Outside the south Bengaluru home of Kannada film star Sudeep, you can usually see people waiting on the road outside the gate. Not in any hurry, just patiently biding their time as they hope to get a glimpse of the man they call Kichcha Sudeep leaving or entering his home. The tall black gate ensures privacy - and entry is carefully monitored - you cannot just walk in. We were at Sudeep's home for an interview after the release of his latest film, Vikrant Rona. The film is out in Kannada and also in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi. After the stupendous box office success of South Indian films like RRR, KGF 2 and Pushpa, big new releases from the South are the focus of attention. Made of a budget of around 95 crores, the film has already recovered its costs. Its box office numbers are not on the scale of the other big Southern hits, but Sudeep says he is happy with the response since the film's release on July 28th.
"It is not a typical ambitious cliched kind of film. It is a film of a different kind. Today when we see the mammoth response it is overwhelming. Very satisfying," he told NDTV in his rooftop garden open to the cloudy Bengaluru sky.
He said it was not about - or not only about the box office returns. "We were not worried about capital investment - we would safeguard the film. That is not the point. The point is the effort that has gone behind the money. Just the revenue part is not going to make us happy when we make a film of this sort.
For a regular commercial film , the earnings are a priority. This was not of that kind. It is an attempt to go in depth detailing. People have acknowledged the minor detailing of the film. That is what makes you feel - we are glad we did it," he said.
And was there that added pressure following the success of other big-budget films from South India? He said, "There were questions that were raised, comparisons of returns and the figures these films touched. But I don't take that as a pressure. I don't think any film can be compared. RRR has a brand called Rajamouli. KGF 2 had a brand called KGF.
Vikrant Rona came without a brand - and only my familiar face. So I can't even say I am 'pan India.' Except (the film) Eega. I have not released anything that big for me to say I am coming in as a brand.
"We wanted to make our content talk. Every film has got its own genre, potential. We didn't even hike the ticket prices. We are happy with what we are getting and that it is getting recognition.
The pressure doesn't matter. If RRR did well, it is because they have done everything to deserve that. If KGF 2 did well it is because they have given years to a project called KGF. It has been 8 years since KGF 1. So over 8 years it is a lot of physical investment, mind, heart, soul. So they got what they deserved. And I am happy that they got it after so many years of investment of life."
Filmmaker, S S Rajamouli has tweeted praise of the film. Sudeep said, " I love that being such a big technician he still makes time for all good films and goes and watches it with his family in the crowd. It is not that we are making arrangements for him to see it. He takes the initiative and it is very beautiful.
He knows that bit of me as he has worked with me. He knows why I did this film. It is not ambitious trying to make a film to outdo certain films - he knows where we are coming from. As an actor, we all want to tell a certain story. And at times we can't tell the story - we can tell anything but that story. When they put in a few kind words, it is very encouraging."
After decades in the industry, does Sudeep still feel butterflies in his stomach before a release? "I have sent all the butterflies out," he said with a laugh. "I have sent them out free in Nature. All are flying. I guess I have no butterflies left it me. You reach a point of time when you accept the way it is. As you grow, you step out of an insecure zone to a more secure place. Not because your position is secured, it is because you don't fear much and you realise it is a film. Even if you give the biggest hit - you have to so another film. Even if it is not a great -going film, we should be happy that we tried."
Many of the reviews of the film have been less than flattering. Sudeep believes that both praise and criticism should be kept in perspective. He said, "We should not let even a very positive review affect us and get carried away. Even if a review is negative and the person has not liked it, we do see a certain amount of honesty in it. Why they did not like it. For me that is a learning process. If a person has decided to be biased, that is very obvious
When you understand the intention behind a review- either we learn or we ignore.
A good reviewer will pinpoint and tell us what is wrong. We listen to them and open up and think - we'll correct it. When a person just crushes you with the roller coaster of his words ...We may be less educated, but we do understand their words are bullets trying to be fired.
Not all reviews of KGF or RRR were fantastic. You can argue with the content of the film. How do you argue with the success of the film? I will accept bad reviews along with good ones."
Sudeep spoke of the loss of Puneeth Rajkumar - a superstar of the Kannada film industry who died unexpectedly last year. "I knew him from childhood. I knew him very well. We have not been the greatest of friends, I would say. We have had that respect. Whenever we met we had only good things to speak about each other. I would participate in their film things and they would participate in ours. There comes that moment where respect comes. It is a huge loss for the industry and irreplaceable for the fans."
It began to rain as we asked Sudeep what would be part of his ideal day. His answer took us by surprise. "Cooking! I do a lot of cooking when I am not shooting. I love sketching. Cooking is something I do only a daily basis. I don't follow recipes, I make my own. I keep doing something. I will not waste my day.
I am a cricket follower. I watch and play a lot of matches. Whenever I get time, we play matches."
What next after Vikrant Rona? Sudeep doesn't believe in breaks and is already working on another project that he didn't want to talk about just yet. But he does believe in eating on time. As we settled down to a very tasty lunch as the rain came down heavily, he said he is very particular about his meal timings. Perhaps one of the secrets to the apparently unflagging energy of this man who acts, directs, hosts TV shows like Big Boss, sings, plays cricket - and yes, cooks.