I sold milk when I was in college: Nagathihalli

I sold milk when I was in college: Nagathihalli

Director talks about his struggles in a career that spans 35 years

I was drawn to cinema in my college days and began writing short stories, lyrics, dialogues, and screenplay. I read about the art of filmmaking and understood how it works by watching movies and reading.

I am a self-taught filmmaker who didn’t have the luxury to go to a film school.

When you set out on your own, without a godfather and very little money in your pocket, you realise that there’s no compromise on hard work. During my college days, we didn’t have a lot of money. I used to work in a milk dairy before and after college to make both ends meet because I didn’t want to burden my father. I bought books with the money that I earned and paid my college fees. 

I remember that during my MA, my classmates would make fun of me because my clothes smelt of milk. There were days when I would doze off in class because I used to wake up really early for work. I wanted to balance work and college. Those were tough days. But that struggle seemed worth the while when I passed MA with a first rank, won eight gold medals and two cash awards. I began my career as a professor of Kannada literature and worked in the field for 10 years.   

Cinema has a large canvas   

I was drawn to cinema because of its multi-faceted appeal. It is a combination of music, theatre, arts and offers a large canvas. Writing stories helped me visualise. You reach out to people through your visuals, so my writing and the process of visualisation went hand in hand. 

I draw my ideas by talking to people and travelling. You would notice that there’s no repetition in my films. To keep oneself creative and energetic, I believe one should always be travelling either mentally or physically. You have to also travel from one field to another and travel between ideologies and performances. You have to explore different forms of expression to make cinema more innovative. 

I had written scripts for three to four films, which gained critical and commercial success. After this, producers approached me to direct a film.  This opened a world of possibilities and I entered the film industry in 1985. I worked on a couple more short films before I made my directorial debut with ‘Undu Hoda Kondu Hoda.’

It was a satirical comedy film, based on a popular Kannada proverb. I later wrote the screenplay for ‘Kadina Benki’, directed by Suresh Heblikar. It not only won the National Film Award in the ‘Best Feature Film’ category but also the Karnataka State Award. I was thrilled when Anant Nag read the script of ‘Udbhava’ and suggested that I direct a film soon. Some of my other films like ‘Kotreshi Kanasu’, ‘America America’ and ‘Hoomale’ won National Awards.

I don’t mean to brag but ‘America America’ ran in the theatres for a year and won 28 awards. It also broke all box office records. This reaffirmed my faith in my abilities and inspired me to do better. 

Digitisation takes away the personal touch

There are pros and cons to digitisation of cinema. Gone are the days when one would carry huge prints to be processed.

Today, you get a lot of things done at the click of a button. There was a time when musicians would come together to make music for a movie. With the advent of digital technology, musicians are composing music and sending tunes on WhatsApp. Sometimes even singers send their songs on WhatsApp.

Now, syncing of aspects of a song happen separately. There’s no personal touch to it today. Filmmaking and film viewing is a group activity. It is also a challenge today to bring people to the theatre. The numbers have drastically reduced. Only grand visuals and sound will attract them. People prefer watching movies on their mobile phones in the comfort of their homes. Digital era has brought in an impersonal feel to the whole business of filmmaking.  

India Vs England

I started a film school called Tent Cinema School to interact with young minds. It is important to never get stuck in the past and adapt to changing times. That change must reflect in cinema as well. This is what you will see in my film ‘India Vs England’, releasing on January 24. The story is adapted from a novel written by my daughter Kanasu. It traces life of a young vlogger who was born and raised in Britain. But he speaks good Kannada, thanks to his mother who taught him to take pride in his language and culture.

The story begins when he decides to travel to India. The film also throws light on Kannada culture, patriotism and gives one a glimpse into the tradition and literature of Karnataka. 

Nagathihalli Chandrashekar is an academic, author and filmmaker.

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