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EXCLUSIVE : Interview with Anup Bhandari

Sharath Bhat for NamCinema.com

Yes, I know. You’ve barely finished talking about how Ranna performed at the Box office or what you felt about Vajra Kaaya or how cool was that new film Ganapa, and I am already looking ahead to all of the other goodies 2015 has to offer. Can you blame me? It’s as crowded a time as ever, not just for the big ticket blockbusters but also for the low profile but exciting fares arriving over the next several months. And when I talked about exciting stuff, Rangitaranga was what I had in my mind!! That exciting film whose trailer impressed everyone. Here is the good thing. You can now mark the dates on your calendars(Who uses calendars these days anyway!!). July 3rd it is! Rangitaranga will finally be released on July 3rd.

There is nothing to match the thrill and surprise of discovering a great film for the first time, it is this thrill and, in our case, the anticipation of it that made us talk to the director. In this wide-ranging talk, Nam Cinema spoke to the captain of the ship Anup Bhandari about his inspirations, his thoughts about helming this film, and how he created his ambitious movie. Read on!!

Let us begin from the beginning. How did you get attracted to this medium?

From as long as I can remember I have been influenced by movies and music. Even at 4-5 years old I could sing the whole Prema Loka album A side to B side with prelude and interlude music. When we weren’t playing cricket, my brother and I would pretend to make movies and our little minds would come up with songs for the different sequences in those movies. I started taking movies seriously during my engineering days where I started working on a script for Sudeep (He had just become a star and I wanted my dad to make a movie with him). My dad liked the script and encouraged me to focus on directing it myself. I then started making short films. One thing led to another and I had a few short films under my belt, the most popular being my last short WORDS featuring Hollywood actor Russell Harvard, which got international acclaim.

Loving films is one thing, learning how to make one is quite another. How did you learn filmmaking?

I learnt by doing and by watching thousands of movies. I watch movies from all over the world and from all the greatest film makers. There was a time when I used to watch 3-4 films a day. In 2008 alone I must have watched around 600 movies. Subconsciously, my mind started imbibing the real art of film making. What is right what is wrong? When wrong can be made to look right. I also read a lot about film making and would listen to great filmmakers talk about their work. Add to this my exposure to masala movies from a very young age and you get a masala movie that is shot sensibly.

Your father Sudhakar Bhandari is also a director. Which serials did he direct?

He has directed several TV serials and ads, the most are Kurigalu Saar and Premada Kadambari in which Sudeep played the lead before going on to become a superstar. Quite a few famous Kannada actors have first acted with him. Chikkanna was also his find.

You composed the theme song of the TV show Kurigalu. What was the extent of your involvement in Kurigalu?

I haven’t worked on the sets of Kurigalu or any of my dad’s serials. I hardly ever went to the set except for his very first TV serial “Jolly Jolly picnic” in which I acted as a child artist and also dubbed for a few other kids at the age of 9.

You worked in Infosys. What was your thought behind shifting form an IT job for movies? Did you face any problems in this regard?

Even before joining IT, I was looking at making a movie. IT was always meant to be a stop gap arrangement. While in IT I was fortunate enough to make a lot of short films which helped me in honing my skills. Coming back to the question, there was never any second thought. Film making was always meant to be my final destination. I did not face any problems. Everyone was very supportive about my decision to make movies. The hardest part was leaving my wife and daughter behind in the US and working the movie here. My daughter is 3 years old now and out of that I have only been with her for 1 year.

Rakshith Shetty had liked the script of Rangitaranga and he would have played the lead role had it been not for the issues with Dates. What is the story behind that?

I had initially approached Rakshit Shetty on Facebook to play the lead. He was very impressed with WORDS and even liked the one line story. He was keen to have further discussion but unfortunately he was busy with another film and I had to start immediately. We then decided to cast a new comer.

Your brother Nirup was the next choice?

Nirup was at the time assisting me and I knew that he was perfect for the role but I wanted it to be a collective decision as he is my brother. Luckily for me, the suggestion to cast him came from our producer Mr. H.K. Prakash who had seen him earlier in a TV serial. We still had a audition for the lead role as we wanted to cast the best and Nirup was way ahead.

Who is producing the film? How did you find the producer?

Mr. H.K. Prakash (Shree Devi Entertainers) has produced the film. A mutual friend introduced me to him. He was in search of a passionate and sensible film maker to direct his debut feature film. He had seen my short film WORDS and was very impressed. We first met each other on Skype as I was in the US. I narrated the one line story and sang a couple of songs which I had written and composed for the movie (Akka Pakka and Kele Cheluve). He loved the story and was particularly impressed with the pure and meaningful Kannada lyrics. He immediately agreed to do the movie.

Any budget problems?

Mr. H.K. Prakash was very supportive throughout the process. He never compromised on anything. Considering the existing small market for a Kannada film and that too one starring new comers, we have spent well but wisely.

Movie seems to be set in interesting locations. What was Location scouting like? Any challenges there?

We spent months finding locations because in the script I had very specific locations in mind. It was not possible to find all of them in one place, so we travelled all across South India. The toughest location to find was a house that places a pivotal role in the movie. We have seen at least 100-120 houses and finally found the right one in Ottapalam Kerala. Another location that really made us travel thousands of kilometers was a vehicle ferry. We needed 2 ferries, one to carry the car and the actors and another to carry the jimmy jib and the crew. We finally found it in Alleppy.

It is often said that many directors find shooting to be as dramatic as their films. Stuff like location nightmares, grueling schedules, constraints, unexpected problems and such. Any filmy stories about the shooting?

We constantly worked for 18-20 hrs a day but the crew was very supportive. We had snake problems, we had elephant problems, problem with local hunters, we had an incident where Nirup almost broke his head while doing a spin in Yakshagana costume around a 300 Kg brass container. It was 2:30 AM and we were already 30 mins past pack up time. The ground was uneven made of hard stone and we had poured water all over to look pleasing on camera. Nirup did the whole spin in one take with two cameras capturing it but towards the end he slipped and fell on the brass vessel, head first. We feared the worst. But luckily the head gear protected from a fatal fall.

You came as an outsider(As an NRI), how did KFI look like for an outsider like you?

I am still an outsider. We never announced our film when we started because we didn’t want our work to get affected by unnecessary attention. According to the people who worked on our sets, it was a new experience to them. Even the production team who take care of our food and refreshments were in tears at the end of the shoot. They walked up to me and said that for first time in their 25 years of service they were not shouted at in a movie set. We were a task oriented team. Our goal was to get the job done and at the same time we treated everyone on the set equally.

One of the DOPs is an American. What is his background?

Lance Kaplan has worked on several films and corporate ads in America. I first worked with him in WORDS and we both loved each other’s work. When I first asked him to work on this movie, I wasn’t quite sure he would be interested in coming down to India for such a long duration. But he said yes even before I could finish my sentence.

Was he amused by the ways of Kananda film industry?

He would find our movies a little outside his taste barring a few movies that I suggested and being a naturalist he would find the lighting unusual and disconnected but what he really loved was the commitment of the crew. He was amazed at how our people would take risks without thinking twice and without any safety measures which no one would ever do in the US. He did love the colorful songs and dances in our movies.

Visuals in the trailers are outstanding. Any technical innovations that you people brought in?

We have tried to shoot the movie in a very classic style and have not resorted to gimmicky techniques (for the lack of a better word). We have tried to tell a story visually, so the camera kind of works as a story telling tool. The camera movements are very smooth and it goes with the flow. We have deliberately avoided ramp shots or jump cuts in a jimmy shot. For most part we have tried to stay natural and consistent with respect to lighting. We have some very interesting shots in the movie but almost all of them follow the classic style of film making.

Anything inspirational that you would like to share from this journey? Any problems you solved or any lessons learned?

The first day of shoot was overwhelming, I had a crew of around 100 plus and they were all waiting for me to say what to do. I didn’t know most of them, I didn’t know who was what expect for my associates and a few guys who were part of pre-production. But I didn’t let anyone know that. I just started working and back of my mind I knew I would be able to pull it off. By the end of the day I was in total control and we were very efficient on the very first day. More than that the entire crew started talking about the making style and they started to realize that it was going to be something different.

Throughout the shoot we faced problems at every step, be it rain or some prop not getting ready on time, almost all of heroines costumes getting stolen. But my strength is that I don’t easily panic. I look for solutions and I overcame all the obstacles and I am pretty satisfied with the result.

Any plans for special/unusual releases(Like film festivals, outside India, Online release etc.) ?

We were approached by London film festival, but we are still working on the subtitles so we are not sure if we will be ready in time. Haven’t really focused on festivals as I am totally held up but it was something I wanted to do right from the beginning. One of the few regrets. I do plan to release it online and if possible overseas. The latter depends on the success.

Who are your favorite filmmakers and why you like them?

I love Martin Scorsese for his sheer depth of knowledge and how well he uses it to tell a story. I love Quentin Tarantino for his total disregard for conventional rules and just backing his crazy ideas. I love Steven Spielberg for thinking big and for being able to make Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List almost at the same time. I love David Fincher for his ability to make dark and dreary look beautiful. I love Puttana Kanagal for his ability hit moral grey area and still appeal to the conservative audience. I love Ravichandran for having the guts to adapt Grease 2 and make a movie like Prema Loka which no had even started to think of at the time. The list can go on…..

Mandatory follow up question to that!! Any favorite movies that excite you?

Quite a few. I love 12 angry men, The Green Mile, Life is Beautiful, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Departed, Saving Private Ryan. There is no particular genre. However if I have to pick one it would be mystery. I just love watching a good mystery movie.

Why did you come to this industry? What do you intend to do?

Film making has always been my passion. And making a Kannada film has been my dream. My dream was to bring global attention to Kannada cinema. There is commercial cinema and there is artistically rich cinema but my idea is to make cinema which is entertaining and commercial but handled sensibly. Thanks to the superstars of the industry we have commercially grown like never before. The budget and the returns are expanding. So financially we are in a good place. Now we need to make the best of this and steer towards more sensible cinema which can travel outside the state. We need to create a unique stamp and avoid cloning the styles of other industries.

Nam Cinema wishes ALL THE BEST to the creative team of Rangitaranga. Hope it sets the Box Office ringing and wins the hearts!

Sharath Bhat for NamCinema.com
http://sharathbhats.blogspot.sg/

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