Bendre, Gulzar, Hamsalekha are Yogaraj Bhat’s muses

Hit director and songwriter talks about what fires his imagination, and why he hasn’t taken up films that explore evil.

Yogaraj Bhat

Yogaraj Bhat, director of some of the biggest Kannada hits in the past two decades, visited Deccan Herald last week with the cast and crew of his latest film, Panchatantra.

In a freewheeling interview, he spoke to Metrolife about life after Mungaru Male (2016), the film that catapulted him to fame, and his approach to filmmaking and songwriting.

Bhat has directed 13 films, almost all of them with loquacious and carefree heroes suddenly caught in ethical dilemmas. In a style marked by humour and irreverence, he has explored a variety of themes, including madness in Manasaare (2009) and blind faith in Vaastu Prakaara (2014).

In recent years, Bhat has also written the lyrics for Kannada films, with many of the songs turning into anthems for drink lovers.

Excerpts from the interview:

How has it been since your blockbuster hit Mungaru Male? Does the stupendous success of Mungaru Male still haunt you?

It haunted me for three years. One has to come out of such influences every time. Also, each film has its own fate. You can’t replicate a success. Every single time, you have to come up with something new because you never know what will happen. Our journey began there.

Did the success influence the course of your film career? Did it make you stick to, say, youthful love and sacrifice? Do you continue to lean on the values you explored in Mungaru Male?

Values are like tools. Like a cricket bat, you hold them, but the matches are different. My major tool is the value system. We respect our values. We cannot cross the line. South India is very philosophical and emotional. In my films, I have tried to maintain those things.

Has that stopped you from exploring more challenging themes, like pure evil, for instance? Do you think you could ever make a film with a subject like Macbeth?

Shakespeare is the inspiration for all cinematic expression. But I don’t think I am a serious person. I can be silly, even if I can’t be funny. I am not well versed in handling serious thoughts. I start mocking serious situations if I get into them. So I have restricted myself from going there.

Does that mean you consciously make films for a college crowd?

Youngsters are our true viewers. When I meet them, I find energy. They are the ones who watch morning shows. The 50-plus crowd has stopped watching films. Also, today’s education system has changed. The way young people look at their parents has changed. When I talk to the 50-plus crowd, I go numb. I cannot write a chemistry-oriented love scene when I see a 60-plus man. This young girl (points to a Metrolife reporter) can educate me about many things... like social media. She can fill me in on trending news. This crowd generates poetry. They give us a new vocabulary to write. In Kannada, when people grow old, they stop watching films. I get cinematic stuff from today’s youth.

You began by working with such masters of arthouse cinema as Girish Kasaravalli and S Ramachandra. You also worked with V Ravichandran, who makes a totally different kind of cinema. How did you strike a path that is so different from what they are doing?

It is nothing like choosing a path. At every turn, you are unsure where to go. Commercial cinema is not easy. It is a confluence of the fine arts. Offbeat films are serious, and calls for a lot of study.

So you have to take up what suits you best. I am just being intelligent.

You have changed the way Kannada film songs are written. How did you arrive at this conversational, street style that is so different from the lyrical style of Chi Udayashankar, R N Jayagopal and Jayant Kaikini?

I studied Bendre when I was a literature student. He is my absolute favourite. I also admire certain expressions of Hamsalekha. He can write songs that are deeply rooted in our literature, and also songs that are casual. Gulzar’s knowledge of Persian, Hindi and Urdu is deep, but he writes in a simple manner. Cinema is like that: we shouldn’t complicate it.    

What would you like to say about your latest film ‘Panchatantra’? Why should we watch this film?

It is about the young vs the old. The generation gap is bridged in the climax with a race. It is a sports film, and it also has elements that appeal to the masses.

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Bendre, Gulzar, Hamsalekha are Yogaraj Bhat’s muses

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