After directing the action drama Ugramm in 2014, Kannada filmmaker Prashant Neel was looking for a producer for his new script, set against the backdrop of the gold mines of Kolar in Karnataka in the 1970s. Neel found a producer in Vijay Kiragandur’s Hombale Films, but what he didn’t anticipate was that over the course of the next four years, his script would be transformed into a big-budget two-part film, pitched as a Baahubali-style franchise and released in languages other than Kannada.

Starring Yash, Srinidhi, B Suresh and Achyuth Kumar, KGF (Kolar Gold Fields) will hit the screens on December 21 in Kannada, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. The film is being released on the same day as Aanand L Rai’s Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Zero in Hindi and Vijay Sethupathi’s Seethakathi in Tamil. The Hindi version is being presented by Ritesh Sidhwani and Farhan Akhtar’s Excel Entertainment.

“I did not think I should be making something of this scale as my second movie,” Neel told during an interview in Bengaluru. “But when my producer heard the one-line plot idea that I had for the film, he and his team really liked it and didn’t care about how much money they were going to put in the film. Then Yash, who also liked the script, came on board and together, they encouraged me to dream bigger and bigger.”

KGF: Chapter 1 (2018).

The trailer introduces us to Rocky (Yash), whose fortunes are closely linked to the discovery of the gold mine in Kolar. KGF is pure fiction, the makers of the film have stated, and has nothing to do with the real mines, which were shut down in 2001.

KGF is actually a “simple” story of a mother and her son, Neel said. “A dying mother tells her son that it doesn’t matter how her son leads his life as long as he ensures that when he dies, he is a rich man,” Neel said. “I have always believed that a hero is made in his childhood. It is his childhood that determines who he becomes. Even in this film, the central character’s destiny is sealed in that wish expressed by his dying mother. Everything he does, good or bad, is done to achieve that goal.”

Neel set the story in the 1970s because he is a huge admirer of films from that decade. “I wanted to recreate the 1970s on the big screen,” he said. “I’m a big fan of that era of Hindi cinema, especially of Amitabh Bachchan and his films. This was the era when action as a genre took off in Hindi cinema. It was our Western in a sense. I love that genre and wanted to make something similar. I’ve grown up watching their movies on VHS tapes. So a lot of the inspiration comes from there.”

After analysing the Hindi action films of the ’70s, Neel found one common element across productions: gold. “Gold smuggling, especially,” Neel said. “Now, KGF was a place I had visited earlier and I remember being fascinated by it. So, I put two and two together and I made four.”

The script of KGF came to Yash at just the right time in his career, he told “Our goal was to make an astounding film, one that takes root in the Kannada industry and is showcased to the world,” Yash said. “I had seen Ugramm when it came out in 2014 and remember being quite impressed by it. So, when I heard that Prashant has a new script, I was interested. I heard the story and was immediately convinced that this was the big film that we were waiting to make.”

Yash in KGF. Courtesy Hombale Films.

Yash made his debut with a small role in Priya Hassan’s Jambada Hudugi (2007). Over the years, he has starred in a combination of romantic and action roles: Moggina Manasu (2008), Rocky (2008), Modalasala (2010), Googly (2013), Mr and Mrs Ramachari (2014) and Masterpiece (2016). KGF comes two years after Yash’s previous release, Mahesh Rao’s Santhu Straight Forward (2016).

“I was amazed that an actor like him, one who is at the height of his powers in the Kannada film industry, said yes to a time-taking project like this,” Neel said. “He is doing so well and yet, he decided to set aside two years for one project without knowing whether it would work or not. That’s a fantastic thing.”

KGF began as a Kannada-only film when it first went on the floors. “We shot for 11 days and I showed the rushes to Yash and the producer and that’s when they started dreaming bigger,” Neel said. “This was also the time when Baahubali’s second instalment had released. It had become clear that people do accept movies from other languages if the scale is big and they like the concept. Both Yash and the producer told me not to scale down anything, just make what’s in your head.”

It was then decided that KGF would be pitched as a dubbed pan-Indian film. “This is what is required for the Kannada industry,” Yash said. “We must change with the times. We are living in a time when cinema is becoming pan-Indian and international. Every industry has to be in this game and this film is marking such a step for Kannada.”

Audience tastes have moved from “What your story is” to “How is your story being told,” Neel added.

“We have to look at creating an experience for the audience in theatres, make them laugh, cry or get scared together, but on a bigger scale and platform,” he said. “Else, you’re not going to get people to come to theatres, especially with Netflix and Amazon around.”

KGF (2018).