Prashanth Neel on unprecedented success of KGF

Prashant Neel on KGF and its success: ‘I didn’t think it was going to appeal to everyone whilst making it. I was very surprised – pleasantly of course that it did commercially so well’

When the Kannada film KGF: Chapter 1 released in 2018, no one – let alone its director Prashanth Neel – expected it to be one of the biggest box office successes in India. Starring Yash as Rocky bhai, the movie put Kannada films on the global map and both Yash and Neel became instant household names. The Hombale Films production made more than Rs 250 crore at the box office and the team now returns with KGF: Chapter 2, set to release on 14 April.

In this exclusive chat with Firstpost, director Prashanth Neel talks about the upcoming film, Yash and more.

KGF: Chapter 1 turned out to be one of the biggest blockbusters and now comes KGF: Chapter 2. When you set out to write the script for the second part, did you face any challenges? Since it had to appeal to a pan India audience.

Prashanth Neel: No, actually we wrote part 1 and 2 together but we split it midway. When we started making the movie we wanted to make it as one movie. Then we decided to make it into two parts. We didn’t change even a single word in the movie just because it was becoming bigger; I could express myself a little more because the budgets could be stretched a little more than what we initially made Chapter 1 with as a Kannada movie.

How did the success of KGF: Chapter 1 make you feel? Was it expected?

Prashanth Neel: Absolutely not! Though it seemed like a conventional commercial flick, the second half of the movie – the way we had routed it – was very unconventional because it didn’t have the regular theme that a commercial film usually has. We didn’t go down that path. We set it up in a dark atmosphere; we just stuck to the story.

What would you say are Yash’s strengths as an actor?

Prashanth Neel: You become a star because you have acting capabilities and the magnetic attitude that everybody loves and reveres. That was not what we were worried about at all. In fact, Yash’s stardom brought in budgets to make a bigger Kannada movie than what they usually make in the Kannada film industry. We firstly set out to make KGF as a Kannada movie. His previous films and the track record Yash brought in was that we could make a bigger movie than a regular Kannada film.

With Yash it’s not just about the acting – he is very intuitive with scripts; he understands where it’s going; he understands what my strengths are and what works within the framework of what we call storytelling. He is my first point of judgement of how the movie is going. If I shoot a scene and his eyes light up then I know I’ve done a good job. If he’s disappointed then I know we need to reshoot it. So on the sets itself, we know whether we are going in the right direction or not. To answer your question – Yash’s magnetic personality reflects a lot on the character and he probably shaped himself to be more like Rocky – he became a lot like Rocky during the shoot. Everything that Rocky is comes straight from him.

Due to the pandemic, KGF: Chapter 2’s release got delayed. Were you able to make the film that you wanted? Did you have to compromise at any point?

Prashanth Neel: We were slated to release in October 2020. The pandemic hit us in March 2020 and we had only Sanjay Dutt sir’s shooting left so we weren’t hit terribly with that but it was just the fatigue of holding on to a movie for so long. We got plenty of time to work on the post-production so no complaints about that. The two years were mental stress for everyone globally – everyone shared that problem.

Love the Tarantino quote on your Twitter bio which says, “When people ask me if I went to film school, I tell them, “No, I went to films,”. How much has Indian cinema shaped the director you are today?

Prashanth Neel: A lot actually. The entire cinema of the ’70s is why I am making movies and I am trying to make the kind of Hindi movies they used to make in the ’70s! The ’70s movies had a lot of influence from Westerns and that reflected in the way they were able to put that in an Indian context and mindset of the Indian audience. The Western approach combined with the masala Indian films that people like to watch. I think that is something that has stuck with me. All of the Amitabh Bachchan films (especially of the ’70s) have been a very big influence on me.

So you’re a big Amitabh Bachchan fan then?

Prashanth Neel: I am one of the biggest actually! (Laughs)

Is that where your love for actions comes from?

Prashanth Neel: Exactly! The Westerns like The Good, Bad and Ugly, etc. Somewhere growing up in Bangalore you got to watch more English movies than any other language. That was the culture back then. And all the big movies that came out had action in them. That shaped me.

With the success of KGF, you are being hailed as one of the directors who has taken Indian cinema to a new level.

Prashanth Neel: No, absolutely not. I think there are a lot of other people! It’s just that when a movie is a success, everything gets amplified to a degree where they start talking about the next big thing, etc. For me, this is bread and butter and I don’t think beyond that. It’s a process – this story has worked; they’ve loved the character Rocky. Somewhere they relate to that. When it comes to the making, I have to blame my technicians because they are fantastic technicians and have done the look-and-feel job for the film. That’s why it looks so grand.

Is there any part of Rocky bhai which is you?

Prashanth Neel: (Laughs) The fears that we have while growing up like being bullied or otherwise, we’d probably want to be like Rocky bhai. But it’s exactly the opposite – it’s what I am not is what Rocky is!

Latha Srinivasan is a senior journalist based in Chennai. Her passion is entertainment, travel, and dogs.

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