Passing out from the school of Yograj Bhat, director Pawan Kumar made an impressive directorial debut with coming-of-age romantic drama Lifeu Ishtene in 2011. Before directing his first movie, he had already established himself as a promising scenarist in the Kannada film industry with hit films like Manasaare and Pancharangi. And, then he switched gears and started making independent films.
Pawan hit a rough patch while making his critically-acclaimed film Lucia (2013). He was unable to find a producer to fund the project. With no other option, he decided to go public with his film. In other words, he decided to finish the film with the help of crowd-funding. It worked.
The engineering student-turned-filmmaker wrote a blog in 2012 seeking funds for his film from Kannada movie lovers across the world. The response he received was overwhelming. Overnight, he found more than 100 people who were ready to invest in his film. Upon its release, the film made ripples across the country.
Three years after the resounding success of Lucia, Pawan delivered a mystery thriller called U Turn. He wrote, directed and produced the film with a star cast, which was mostly made up of newcomers. He scored big both in terms of critical and box office reception.
Pawan has remade the film in Tamil and Telugu with the same title. With this film, he has returned to the ‘blockbuster’ space i.e., making films for big studios with popular movie stars.
The remake version has Samantha Akkineni reprising the lead role, which was originally played by Shraddha Srinath. It also stars well-known actors like Aadhi Pinisetty, Rahul Ravindran and Bhumika Chawla among others. The film even boasts of a special song called The Karma Theme by composer Anirudh Ravichander. The song is going viral and raking in millions of views on the internet. “The Kannada U Turn trailer, after two years, has 1.1 million views. Whereas in Telugu, it happened within the 18 hours (of the trailer launch),” Pawan said, underlining the popularity of his upcoming movie. “The song that we released reached 12 million views in a week.”
Does it mean he will only work with big stars and big budgets from here after? “No, no” pat comes the response from the director.
Here are excerpts from Pawan’s exclusive conversation with Indianexpress.com.
Q. How are you enjoying this phase in your career, where you carry a lot of attention as a young filmmaker to watch out for?
A. Everyone has been asking me this the last few days. But, more than the feeling that I’m doing a Tamil-Telugu film, I was preoccupied with questions whether the film is up to the mark. Have I delivered the best output? This was going on in my head. And it never dawned on me that I have entered a new industry with my film. Considering it is a remake of my own film, I have to make sure it is much better than the original version. Of course, now I should start to look at it as a new territory and I hope I can find the same connection with the audience here that I found back in Bengaluru.
Q. Did you enjoy doing the same film twice?
A. It had its mixed feelings. In some places (in Kannada version), where I thought I had rushed, I had the time to redo it here. And some magical things happened while making Kannada film. I mean, filmmaking is all about magical moments which just happens. Here we were struggling to get those moments which would not happen. Your mind tends to judge the new version while thinking of the older version. The journey was mixed. But, I knew I’m going to make this film feel bigger and make the experience more impactful. I think that has worked out.
Q. Can you name, if any, advantages and disadvantages you had while doing the remake of your own work in other languages?
A. I’d say in terms of production control I knew exactly what I wanted to shoot. So there was not much of wasting of time or resources. For example, we shot the film in both the languages in 49 days. That’s quite fast, from what I have heard. That’s only because I knew what was needed. In terms of character exploration, all of the star cast had seen the original and they wanted to take their characters further. Samantha, Rahul, Bhumika (Chawla), these are big names for me. They have done a lot of films before this. And they brought in their experiences to this film. When I see the film now on screen, I can see how their experiences are adding to the characters compared to what we did in Kannada.
Q. You are known for experimenting with your films. But, while doing a film with a big star like Samantha, what are the challenges you faced?
A. I was worried about that. In the beginning, I was wondering whether I will get to make the film the way I wanted. Although these actors are stars and may question scripts and directors in other movies, they actually gave me the same freedom that I had while doing my films (U Turn and Lucia). All of them approached this film not as a star but as an actor. I found out that within the first two-three days. I was in my comfort zone to ask them any number of takes when I wanted. If you see the film, you will wonder how did I shoot some scenes with Samantha on the flyover. When she came into the project, she was free of the history of her stardom. And she was available (on the sets) as a newcomer, who was just willing to do any scene, any number of times.
Q. Is this film a pivotal point in your career? Will you from now on do films only with big stars and big budgets?
A. No, no. I’m just waiting to go back to doing the films like I do. I find a lot of joy in working that way. It has been a good experience, but I’m still used to the ‘indie’ nature of working.
Q. There is a gap of at least 2-3 years between each of your movies. Why is that?
A. I don’t want to make films like it is a job. I make films when I have something strong to say. I have been writing many scripts but some of them have not convinced me why I want to bring them to the screen. I have some projects which are very big. These I can’t make it in indie style. It requires stars (in the cast), so even the funding is justified. With U-Turn happening, I think some doors will open up.