Prashanth Neel’s Kannada action thriller K.G.F: Chapter 1 was an unlikely hit in Hindi in 2018. Its sequel K.G.F: Chapter 2 is one of the most eagerly awaited films, the kind that can roll into cinemas with barely any pre-publicity.

The April 14 release will see the return of the gangster Rocky (played by Kannada star Yash) and his campaign to free the Kolar gold fields from the dreaded Adheera. The cast includes Sanjay Dutt as Adheera, Srinidhi Shetty as Rocky’s lover Reena, Raveena Tandon as prime minister Ramika Sen, and Prakash Raj.

Rocky’s rags-to-riches journey is accompanied by extreme and stylish violence, with the influences including Amitabh Bachchan’s angry-young-man hits, hypermasculine South actioners and the Mad Max films. “When I had first watched Sholay, I felt that India could also make a film that could match up to Hollywood standards,” said 41-year-old Neel, who is now working on the Telugu-language Salaar (Commander), starring Prabhas. “Amitabh Bachchan is the biggest cinematic influence of my life. With K.G.F, I wanted to make a film representing the ’70s.”

Was K.G.F always planned as a two-parter?
No. When we began filming in our huge set constructed at the Kolar gold fields, I realised that the budget is getting too high for just one film. After the success of the Baahubali films, I proposed to Yash and the producers that the film be reworked as a two-parter. They saw the rushes and thought for a month, during which I got the screenplay right, after which shooting resumed.

Did you expect K.G.F to do well in Hindi?
No. It’s one thing to like the scale and feel of a movie but another to expect a Kannada film to work well outside Karnataka. But Yash had a lot of faith in the movie’s pan-Indian success.

K.G.F’s journey in Hindi began when Baahubali distributor Anil Thadani flew down to Bangalore to watch it. After Baahubali did well, he was getting enquiries for a lot of films from the South. But he was choosy. He took three-four days to think about K.G.F and then decided to give it a wide release in Hindi.

We needed a presenter who would understand the schematics of marketing a movie in the North, like Baahubali had Karan Johar. Baahubali had huge stars, a bigger budget and a mythological story. We didn’t have these, so how would we position our film? That’s how Excel Entertainment [run by Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani] got into the picture.

K.G.F: Chapter 1 (2018).

What can we expect from K.G.F: Chapter 2?
Not a single extra line has been added to the script I had written eight years back at the time of my first film, Ugramm. The first part establishes Rocky’s passion for an empire and sets challenges for the future. In the second part, the world of K.G.F gets bigger.

Sanjay Dutt was on our minds for Adheera during the first film as well. In fact, I had wanted him in a cameo at the end of part one, but we got busy with the mess of releasing the film in five languages.

For the prime minister’s role, I wanted a Hindi-speaking person. Yash and I brainstormed and decided to approach Raveena Tandon. Prakash Raj is playing a very, very important character, which I can’t reveal now. We shot these characters in shadows in part one because we were yet to know who was going to play them in part two.

K.G.F stands out for its exquisite production design, especially at the Kolar gold fields.
We wanted to create a sense that the place is hell, but also fantastical enough to make the viewer think that all this may have happened in the ’70s. I didn’t want any plants or trees around in the fields, for example.

We shot at the gold dump. After gold is processed by cyanide, it leaves behind huge mountain-like heaps creating the feel of a desert. Most films use the Kolar gold fields for five to six days for song sequences. We shot for 60 days there for the first part.

Prashanth Neel with Ravi Basrur (left), the music composer of K.G.F.

What are your cinematic influences?
As a child, I watched more Hollywood than I did Indian films. In Bangalore, I was exposed to re-runs of classics in theatres, such as Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, The Guns of Navarone, Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments. I also watched these films on VHS. And then there was Amitabh Bachchan.

After finishing my bachelor’s degree in business management, I pursued an MBA, which I dropped out. I did not do anything for six-seven years. My entry into films happened because of my brother-in-law, the actor Sriimurali, whom I cast in Ugramm. I had decided to make a film as far back 2006, but Ugramm did not go on floors until 2010 and was released in 2014.

Ugramm is a macho action thriller as well. What about the angry-young-man film appeals to you?
I am a big fan of ’70s films, especially starring Amitabh Bachchan. In those films, there is a saga behind why a man is the way he is. And the answer lies in his childhood, which dictates his life. There must be a reason why the hero is so brute and raw. That was one of my biggest takeaways as a child.

Secondly, the love for macho heroes and anti-gravity cinema is inbuilt into every South Indian person who has grown up seeing Rajinikanth or Chiranjeevi’s films or the NTR Jr. and Mahesh Babu films today. Such films are celebrated here.

K.G.F, Arjun Reddy and Pushpa: The Rise celebrate unabashed masculinity. It is believed that such films work in Hindi because they have a ‘larger than life presence’. What are your thoughts?
Firstly, cinema is fantasy. My principle of making a commercial film is that the audience shouldn’t feel that the hero is my neighbour, I know this guy in real life.

Silently, every girl likes bad boys but with chivalry. They want a man to have that brash, masculine attitude, but if he is chivalrous, his ways are acceptable. Take Al Pacino’s Scarface. He is like a monster in the film but he won’t kill women and children. The guy is not all about himself, he is human too. He loves his mother, perhaps wants to get married.

A macho hero or action won’t necessarily guarantee great box office. There is no luck involved in a movie doing exceptionally well or more than it is supposed to. Pushpa has a lot going for it apart from its genre.

Word of mouth counts more than the star cast, poster design and trailer. Ultimately, the larger populace connects one way or another to all kinds of films. They don’t necessarily have to be macho or action films. People made unusual films like Queen a superhit. Ayushmann Khurrana’s films are loved. Because these films are good.

K.G.F: Chapter 2 (2022).