For an actor who is part of two back-to-back hits — Ponniyin Selvan and Kantara — Kishore is unfazed, unaffected almost. Since he has been working in the film industry for a few years, the hits and the misses, have come to be a part of the deal. “Yes, success helps. It really helps (laughs). But I don’t feel anything special, I feel happy – for the makers and the team.” There have been good films that he hoped would do well at the box office but did not. The alchemy of a number of factors results in huge successes, “that is what is going on in my head!”
While Kishore is one among the many actors in the Mani Ratnam opus Ponniyin Selvan, his take as an upright forest officer, Murali, in Kantara, one of Kannada cinema’s highest-grossing films, is getting him praise. It is a story that resonated with him, because he too lives near a forest, the Bannerghatta Reserve Forest, near Bengaluru. He understands what comes with living in close proximity to one. The rootedness of the story in the local culture was another factor that drew him to the film written and directed by Rishabh Shetty.
Rishabh Shetty and Kishore are on opposing sides in Kantara, one of Kannada cinema’s highest grossers
| Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT
Having worked with the team before — Ulidavare Kandanthe and Katha Sangama — he was certain about how the film would turn out. “My character is a forest officer, who wants to uphold the law. He gets into a conflict with a group of people who are living off the forest and eventually it becomes an ego tussle between the two. It becomes something along the lines of Ayyappanum Koshiyum., though I don’t know if we have achieved the maturity of that film.”
How it has turned out and the reception make him happy and Kishore hopes such films would shape the future of Kannada cinema. To the suggestion about Kannada cinema’s resurgence, he responds, “If we can call the success of a couple of films a resurgence, then yes. It is not enough for a film or two to do well. That does not make a difference to the industry, it has to collectively grow.
The Kantara effect
“Hope this ( Kantara) sets off a trend of exploring new content. I wanted to use the local language in my film Attahasa, based on the life of Veerappan. The makers were not ready as they were apprehensive about acceptance. With Kantara, Rishabh has been able to do that, with the backing of a production house like Hombale, which has the resources and the reach. People will now see the potential and explore such topics.”
He is happy about the ‘good break’ and is optimistic that if they make these kinds of films then Kannada cinema would be in a space like Malayalam cinema. “We have a great literary tradition, like Malayalam cinema. We somehow lost our way but we are finding our way back.”
Every regional language film industry goes or has gone through a not-so-particularly flattering phase, as did Malayalam cinema. “There were attempts to keep making good cinema, in Kannada too such attempts were made by makers such as Girish Karnad and Girish Kasaravalli, which were not mainstream. And as long as you stay away from the mainstream, the films don’t get considered. There was no bridge between commercial and parallel cinema. In Tamil, there were directors such as Mani Ratnam, Balachander and Balu Mahendru. Anyway, we are finally on track…”
He calls himself a ‘hobby farmer, who farms when he has the time. He practises natural farming. An offshoot of a romantic idea he had while in college. “I always wanted to live near a forest, a mountain and a waterbody. And I found a property like that with a hill, a forest and a stream, that is where I have built my house. The land is uneven but beautiful.” He confesses that he realised the need for farming early on. His ‘crop’ is a food forest. Also known as a food garden, edible plants are planted together to mimic how an ecosystem functions. “It is done keeping in mind the resources available, without extra inputs, it sustains itself like a forest.”
He is also one of the first, and few, actors from South India who have made a breakthrough in the Hindi content OTT space — Amazon Prime’s The Family Man and the Netflix show She. Both of which he landed unexpectedly. One was through an audition via phone, and the latter was when director Imtiaz Ali called him after watching an interview with the actor. The self-confessedly shy actor was initially hesitant but took on the Amazon project as he felt it would make him ‘marketable’ when he later made a film.
The ‘pan-Indian’ OTT space
The Family Man was one of the first projects that roped in actors from across the country — a pan-Indian project. A label he finds ‘troublesome’ and limiting. “I have stopped worrying about it. ‘Pan-Indian’ is essentially the kind of film or content that is set in an urban background. Kantara is not. It is very local, but reached a wider audience.”
“It gets troublesome when you are associated with one film. I was called Kanti Kishore for a long time. I feel it is disrespectful to the films or the work you have done before. If you have been cast in a film, it is because of the ones you have done before: the hits and the flops. They are the steps that led you to it. I am not for the word pan-Indian. But if it works, so be it.”
Not new to Malayalam films, Kishore has been part of films such as Thiruvambadi Thamban, Acha Din, Pulimurugan, and Djibouti. The actor was in Kochi for a look test for a Malayalam film, “an exciting project that is rooted in native culture”. The film is a supernatural thriller based on a folktale from Malabar, scripted by Unni R. This will be cinematographer Keiko Nakahara’s first Malayalam project. Her other films are Tanhaji and Mary Kom.
In the aftermath of Kantara offers have started pouring in, “It happens after success, and it is a good thing. They will want to use Rishabh in all films and have started calling me also ( laughs).”