The Kannada film Ondu Motteya Kathe (Egghead), a small-budget and big-hearted comedy about a bald man’s love life, was fated to be confined to a small district at the foothills of the Western Ghats. Instead, it has crossed the oceans for screenings in New York City and London and will be released in Karnataka in July.
The fortunes of former radio jockey Raj B Shetty changed after a chance referral piqued the curiosity of Kannada indie hero Pawan Kumar. Jointly produced by Suhan Prasad and Pawan Kumar Films, Ondu Motteya Kathe will be screened at the London Indian Film Festival on June 24 and 25. The film has already been premiered at the New York Indian Film Festival.
The director of Lucia (2013) and U Turn (2016) decided to champion the movie after watching a first cut. “We knew that finishing the film is in our hands, but the selling and marketing was never going to be possible,” Shetty told Scroll.in. “We didn’t have the budget for a Karnataka release. We were thinking that if no other options work out, we would release the film in Mangaluru and Udupi and maybe use that money to try and release it in the state.”
A cinema enthusiast referred the film to Pawan Kumar. “Pawan got us to come to Bengaluru, he saw the film and he was very happy with it. Looking back now, it seems easy. We were lucky perhaps. We believed in our film and luckily it worked out.”
The movie follows the fortunes of Janardhan, a 28-year-old bald Kannada professor in Mangaluru. Janardhan and his family have but one question: can a bald man be considered a suitable groom?
Shetty has written the script as well as played the frequently heartbroken yet tenacious Janardhan alongside a cast of newcomers such as Usha Bhandari, Shailashree, Prakash Tuminadu and Amrutha Naik.
The movie marks Pawan Kumar’s debut as a producer of outside material. Thus far, the director of the audacious Lucia (2013) and U Turn (2016) has produced films written and directed by him. The horror-tinged U Turn, starring Shraddha Srinath, was inventively marketed and has ensured an afterlife by being selected for the streaming platform Netflix.
“I enjoy the marketing, presenting and budgeting a film as much as writing and making my films,” Kumar said. “OMK’s team came to us and told us that they had no idea what to do with the film once they made it. The minute I saw the film, I wanted my company to be associated with it. There were people who had warned the makers of OMK telling them that they shouldn’t hand over their film to someone like me; that my image would overtake their project. But I’ve been saying and still maintain that it is their film. All I’m doing is marketing and presenting the film and that’s because I enjoy doing that too.”
Shetty almost never made Ondu Motteya Kathe. After struggling to make a full-fledged feature in Tulu for almost four years, he decided that a short film in Kannada was the only viable project for him. “I struggled to find a producer who wouldn’t interfere with my script,” Shetty said. “I gave up eventually and wrote OMK as a three-to-six minute film.”
Before Kumar saw the film, another referral turned Ondu Motteya Kathe into a full-length feature. “When I began casting, one of my actors told Suhan Prasad from Mango Pickle Entertainment about the concept,” Shetty said. “Suhan said that I should not waste the idea on a short film. He put his faith as a producer in the film first.”
Shetty fleshed out the script into a feature. He conducted auditions and picked a cast full of newcomers. “Almost everyone in the project is appearing in front of the camera for the first time,” he said. “We conducted workshops for about two months in which we choreographed and practised almost every scene. By the time the cast reached the sets, they were quite comfortable with the shooting process.”
Is it a lonely struggle to bring a film from the page to the screen? “Yes it is – the system is used to formulas and set templates and expects you to conform,” Shetty said. “When you ask for advice, most people say that it is better to compromise by adding an item song or a few scenes for the sake of money. There isn’t infrastructure to ease the struggle of individual filmmakers and ensure that different films get made outside the formula. I would think OMK is a commercial film. I mean, this is my kind of commercial cinema.”
The loneliness of the Kannada indie director
Ondu Motteya Kathe is just the kind of movie with which Pawan Kumar is associated. When he made his debut in 2013 by crowdsourcing the production budget, he wanted to create a parallel system for alternate cinema in Kannada. “I had given a couple of presentations at seminars on how a parallel system can be created right from production to distribution,” Kumar said. “The system that we have currently is not supporting the kind of films we want to make. I used to think for everyone a couple of years ago and wanted to change things together. But soon, I realised that it is only me that wants to do all of this together. People I spoke to were alright with the idea as long as I was doing all the work.”
Kumar dreamt of a collective of 10 filmmakers who would pool in resources so that they didn’t have to be dependent on outside producers. “I didn’t want to create associations but systems,” he said. He has several practical ideas: “How to not waste money while shooting; if you can pool in resources, the same set of resources work for various people and you are saving costs; in terms of distribution, reaching out to a set audience as our primary target audience and building a subscription network with them and so on. Last year, our industry saw many interesting films but not many of them made as much money as the noise they made. What if we had presented each of those films collectively?”
All Kumar needs are a few more directors like Shetty and he is set.