Three years after his sensational debut with Jeerjimbe, director Karthik Saragur is back to serve audience with a sumptuous Bheemasena Nalamaharaja feast. He speaks to S Shyam Prasad about what to expect from his latest film which goes online at 12 AM on Thursday.
Q: Despite COVID, this is a big gap between your first film Jeerjimbe and Bheemasena Nalamaharaja. What took you so long?
A: Bheemasena Nalamaharaja was originally planned for a October 2019 release. At around the same time producer Pushkar Mallikarjunaiah had to concentrate on the release of Avane Srimannarayana. You know how big an effort that was. It was not prudent to release this film then. Then we decided to shift the release to February this year. We were in the process of obtaining the Censor Certificate when Corona struck. There was no other go but to wait it out.
Q: How did you utilize this time for the movie?
A: It gave us an opportunity to prepare the film to our liking. Unlike fast-food, slow-cooked food over low flame is supposed to give you the best taste and retain all the flavours and nutrition. I believe that is what has happened with Bheemasena Nalamaharaja.
Q: The titles of your two films are worlds apart. Are the genres and subjects as different?
A: Yes. Jeerjimbe was more to do with self-discovery of a girl. We were trying to address the society and I tried to put a question before it about child marriage and how we treat our females. This movie is more personal, Bheemasena Nalamaharaja is about self-acceptance and the family. We have the concept of ‘Shadrasa Bhojana’ or the six tastes. These ‘rasas’ of Salt, sour, sweet, pungent, astringent and bitter should be in the correct proportions for the food to taste good. Similarly, every family has individuals who have different personalities and behavioral traits. To live under the same roof, there has to be give and take among all of them. Each one of them has to arrive at a compromise.
In our families, if there is one spot that has been abandoned, it is the dining table. This was the place where things from what sweet was to be prepared for the festival to when the school fee is to be paid was decided. Today, we are so disconnected from this common area of family communication. It has created a huge disconnect. What this film does is to show what sort of give and take happens between diverse individuals when they are put together in a common place. There are six such characters here.
Q: What does the cook have to do in such a place?
A: The kitchen is nothing but a war zone. It is also a laboratory and the cook is a scientist. He has be careful with the proportions and ensure that the chemical reactions he is unleashing is under control. A cook who can manage to deliver good tasty food from his war zone and laboratory must be a master of this art. Both Bheemasena and Nalamaharaja had good control over the kitchen, the process and the situation which enabled them to become great cooks. When a challenging situation is presented before you, you say you would show the tenacity of a Bheemasena or a Nalamaharaja. You don’t just say I am a good cook. That is the take we have in the film.
Q: Is this the idea behind the title as well?
A: The basic idea behind the title is the song from Haalu Jenu. Even that film by Singitam had a simple family subject. It was not about the society or trying to show a mirror to it. The movie was all about how a common man sorts out his basic family problems. The film still managed to carry so much empathy. Similarly in our film, we show to what lengths a character goes to help his family members. Rajkumar sang ‘Bheemasena Nalamaharaja gandasarallave,’ in Haalu Jenu. How can I not be inspired? Because of that song, this title is easily recognized by our Kannada audience. In fact we have paid tribute to all our yesteryear actors in our film. It is a direct tribute to Dr.Rajkumar.
Q: Jeerjimbe obtained critical acclaim. But I feel it failed to reach a larger audience it deserved. What went wrong?
A: To be very frank, we had presented the film as about a rural girl and her struggle. A 13-year-old girl facing up to the challenges was the plot. We first released the film in the cities and in the multiplexes. The audience here were not aware of such problems and were not ready to accept that such situations exist. The truth was too bitter to digest. Our true audience was the rural youngsters. By the time it arrived before them, the lackluster response from the cities had stopped its momentum. I have heard women and girls in Bengaluru ask, “Is child marriage still prevalent in India,” after watching the movie. I felt that for those who could afford to watch Jeerjimbe in multiplexes, it was no relevant. But for those who the subject was relevant could not afford it. It was also a very realistic film and did not have what you call the slapstick comedy that is the staple of children’s films. I wanted it to be realistic like the kind of Iranian films. That reality, I felt was not acceptable to the audience.
Q: Coming back to Bheemasena Nalamaharaja. This is a direct OTT release (on Amazon Prime Video) and are you confident of finding the kind of audience you had in mind when you started out?
A: As I said this is a family film and I gave the example of the dining table earlier. This film is for all those who watch movies everywhere. They can watch this movie on their dining tables. The audience can be witness to the issues we are raising in the film. The Kannada audience are very sensitive and accept a wide variety of topics and subjects. Maybe the choices before them was limited. This is one film which will appeal to the varied tastes of the families.
Q: Work from home should be the perfect recipe to watch from home then?
A: I have seen people working from home being fed by their partners when they are still on their laptops. ‘Kaituttu’ is a beautiful tradition of eating which we had. It has almost become extinct now. Bheemasena Nalamaharaja takes you on such a nostalgic trip.
Q: Are there butterflies in the stomach hours before the release?
A: I can tell women that though I have not become pregnant I can understand the pain of giving birth. The pains and cramps have begun. The delivery is pending.