As a newcomer, he felt a gimmick would grab the immediate attention of the audience. Today, neither that flip of the cigarette nor Rajinikanth need any introduction.
First impressions matter in cinema. Prem, one of Kannada film industry’s blockbuster directors, tried to be different with his debut work Kariya. Casting many real-life rowdies was unheard of, but he did it. The Darshan-starrer, a take on the Bengaluru underworld, was a massive hit. So much so that it has had multiple releases since it first came out in 2003.
If making ‘big’ films were the only qualification for directors, then Prem would be on top of the Kannada industry. Excuse Me (2003) and Jogi (2005) raked in record collections at the box-office and Prem was dubbed ‘hat-trick director,’ but the dream run didn’t last. The six-film-old director is known to hype his films. Jogayya, his last film, was launched by stars from the Tamil and Telugu industries: Suriya, Chiranjeevi and Vijay flew in for agrand event at Kanteerava Stadium.
With The Villain, Prem returns today as director after a failed attempt at acting. Needless to say, the build-up has been stratospheric. Two popular leads in Shivarajkumar and Sudeep, under any director, can generate immense interest. Throw Prem into the equation and it only gets bigger.
So what makes a Prem film? The protagonists yearn to meet their beloved. They search helplessly and suffer the pain of separation. In Jogi, Bhagyakka (Arundathi Nag) comes to Bengaluru from Singanalluru in search of her son Madesha (Shivarajkumar). Excuse Me has the leads Madhu (Ramya) and Ajay (Ajay Rao) face a series of near-misses as they look out for each other.
Then there is the undertone of ‘a small-towner aiming to realise his dream in big city Bengaluru’. In Raaj The Showman, Muthuraj (Puneeth Rajkumar) moves to Bengaluru from a village with dreams of becoming an actor. In Jogi, Madesha vows to return to his village only after earning good money to end his mother’s struggles. A young Ajay heads to the city to pursue his interest in music in Excuse Me.
Rowdysim is one of Prem’s favourite subjects. Even in Excuse Me, his only full-fledged romantic film, he couldn’t resist bringing in aspects of rowdysim. Also, perhaps no director is as obsessed as he is with the ‘mother sentiment,’ and the treatment isn’t lazy. Music in his films is generally top notch.
Despite the thin story, Kariya’s screenplay was laudable. Prem is a self-confessed Yash Chopra fan and Excuse Me owes a bit to Dil To Pagal Hai. For a film that mostly plays safe on romantic formulas, Excuse Me doesn’t leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling; it hits you with the raw emotion of unrequited love.
Jogi is Kannada cinema’s pride. It was a perfect marriage of class and mass. The spectators felt the high of a film living up to its huge expectations. Shivarajkumar and Arundathi Nag sank their teeth into their roles. We saw Prem at his ambitious best in the stunningly shot opening song, gripping night sequences, stylishly choreographed fights and the heart-wrenching climax.
However, the law of averages soon caught up with Prem. His next, Preeti Yeke Bhoomi Mele Ide, was a disaster. The story was confusing and misogynistic at many levels. To make things worse, Prem, with his limited acting skills, played the lead. In the name of a new philosophy, the film did a lot of moral policing.
With Raaj, it was evident Prem was running out of ideas. The silly and repetitive plot killed a promising premise. Puneeth Rajkumar acted out of his skin to save the film. Jogayya couldn’t hold a candle to its first part Jogi. During this phase, Prem talked big with very little focus on content. His practice of casting less-known actresses from Mumbai backfired. Their acting, far from natural, received flak. They struggled to speak Kannada and didn’t even get their lip sync right, leaving film lovers infuriated.
In The Villain, will Prem do justice to the fine acting skills of Shivarajkumar and Sudeep? Prem is battling for form. This is an era where the Kannada audience has embraced films like the crowd-funded Lucia and 6-5=2, with no songs. Content, and not size, matters. The Villain’s fate will be known soon.