It’s Friday, and Valentine’s Day, so you’d think that if a film-maker released the dampest of squibs on such a day, it would still pack the cinema halls.
So for the makers of the Kannada new release Gentleman, it must have been crushing to find audiences staying away from their film, especially after it had received good reviews.
Unable to digest the audience indifference to their film, they decided to protest. The film’s production team all changed their Twitter DPs to black, tweeter bitter tweets, and started a hashtag #GentlemanBlackDay to deplore the indifference to good Kannada cinema.
Nothing like that’s ever happened. Normally, when a film bombs, the first response of a production team is to go into denial, or generate a few ‘friendly’ reviews saying what a wonderful movie it is, and so on. But who’d go into an outright sulk, deploring the poor taste of audiences?
"Why is the audience not responding to good films? It is not just my film I am talking about. Gentleman has been appreciated by everyone who has watched it. But where are the audiences in the theatres?” said Guru Deshpande, the film-maker.
“Why are there not enough people going to the theatres? Is it a crime to make good films in Kannada," he asked.
To anyone who is not a Kannadiga, Guru Deshpande’s anguish may seem odd, even comical. But there’s more to it. Kannada films, unlike any of the other southern film industries, do command the capital of their own state.
In any state, the capital city is the biggest market for that state’s film industry, be it Mumbai, Chennai, or Hyderabad. Not so in Bengaluru. Kannada cinema is distinctly a poor cousin there.
It was perhaps not coincidental that just the day before Gentleman’s producers went public with their anger/anguish, Kannada organizations saw a shut down they called, to demand jobs for Kannadigas in the private sector, fizzle out.
The simple fact is, Kannada cinema is effectively shut out of the film distribution scene in Bengaluru. Even if you wanted to watch Gentleman, where would you have, if most of the big screens in the big multiplexes are taken by Bollywood and Tollywood blockbusters?
Check out this tweet posted by a Twitter user:
“Last week #LoveMocktail, this week #Gentleman & #Dia. All these films opened up with positive response but when and where to watch? Weekly 8 kannada films are releasing & films released in last week are hardly retaining 2-3 theaters in entire KA. What is the use?”
One look at the theatre list and it's easy to see that most theatres in Bengaluru are playing non-Kannada movies. In fact trade analysts argue that Mahesh Babu and Rajinikanth movies make more money in Karnataka than in their home state where the language is spoken.
While Kannadigas flock to movies in other languages, the same is not true for Kannada movies in other states. It's not often that one gets to watch a Kannada movie in Hyderabad. Prasad’s Imax features Malayalam films regularly, and even the odd Nepali one, but never Kannada.
Having said that, Kannada audiences may still be in the grip of old stereotypes. Just as it’s difficult for a director to cross over from one genre to another, it’s difficult for an actor to shake off his popular image and don a new one
Gentleman, a thriller, stars Prajwal Devraj, son of a veteran Kannada actor who played villain roles before becoming a lead actor.
If you look at Bollywood, children of villains have gone on to become lead actors. Shakti Kapoor's daughter Shraddha, Sunil Shetty's kid Athiya or even Chunky Panday's daughter Ananya. These three actresses are now among the most sought-after to play leading ladies in Bollywood movies.
With just 2-3 movies to their credit, they have become a force to reckon with in the industry. They even give big names like Deepika and Priyanka a run for their money.
In Telugu, there are second-generation actors who have carved a niche for themselves. Tollywood has Chiranjeevi's son Ram Charan, Nagarjuna's son Chaitanya Akkineni and NTR's grandson Jr NTR who are all doing well.
But critics say that's because they all hail from film families and have solid support. Some allege nepotism in Tollywood, but that's a debate for another day. On the other hand, there are actors like Vijay Deverakonda who came out of nowhere and established himself as one of the most bankable stars. So, even though Telugu film buffs love star kids, they don't necessarily ignore talented actors.
But Kannada cinema is another story altogether. It wouldn't be wrong to say that Gandhinagar is ruled by Sandalwood's first family—Rajkumar's sons Shivarajkumar and Puneeth Rajkumar are big names. But yes there are actors like Sudeep, Darshan who have also made it big. Most of their movies do well and they boast of a huge fan following on social media too.
So more or less they have made a place for themselves. Then there is Golden Star Ganesh who graduated from TV host and comedy actor to a hero.
But there is a general tendency among Kannadigas to give Kannada movies a royal ignore. The kind of apnapan that Tamilians feel about their state or Marathis feel about Maharashtra is certainly missing.
So, even though Bangalore is well developed with a great culture way beyond any other Tier I capital city, the reception that a Kannada movie or any activity related to Kannada gets is anything but encouraging. If this be the plight in the capital city, then one can well imagine the kind of response a movie might get in B and C centres.
Bengaluru’s population is highly educated thanks to the presence of some great educational institutions. And the theatre scene is picking up in Karnataka ever since Arundhati Nag set up Ranga Shankara. The culture scene too is good with respect to music and dance but when it comes to Kannada movies, we have a long way to go....