Interview | Rishab Shetty on Kantara: 'Local is the new global'
Rishab Shetty’s Kantara (Mystical Forest) is the latest South film to set the Indian box office on fire.
But what makes Kantara different is that while KGF, Baahubali, and even the recent Ponniyin Selvan, were marketed and promoted as pan-Indian films, their huge success in other states and languages was not a big surprise.
Kantara, however, was essentially promoted as a Kannada film, but once it it got premiered in multiple cities outside Karnataka, the game changed, and it has virtually become the talk of the country.
It has now been dubbed now in Telugu, Tamil, and Hindi.
The Federal catches up with the film’s protagonist and director Rishab Shetty, about the film’s nationwide success, the origin of the script, a new wave in Kannada cinema, and more…
The genesis of Kantara
“Right from my childhood, I’ve been a keen observer and believer of our rituals and folklore. During the second lockdown, I happened to learn about a real incident that happened between a forest officer and a civilian 30 years ago. That particular incident worked on my mind and helped me create two solid characters,” admits Rishab. But, he also quickly clarifies that he hasn’t replicated exactly what happened in real life and has taken some cinematic liberties to add a sense of novelty to his script.
“Kishore’s character is more of a representation of nature and my role is the representative of today’s people. I see God as the bridge between nature and humans. This is the backdrop against which I penned the entire script of Kantara,” he reveals.
Giving a message in a positive manner
Rishab feels that as a society, we are divided by caste discrimination and many other external factors. To convey these messages, he prefers to couch them in different garb and tell it subtly. “I wanted to bring some positivity in people through the form of God and convey that everyone is equal. While Tamil filmmakers are boldly showcasing caste discrimination and the audiences here are accepting their content, I feel that the same can be done in Kannada movies. Also, as a person, I want to tell a story, I don’t want to hurt others with my films. Though we have to convey our message, I prefer telling them in a subtle way,” says Rishab.
Interestingly, Jai Bhim’s director Gnanavel praised Rishab, while Pa.Ranjith also watched Kantara and conveyed his appreciation to Karthik Gowda of Hombale Films, the producers of the film.
A glorious mix of real, fiction and fantasy
While almost the entire film, almost 80 per cent had a realistic approach, the last twenty minutes of the film circles around demi-Gods and fantasy elements.
“As I said since I’m a firm believer in God, I feel that I can convince my audience with my beliefs. Also, I feel that the legends in our folklore have been passed from one generation to the other. Maybe, the legend may look differently in other places but the stories are similar so, I feel everyone will be able to relate to the climax,” he explains.
Kantara to be accepted as a Kannada film
Rishab has seen many language films in Karnataka and embraced content from other states with open arms. It is important for him that Kantara is accepted as a Kannada language film.
“I wanted Kantara to be accepted in the Kannada language rather than in any other dubbed language. But after the teaser, folks in the business felt it to be a pan-India film. However, we still tried to release the Kannada version in multiple cities. Now, people know it’s a Kannada film but for better understanding, their own language version is being released. I’m glad that people across India are celebrating our film. This also drives home my belief that going local is the new global, rooted stories work today,” he says.
Rishab also adds that since the film is set in coastal Karnataka, a few felt that it would work just in and around Mangalore. But that clearly did not happen and he is now happy and thrilled that people across the country are celebrating Kantara.
On being mistaken as brother of Raj Shetty and Rakshit Shetty
Rishab says that many people believe that Raj Shetty, Rakshit Shetty, and he are brothers. “Well, we are good friends. Rakshit’s place is 60 km from my hometown Kundapura and Raj’s hometown is 30 km from Rakshit’s village. We all dreamt of making good cinema, I am glad that all of us are living our dreams today.”
New wave of Kannada cinema?
Rishab humbly refuses to accept that he and his friends have flagged off a new wave in Kannada cinema.
“It would be wrong to say that only Rakshit, Raj, and I started this new wave. Every industry has its ups and downs. In the 80s and 90s, Kannada cinema delivered so many classics. Legendary Rajkumar, Puttanna Kanagal, Shankar Nag had delivered so many films rooted in Kannada culture, which were my source of inspiration,” admits Rishab.
Success can be overwhelming
Kantara’s success has been overwhelming for Rishab. He has not had time to process all the appreciation coming his way for the film. “I have to thank Yash sir, Sudeep sir, Ganesh sir, Prabhas sir, Nani sir, Rana sir, Dhanush sir, Karthi sir, Gnanavel sir, and Pa. Ranjith sir for their appreciation. Generally, I don’t have any expectations and also never get excited about any kind of success. But this time, the love from people and the film fraternity is overwhelming. It is having an effect on me and I feel heavy inside. Guess, I should take a few months’ break before moving on to my next,” he reveals.
Not just realistic entertainers
Rishab doesn’t want to be limited to one kind of genre. He would love to attempt all kinds of films. Making realistic entertainers is not his only forte, he points out. “I think the film industry needs all kinds of films, there are people who enjoy commercial movies, some enjoy artistic films and there are people who like grand movies. I think only the subject decides the genre and treatment,” he says.
What’s with the dhoti sartorial statement
For all the promotional events, Rishab was always spotted wearing dhotis and simple shirts. “People from my hometown wear it all the time. But only while shooting for the film, I got used to it and I have become super comfortable with dhotis. After the shoot, my wife bought me many sets of dhotis and shirts. Guess, it has become my style statement now,” he says, with a chuckle.