Ravichandran: Big dreamer who sometimes lost his way

Last Updated 29 May 2021, 12:58 IST

V Ravichandran’s ‘Premaloka’ is still remembered three decades after its release. It was a spectacular hit, thanks mainly to its fresh lyrics and lavishly produced songs. Hailed as Kannada cinema’s dream merchant, Ravichandran turns 60 on Sunday. He became synonymous with big canvas love stories, thanks to ‘Premaloka,’ released in 1987. It also earned him the moniker ‘Crazy Star.’

Mounted on a scale hitherto unseen in Kannada, ‘Premaloka’ left film buffs awestruck. At the heart of this bubblegum college romance -- starring Ravichandran and Juhi Chawla – was Hamsalekha’s irresistible music. ‘Premaloka’ was followed by blockbusters like ‘Ranadheera’, ‘Anjada Gandu’, and ‘Yuddha Kaanda’. For a decade, despite some hiccups, Ravichandran ruled the box office.

For aspiring filmmakers, his commitment to cinema was a big lesson, says ace filmmaker Yogaraj Bhat. “As a performer, dreamer, and showman, he is an icon,” Bhat, who worked with Ravichandran, tells Showtime. “He is high voltage cinematic energy. Cinema is his life,” he adds.

The songs in his films take his audiences to fantasy lands. He erects gigantic, creative sets. The technical finesse is unmissable, say people who have followed his career over the decades.

“He showed that song-shooting isn’t just about dance. He added drama and used a lot of tricks. With slow motion, he experimented with action also. There was style in his fight sequences,” explains Bhat, an admirer of Ravichandran’s frame composition and poster design.

During his peak, Ravichandran had the aura of a perfect all-rounder. “He was a big star. If other stars took Rs 10 from a market, he took Rs 100. He was a clever businessman who knew how to get back his money,” says director B Suresha, who assisted Ravichandran and wrote dialogues for his films.

“The less paying areas were Hyderabad-Karnataka and coastal Karnataka. But this man, as distributor and producer, used to command great respect from those markets as well,” he says.

Churning out films under the banner of Sri Eswari Productions, established by his father N Veeraswamy, Ravichandran spent money like water. “He used to pay his technicians so well that they loved to work with him,” says Suresha.

While he was a master decorator, Ravichandran’s writing failed to match his ambitions. ‘Shanthi Kranthi’ (1991) was his second magnum opus. It was a visual spectacle no doubt, but the narrative lost sight of its subject---the organ transplant mafia.

The magnificently shot fights and songs and Hamsalekha’s chartbusting music couldn’t save ‘Shanthi Kranthi’. The film was a multilingual project with Rajinikanth and Nagarjuna in prominent roles in Tamil and Telugu respectively. It flopped in all languages.

The failure put Ravichandran in financial distress, forcing him to rely on remakes of hit Tamil and Telugu films. As he resurrected his career with ‘Ramachari’, ‘Halli Meshtru, ‘Putnanja’, and ‘Kanasugara’, he also revealed his ability to present remakes in a fresh manner. His originals, like ‘Shanthi Kranthi’ and ‘Kindari Jogi’ lacked soul.

Of course, Hamsalekha’s songs, in the voice of the legendary SP Balasubrahmanyam, charted a new, youthful era of Kannada film music. SPB’s versatility and Hamsalekha’s witty lyrics drew the crowds to the theatres. Ravichandran’s films invariably featured songs that went on to become big hits.

After Ravichandran and Hamsalekha decided to end their long-standing partnership, it was downhill for both of them.

In 2001, Ravichandran embarked on an eccentric film called ‘Ekangi,’ and it was a colossal bust. Shot inside a massive glass mansion built at a cost of Rs 80 lakh, the narrative was a confused, misguided take on loneliness. Once again, fans found consolation in the film’s songs.

The debacle left him in a mid-life crisis. Three years later, the grand success of ‘Malla’ (2004) helped him recover. After that, Ravichandran lost his magic.

The popular opinion is that he has failed to refine his style as audience tastes changed. His more recent output gives a sense of déjà vu. The audiences initially loved his use of curtains, paints and fruits in his songs, but the excitement gradually gave way to fatigue. He is often slammed for objectifying his heroines, and with good reason.

Ravichandran played his age and performed well in ‘Maanikya’ (2012), ‘Drishya’ (2014) and ‘Hebbuli’ (2017). On the directorial front, he hasn’t done anything worthy of attention in the last decade.

“In the first half of his career, he used to finish a film in four months. He must go back to working at that speed. However, creative people are never satisfied and they keep on fine tuning their work,” says Suresha.

‘Manjina Hani’, Ravichandran’s most anticipated project, is sitting on the shelf for over a decade now. Called ‘Kanasugara’ (dreamer), he has always dreamed big, and his fans expect nothing less than whacky excess from him.

Ravichandran trivia

‘Premaloka’ is the largest selling music album in south India ever. It sold 38 lakh copies in the cassette era.

With a budget of Rs 10 crore, ‘Shanthi Kranthi’ was the costliest south Indian production then (1991).

Actor Srinivas Prabhu dubbed for Ravichandran in blockbusters like ‘Premaloka’, ‘Ranadheera’ and ‘Anjada Gandu’.

Amitabh Bachchan was the chief guest at an event to mark 25 weeks of ‘Ranadheera’.

Ravichandran re-shot some portions of ‘Ekangi’ and released when the opening was poor.

(Published 28 May 2021, 17:19 IST)

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