B Suresha On Kannada Cinema, Putakkana Highway & His Upcoming Film Devara Naadalli...

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on July 20, 2015

B Suresha is a national award winning filmmaker, who has directed three feature films till date which include Artha, Tapori and Putakkana Highway. While Putakkana Highway bagged the  national award for best regional film in 2010, Artha won the 'Karnataka State Government' awards for best director and best film.

He is also a theatre veteran and has won the 'Karnataka State Sahitya Academy' award for his play Shahpurada Seeningi Sathya. He has also co-produced three feature films out of which Gubbachigalu has won the 'President's Gold Medal' for Best children’s film in 2008. His latest film Devara Naadalli deals with contemporary social issues, much like his earlier films.

We recently interviewed the filmmaker, where he spoke on several topics including his filmmaking journey, the dubbing ban in Kannada films, his writing process, his inspirations and much more.

1. Could you tell us about your early days and filmmaking journey? And what inspired you to become a filmmaker?

My tryst with the visual medium happened in 1977 as a child artist in Girish Kasaravalli’s Ghatasharaddha. After doing a diploma in Ceramics Engineering, I got a job in electro porcelain division in Bharath Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), where I worked from 1981 to 1988.

In 1984 I made a short film titled Haggada Kone that won the jury’s award in Suchitra Film Institute’s short film festival. Besides work, I pursued my theater and volunteered for various film appreciation courses & festivals conducted by the Veekshaka Film Society.In the 80s, Shankar Nag started his theater group in Bangalore. I worked back stage for some of his plays. It was during this period, that Shankar Nag invited me to write for his films after seeing my writing skills.

As a full time employee at BHEL, I found it difficult to devote time to my ever-increasing affiliation to the visual medium. I finally quit BHEL in 1988 and started my full time career in the visual medium as a writer and assistant director in KSL Swamy’s Mithileya Seetheyaru. Ever since, my experiments in theater, television & cinema have continued.

2. Which films and filmmakers have inspired you?

I have been inspired by many filmmakers. I love all films of Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Emir Kusturica, Kim Ki Duk, Girish Kasaravalli etc. Be it good or bad, every film has taught me some lessons in visual communication.

3. You have directed TV serials as well as feature films? And you have also done theater What difference have you observed between these mediums? Which has been the most challenging format and why?

I believe in the uniqueness of each medium and their narrative patterns. Plays written and / or directed by me are impossible to be filmed or shot for T.V while retaining their impact. My T.V serials can never be remade into feature films. Similarly my feature films could never be expanded into T.V series.

I find each medium challenging. Theater is every bit live, where actors must be directed to communicate the subtle poetry running beneath the text. Television serials though canned have witnessed changing trends more often. Today with General Entertainment Channels mushrooming, the challenge with serials is to bring in a climax point every 8th minute before each commercial break, which poses a huge challenge to the writer and director alike.

Cinema of course has remained larger than life and challenging. Here the visual idioms overpower the auditory details. What is seen could be in contrast to what is heard. Simple use of color itself could bring in multiple layers to the narrative. The edit and juxtaposition can make the whole narrative reach different plains in cinema. Cinema has hence remained very dear to me.

4. Kannada cinema has seen some great films in the past made by directors such as Puttanna Kanagal, GV Iyer, T.S Nagabharana & Shankar Nag. But of late, barring a handful, Kannada films have hardly been attempting fresh subjects. There has been a new wave in Marathi, Tamil & Malayalam cinema. But we don’t see much of this happening in Kannada cinema. What are your views on this?

I have assisted GV Iyer in Swamy Vivekananda and Bhagavadgeetha. I loved his visualizing skills. Rest of the names mentioned except Shankar Nag have made only canned theater & re-presented them in a different medium. Kannada films are as good or as bad as films in other languages. We have a success rate of 2% in commercial films and 10% in art house cinema.

Experiments made by the young brigade like Rakshith Shetty & Pawan Kumar in the recent years have evoked interest worldwide. Experiments made in commercial narratives by Suri, Yogaraj Bhat & Arjun have been appreciated by the film goers. There are too many fresh talents around me & I am thrilled to see their work.  My tomorrow I am assured is brighter.

5. Can we expect to see more fresh themes and subjects being explored by Kannada films in the future? How serious are the filmmakers or the industry in achieving this?

Undoubtedly. The digital era has created a flood. In a few years from now, we will be seeing a steep increase in the number of Kannada films which will be discussed in international forums. Though the market size is small there is no dearth for people with fresh ideas.

We also have four universities teaching visual communication. We have already seen a flood of short film makers producing interesting scripts. Once the finance markets open doors for these youngsters, there is surely going to be a big change.

6. Could you tell us more about your award winning film Putakkana Highway? What inspired you to make this film? Could you tell us more about our experience of making this film?

Puttakkana Highway was a long journey. The first seeds were sown way back in 2002. It was a small incident on a newly built highway which gave me the spark to write this film. I wrote more than four versions, but none satisfied me.

In 2004 I watched a play directed by a friend of mine. The play, based on a story by Nagathihalli Chandrashekar served as a jumping board to rework on my subject that was haunting me. I wrote and re-wrote. I might have written more than a dozen versions of this script. Finally in 2009, I was able to find a satisfactory narrative pattern, which I filmed in 2010. Thanks to HM Ramachandra who was the cinematographer, Puttakkana Highway shaped up as what it is known today.

7. We would love to know more about your writing process. How much of it is research driven?

Writing for a film is a process best described as Write - Rewrite – Rewrite more. All my films have been rewritten many times over. This happens because of the inputs I get through the research. An exclusive team of youngsters helped me with research in  Puttakkana Highway and Devara Naadalli. They bring all kinds of material and information related to the subject. Every piece of information is discussed extensively within the team with specialists advising us on related topics.

Each discussion makes us look at the same subject from a different perspective. We make newer versions based on these discussions. Then when the team feels the script is ripe enough to hit floors, we begin casting and location hunt which takes quite a lot of time. After finalizing on the location and cast, we rewrite the script again and add various dialects to the dialogues to make them every bit authentic. In Puttakkana Highway, we have used five dialects of Kannada. In Devara Naadalli too, I have used various dialects in Kannada & other languages.

Ultimately filmmaking is a collective decision of the whole team, which decides on the final version that is to be shot. After this we once again go to the finalized location and take stills as in an animated series. If we have 800 shots, we take 800 still photographs correspondingly. With this we plan the final shoot. Thanks to our extensive planning it becomes easy to communicate with the team during shoot.

My way of filming is a slow unwinding path. That’s why I have done just four films till now. In future, I may not follow the same path as I intend to make more films.

8. Your films are socially conscious. Where do the films come from, your engagement with these topics or do you build in these larger social themes in to your stories to create relevance?

My theater activities including street theater evolved from a strong urge to socially sensitize people about issues surrounding us. Even the plays that I have written are socially conscious. We need to remind ourselves often that we are a part of the society. I like traveling. I like interacting with the under privileged in the society. Each one in this society has a story. I keep on making notes on these issues.

The film that I am planning on now is about the issues of farmers & pesticides. This thread was the product of farmers’ suicide in Karnataka & Maharashtra; a subject that has deeply bothered me. Another story I am working on is about communal harmony, which of late has increasingly become delicate.

I normally take an issue and write a story first. Then I discuss the issue with all my friends and take their inputs. Later as I try to work on the narrative pattern I decide whether to make a film or a television series or a play out of that. It is the issue that ignites me to act. Thus my story basket never gets empty. The stories show me the way forward and not the other way round.

9. In a similar vein, directors like Girish Kasaravalli, P Seshadri despite making socially conscientious and acclaimed films find it tough to get their films released in theaters. What could be the reason for this in your opinion? What steps can be taken to ensure that such films reach a larger audience?

I love the works of both Girish and Sheshadri. They have been relentless in their journey. All there films have socially responsible storylines. They have attempted to release these films in regular theaters, but the films have not lasted for more than a few days. It is probably because there choice of narrative pattern. They never emotionalize their content for commercial viability and have always been averse to melodrama or even drama. So there is a chance of the viewer not getting involved in the process of the narrative. When in competition with mainstream cinema, this narrative pattern finds no takers.

But these films made by both Girish and Sheshadri have been privately screened in almost all the cities of Karanataka. Some of them are ticketed shows. These screenings arranged by smaller organizations witness a limited audience of like-minded people  (an approximate between 500 or 1000 numbers in small cities). It is a kind of extension to film society movement. These groups then return a small amount of the money collected back to the producers. These alternate ways of exhibiting films provides the filmmakers with a bankable economic business model that helps them continue with their art form unfazed by the effects of commercial cinema.

10. More than 30 percent of the films made in Kannada today are remakes. What are your views on this? What in your opinion needs to be done to promote filmmakers who are willing to narrate fresh and different stories?

Remakes are a bane. The truth however is that many remake films have become successful at the box office, which has given an impetus to those who are in support of remake films, not only in Kannada, but in many other languages including Hindi.

As far as the second part of your question, I have not seen any fatigue in the audience. They have supported whatever good that has been fed to them. They have also rejected anything that does not make any sense to them.

And the third part of your question is about providing opportunities for new comers. It is the need of the hour. We from Media House Studio have produced two films under newcomers project. Gubbacchigalu produced by us and directed by Abhaya Simha won the Golden Lotus as the best children's film in 1997. We have also identified few youngsters with fresh scripts. At least two of them will be making their debut as directors in the next year.

I think it is necessary for the whole industry to support young talents. They bring in not only new narrative patterns but also a whole lot of fresh energy. Every industry should breed a laboratory of talents. Short films can not only be a laboratory for new narrative patterns but also be a library foe the new talents. Film festivals and short filmmakers should be given utmost importance.

11. Much hue and cry has been raised over the dubbing embargo that exists in Kannada film industry. Doesn’t this seem ironic, since many Kannada films are dubbed in other languages?

Dubbing (lip sync dubbing) of any language film to any other language, in my opinion, is a crime. A maker sets his story in a specific language & environment by choice. A true actor will always try to place his character in a specific environment with which his/her performance becomes a whole unit. If some one else just adds his voice according to the lip movement of the actor, it is actually killing the efforts of both the creator and the actor.

As mentioned in the Indian classical acting script Bharathana Natya Shastra acting has Vaachika (Voice and Diction), Aangika (Body and gestures), Aaharya (additives used to present the character) & finally Saathwika (culmination of all the three which creates a fourth dimension). If someone else replaces Vaachika of a performer, that particular piece of acting becomes incomplete and at times irrelevant, because dubbing is not translation but trying to sync words according to the lip movement. Based on these facts, I personally would never support dubbing of my films, I would rather ask the other language people to watch the same film either with subtitles or paraphrasing. Till now, I have directed four films and produced six films, none of these have been dubbed to any other language & yet all these films have traveled worldwide in subtitled format.

As stated by you there is no embargo on anything in Kannada market, but dubbing other language films is not practiced since 1964. It was a collective decision of the mass lead by eminent Kannada litterateurs rather than the industry which prompted for this practice. Few Techies have complained on this to CCI (competition commission of India) and CCI being a business friendly quasi judicial body may also ask the industry to stop this practice and allow dubbing.

But I have a strong feeling that a six decade practice cannot be changed by an order of CCI. There may be few fringe elements who may try to dub few films, but local people would never watch a film where Arnold Schwarzenegger or Amitabh Bachchan speaks in Kannada in a voice that does not match their personality. I as a filmmaker suggest that audience should watch original language content rather than dubbed or remade content.

Many states do not practice this. They have allowed dubbed content both in movies and television. So few Kannada film producers might have sold there films dubbing rights as a business proposition. But from a cultural point of view, no sensible filmmaker will support his work being dubbed from one language to another.

12. The promo of your latest film Devara Naadalli seems interesting. We would love to know more about the film. When will the film release?

Thanks for the appreciation. Devara Naadalli is a multi time line narrative film. The idea for this film stemmed from a newspaper clipping, I had read in 1998. Since then I have tried to write many versions of this script. Finally I locked my script in 2014 and shot the same in the fag end of that year.

Devara Naadalli talks about how prejudices in the society affect judgments/choices made by the same society. As a filmmaker this narrative pattern was a great challenge to work on. I enjoyed working on it to the fullest. I hope, this film will be released after this year's Mumbai Film Festival, approximately in November 2015.

13. You have made films that have well known faces like Prakash Raj. Yet none of these have been typical mainstream fares. In such a case, what challenges do films that do not cater to populist themes face? What are the challenges involved in making and releasing such films?

It is always a challenge to reach the audience whichever kind of films one makes. Doing a popular film has its own difficulty, while doing an art house cinema poses its own hurdles. Having a popular actor in an experimental narrative helps in bringing few audience members to the theater But as a theater person I have always cast somebody not for their popularity, but due to their theater background.

All the artists in my film are from theater. Some of them might have become popular through mainstream cinema, but I never take that popularity into account other than their acting credentials.

Releasing my kind of films is always difficult. because these films do not draw a large crowd to pay the rentals. To face this challenge in Puttakkana Highway we started a movement called Media House Touring Talkies. We took our film in digital format and screened it in schools & small halls. Of course these shows were ticketed. We went around town and made announcements about the screening. People who were interested joined us. In small towns we managed to gather audience numbering between 100 & 500.

We screened Puttakkana Highway in more than 300 centers across Karnataka. This film was released in regular theaters as well. It ran for seven weeks in Bangalore and Hubli. In other centers except Mysore it ran for four weeks. We got back more than our investment through this experiment. One should also be aware that not all such attempts have proven to be successful.

14. What advice would you like to give to aspiring filmmakers?

Strive hard to fulfill your dreams. Do not tread the beaten path. Keep dreaming. There is no substitute to hard work.

15. What are your future plans?

I am working on two film scripts as I already mentioned. Simultaneously, I am also working on some television series. Meanwhile as a trustee of Ranga Shankara and Natana, a lot of theater related projects keep me busy.

But to tell you a fact, I do not plan my future. It just happens.


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