline for others in Kannada filmdom

OTT Platforms emerging as alternative for small regional films

Lack of legislation governing OTT/streaming platforms is becoming evident with each passing day , the PIL says

The deadly pandemic which has paralysed the entire world, will not prevent Rocky bhai from keeping his tryst with “destiny” on October 23. The most anticipated Kannada film of 2020, KGF-2, starring Yash as the star-crossed gangster Rocky, is all set to release on its scheduled date. Post-production work on the sequel to the record-breaking Kannada movie, KGF-1, which grossed more than ₹200 crores worldwide, has carried on despite the lockdown.

“We have not postponed the release date,” confirms Kartik Gowda, KGF-2 creative executive producer, in an interaction with The Federal.

Gowda adds, “Eight-five per cent of the film has been completed. During the lockdown, we focused on editing and post-production work. We are waiting for shootings to commence since we have to wrap up a major fight sequence between Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt and Yash.” The release of this multi-crore, multi-lingual magnum opus will be significant since KGF-1, which was dubbed in Hindi and released by Farhan Akhtar’s Excel Entertainment, changed the dynamics of Kannada cinema with its pan-India appeal.

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KGF-2 will continue to track the journey of the don Rocky and his new nemesis, Adheera essayed by another fearsome Kalnayak (villain), Sanjay Dutt.

Yuvaratna, another potential blockbuster with Puneeth Rajkumar in the lead playing a college student, is almost complete but the release date is uncertain. “The industry does not expect theatres to open until July or August so it is difficult to pin a release date as of now,” says Gowda, whose Hombale Films is producing the film. A duet, with lead actors Puneeth and Sayyeshaa Saigal, is yet to be shot. Filming romantic sequences, however, may turn out to be a challenge with COVID not cupid hovering in the air!

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COVID-19 may act as a spoiler for other mega theatre releases such as the action entertainer Roberrt with popular actor Darshan; Kichcha Sudeep’s Kottigabba-3Pogaru, an action film starring Dhruva Sarja and Ramesh Aravind’s directorial venture, the cyber-crime drama, 100. The shooting of another Darshan film, Raja Veera Madakari Nayaka, produced by Rockline Venkatesh, which went on the floors in February, has been stalled. The crew had shot in Kerala, and was all set to move to Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad for the next stint when the lockdown happened. Shooting for director Jayathirtha’s Benaras, a love story set in the city of mystics has been postponed.

The Kannada film industry seems to be totally in the dark about when theatres will open. Film producers and distributors are frankly stumped by the drastic turn of events and claim that losses can run up to hundreds of crores. The 85-year-old Kannada film industry, which has been enjoying a productive spell of late, is reeling under the chilling impact of COVID.

Well-known Kannada film producer, Soorappa Babu says, “Our financial losses are running into crores. It is as if a death warrant has been handed to us and we are waiting to be hanged. The situation is so grim because we don’t know when we can resume work or when people will return to theatres. It is a waste of time to speculate until a vaccine is discovered but if this carries on for three more months, we will not be able to sustain.”

Just 20 days of shoot is left for his much-anticipated action thriller, Kotigabba-3, he reveals. “It is in the final stages. Who expected this to happen? This disaster will lead to a loss of nearly ₹ 200 crores for the Kannada film industry. We need the next ten years to recover from this debacle,” says a downcast Babu. There is a lot at stake for the makers of Kotigabba-3, who also roped in Bollywood actor Aftab Shivdasani for the film, which has been shot in foreign locales like Warsaw.

Kannada film director, Jayathirtha too believes that distributors who have bought the rights of big films will suffer. “It is big budget films like Roberrt with bigger investments waiting to be released that will take a hit for now. Even the James Bond film No Time to Die has been pushed to November. If people do not come to the theatres until December, we are looking at huge losses. Many technicians will be out of jobs in such a situation,” says Jayathirtha. The producer of his new film, Banaras, is also fast losing money to the tune of ₹ 1 crore, he admits.

“A ₹ 7 crore project, Banaras is 90 per cent complete with just two songs left to be shot,” says Jayathirtha, who used the lockdown period to concentrate on post-production work and penning a script for a sequel to Bell Bottom, which was a runaway hit raking in ₹ 18 crores at the box office last year.

Shivaji Surathkal, a mystery thriller starring veteran actor Ramesh Aravind as a sleuth, was running to packed houses in its third week when the shutters came down on cinema halls. Luckily, the film-makers recovered the costs and sold the satellite rights of the film.

Aravind quickly held back on releasing his new directorial venture on cyberstalking, 100. He is disappointed that Shivaji Surathkal did not get a longer run in theatres but he is more sympathetic about the fate of films, which released before the theatres closed down.

Aravind, however, believes people will throng back to theatres. “The challenge after COVID will be that the audience fed on Netflix and Amazon Prime films, has developed a new sense of visual literacy. We have to match this new sensitivity when we make films in the future. Six-pack routines may not cut ice anymore,” he says wryly.

Small budget films may skip theatrical releases and opt for OTT platforms in the future, say film-makers on COVID-19 fallout on Kannada cinema. Film-makers feel this is a good development since this will prevent the scramble for screens during a big film release.

“The number of Kannada film releases will scale down to two to three, which is healthy,” says Krishna, actor, producer and director of the much-talked-about romance drama, Love Mocktail.

Love Mocktail was on its 43rd day running successfully in theatres when the lockdown happened. But Krishna, busy writing the sequel, is happy that the film is receiving accolades across India after it was screened on Amazon Prime.

Dheekshith Shetty, an actor of independent film, Dia, cannot believe the mileage he received after its release on Amazon Prime. “People are contacting me from all over India. And, recently we did a Zoom call with our fans in Chicago,” says the actor, popular for his role as Arjun in the popular Kannada TV serial Nagini.

Industry troupers feel that some films are made for OTT platforms. Kartik Gowda affirms, “Films like Dia, which I distributed got the maximum pan-India coverage after its release on an OTT platform. This is already happening in Tamil cinema. Jyotika’s film Ponmagal Vandhal is getting an OTT platform release. I think this is good.” The producer saves money on marketing and the film’s release, he says.

In the last decade, Kannada cinema has been “galloping” at a great speed. Churning out more than 300 plus films a year, the industry has been nurturing content-driven films like Raam Reddy’s acclaimed Thithi, Rama Rama Re, Lucia, and action, larger-than-life character dominated money-spinners such as a KGF, the Rakshit Shetty starrer adventure comedy, Avane Srimannarayana, Sudeep’s Pailwan etc.

COVID struck just as the Kannada film industry started to expand its regional imprint. Though the industry’s fortunes look bleak right now, some stalwarts believe that they will bounce back in action by next year. After all, as Rocky says in KGF-1 – ‘the breath of a wounded tiger is far more terrifying than its roar!’

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