Always on the move

right direction

Nagathihalli is a small village in Karnataka’s Mandya district. That name has now become synonymous with a famous son of the soil, film director Chandrashekar, who began his career in the world of Kannada movies as a lyricist and screenplay writer. His love for Kannada literature drew him to pursue a postgraduate degree in arts from Mysore University.

storyteller Nagathihalli Chandrashekar

During his college days, Chandrashekar began writing short stories for Kannada magazines. He quickly made a name for himself as a short story writer while he was a student. “We were big stars those days! They would print our photographs alongside the stories we had written. So in that era, in the world of stories, we were celebrities,” Chandrashekar exclaims as he nostalgically recalls those early days.

It was a natural progression from magazines to getting his short stories published as books. It was around that time that some filmmakers wanted to use Chandrashekar’s short stories for their films. “They would often ask me to adapt my own short story for the big screen. How could I just do that, since I knew nothing about screenplay writing? So I did a lot of reading on screenplay writing, technical aspects, about the camera, and began writing screenplays.”

His friends began telling him that since he wrote such detailed screenplays, it was time he took up direction. “By this time, I had adapted many of my short stories as well as that of senior Kannada writers like B V Vaikunta Raju for films (like Sankranthi and Kadina Benki). Many of the films in which I had worked as a writer won awards for best screenplay or best lyricist or best dialogues. Several of these films ran for 100 days. This encouraged me to try my hand in direction. Also, an actor of Anant Nag’s calibre enjoyed my screenplay and dialogues for the movie Udhbava, and hinted that I should take up direction.”

When Chandrashekar got a script ready for Undu Hoda Kondu Hoda, he was invited by the producer to direct it himself. That was the beginning of a long innings in the film industry for ‘Meshtru’, as he is sometimes called, since he has also worked as a teacher. Along the way came many mega television serials and movies that became runaway hits like America! America!! and Amrithadhare.

Amrithadhare even had Amitabh Bachchan acting in one scene, a first in Kannada. Now, nearly 25 years since his first film, he has completed Breaking News, which is due for release in April. He has collaborated with noted director and journalist Prakash Belawadi for the screenplay of this film, which is based on today’s frenetic world of television news. “This is my 13th film. I have never repeated a theme.”
In audience’s shoes

Chandrashekar believes his films are neither mainstream nor art, but prefers to call his work bridge-cinema. He thinks his films have something for all kinds of people, something that the Kannada
industry in its inventiveness describes as the ‘mass’ audience and the ‘class’ audience.

He believes that the audience is not to be underestimated. The teacher in him emerges as he leans forward to explain the point. “I don’t have the illusion that viewers do not know anything at all, and that I should enlighten them. I treat my audience on an equal footing. I identify myself with the audience, in the sense that I feel he will laugh if I can laugh, he will feel sad if I can feel sad, he will cry if I can cry at some of the scenes that I craft.

I don’t feel that I should underline anything. The film should speak for itself. There should be no extra preaching about it from outside the confines of the film.”

Nagathihalli (as he has come to be known) has always tried to select contemporary topics. “I believe that a director should have foresight. Mathad Mathadu Mallige, which was made in 2004-2005, was able to talk about today’s issues with an Anna Hazare-type of figure, Gandhi, fasting, illegal mining…I am not saying that I was a prophet. I am only saying that a director should have some foresight. It is an important quality.”

Nagathihalli says that he has grown as a director with each film he has made, purely because of the amount of research he has undertaken for every project. He is visibly excited with an enthusiasm that is infectious, as he shifts around on his chair. “According to me, filmmaking is all about how much I can improve my knowledge of what is going on around me. That may sound like a selfish need. But it is also my destination — I have to get something from it. This is a need that is much deeper than getting remuneration from my films.”

On what keeps him driven to make films, he strikes a sombre note. “I have this fear of death. Once a project is over, like Breaking News now, death keeps haunting me — would this be my last film? I feel I have to keep on working in order to keep proving to myself that it would not be my last effort. It happens each time I complete a film. My 13 films don’t come to mind after a project is complete. Instead, I feel like I am back to square one, where I began my first film.”

He says he has two things always clearly fixed in his mind — to make one great film and to write one outstanding book. He strikes a philosophical note as he says, “I know that is my destination, and I also know that I probably will never reach that destination, but my journey will continue, with the hope of reaching that goal. It is like a constant experiment.” He says all the awards that used to excite him so much in his early days have been replaced by the joy of the moment — perhaps an extraordinary shot, a lovely scene, a wonderful line in his films or even a memorable instant in daily life. “I need to be alert to capture that moment in my heart — and whenever I experience that, that is the real thrill.”

Chandrashekhar, who has also worked in his early student days as a gatekeeper in a theatre, has seen his own films running successfully at the same venue — an accomplishment that he shrugs off as something that “many Indians have gone through — it is nothing great.” The title of one of his novels translates as ‘the song of a migratory bird’ (Valase Hakkiya Haadu). This migratory bird called Nagathihalli Chandrashekar too, perhaps, will continue its migratory route, ceaselessly searching for new ideas and new knowledge, never resting on past accomplishments.

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