Please tell us about your growing up days. What was your dream career in your childhood days?
I’m from a village called Keradi in Udupi, Coastal Karnataka. There’s a famous temple near my house called the Kollur Mookambika. If you’ve watched Kantara you would have seen the Kodachadri hills and the procession. That is the hills where the procession takes place. It belongs to Kollur temple and is very famous. I was born there on 7-7-1983. My father Y Bhaskar Shetty is an astrologist and still practices. My mother Ratnavati Shetty and is a homemaker in the village. She also looks after all the agriculture in our farms. I have an older brother and a sister and I’m the youngest of all the three kids. I studied till my fifth standard in that village itself and after that I came to a nearby village in Kundapur and studied there till PU.
I came to Bangalore for my graduation. I studied in Vijaya College in Jaynagar. I was very naughty as a kid in the village and that’s the reason I was sent to Bangalore by my dad. I wasn’t keen on coming to Bangalore but there was just that one little hope that if I go to Bangalore maybe I could try to do something in the film industry. I had this dream from my sixth grade, when I dressed up as Yakshagana with full make up on in school. I grew up watching the legendary actor Dr. Rajkumar films and was inspired by him to become an actor.
So did he predict that his son will make it big in the entertainment industry?
Not really. There’s a saying that an astrologer doesn’t predict the future of his own children. But he always supported us in a big way.
When and how did the journey towards being a director and then an actor happen? Who was your inspiration?
After coming to Bangalore, I joined a theatre group. In 2003, I participated in a State level competition. We acted a famous drama by Vijay Tendulkar Ghashiram Kotwal which was in Marathi. We enacted the Kannada translation of the same and I played the lead role of Ghashiram Kotwal in the play. I won the best actor award in that State level theatre competition.
I was inspired by Upendra who is also from the region I belong to in Kundapura. I didn’t have any contacts in the film industry and no filmi background, but there was always a hope that if Uppi Sir could make it big, I should also try my luck. I first started out by selling mineral water cans and did a few other such jobs. I used to collect money in a piggy bank while doing odd jobs in the college and was saving money to study film direction.
When I first finished college in 2004, my father called and asked to bring over 20 water cans for a function. So, I took 20 cans in autorickshaws and saw the function that I was to supply water for, was an opening ceremony of collaboration between a government institute and a private institute called Film and Television Institute. Whatever money I had on me, I gave it to them and immediately joined the Film and Television Institute. I told some other delivery boys who were with me to take back the empty water cans, as I wanted to join the institute that very day itself. There were many other institutes, but I didn’t think about anything else. I was there to deliver water cans and ended up enrolling myself for the course.
It was a short term one year course of three months of theatre classes and three months of practical classes and some other basic acting classes. But I was glad that I completed my Diploma in film direction from the Government Film and TV Institute in Bangalore.
I got my first film called Cyanide immediately after I completed my course. The moment that got over I got my next project which was a remake of the Hindi film Murder. In both these films, I worked as an assistant director. After that I decided it was time for me to become an actor. I would see interviews of actors in film magazines and when I would read about actors who achieved their big dreams in the industry, without having any film family background, I realised that the reality was something else. No one would give any newcomer a chance at acting. So I thought it’s best to get into the film industry by doing other jobs and making contacts and then try to become a hero. That’s the reason I completed my Diploma in direction and also worked as an AD in a few films.
While working in these two films, I met a legendary cinematographer R Rathnavelu who has shot popular films like Rangasthalam and Rajini Sir’s film Enthiran and Robot, besides other big heroes. I got inspired into directing by watching him keenly. That time my name was still Prashant and I had not changed it to Rishab Shetty. One day he called me and told me that I have good features and I could act. I was so flattered that the person who has shot with such famous stars like Suraj and Vikram is praising me. I was again inspired to get into acting. Around six years passed by just like that and the films where I got to play a hero didn’t even begin shooting and I was just waiting for the right time to come. While I was waiting I wrote a story that I wanted to direct. I met Rakshit Shetty during that period and associated with him on Ulidavaru Kandante, which was directed by him. I also got a small lead role in one part of the film.
What have been some of the biggest highpoints of your journey so far?
I did my debut directorial movie Ricky with Rakshit Shetty. Rakshit and I decided to open our own production house, so that we could create films the way we wanted to. Once Ricky released in January, in the same year after just about a month we started work on Kirik Party.
We directed Kirik Party and completed it the same year. That film became a blockbuster hit and was loved by the industry. After Kirik Party, the scale of our production and film making changed. I actually had to direct a children’s film called direct Sarkari Hi. Pra. Shaale before Kirik Party, but it had got delayed. After the success of Kirik Party, within a month or two I got married and started my own production house called Rishab Shetty Films. I directed and produced Sarkari Hi movie and it received a very good response from the audience as well as critics and went on to win the National Film Award for Best Children’s Film at the 66th National Film Awards. There was a good message in the film as it addressed the issues faced by the Kannada-medium Government-run schools. It starred Anant Nag and was very well received.
I also acted in Bell Bottom, a crime comedy with Hariprriya, which ran in the theatres for 125 days and was another big hit. It also premiered at the Indian Film Week in Japan. We earned well with this film. I played the male lead character in this film. And then the pandemic struck.
In the first lockdown I made a film on the Mangaluru-based Gangster ‘Hari’ in the film Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana and in the second lockdown I got the idea to make Kantara.
What are your other passions and hobbies? If not a director or actor what else would you have considered being?
Right now I don’t really have much time. Earlier when I did have some time, I used to love playing cricket and wanted to become a cricket player if not an actor. During my pre-production time when I go to my village I would always play cricket. I also love fishing at the river near my house. I love music and like watching movies. I like all genres of music. I also watch all genres of movies except horror movies. I also like to watch movies in all the languages. Language should never be a barrier if it’s a good movie.
What is your vision and dream in this field that you’re in now?
I don’t have very big dreams. I take one step at a time. I develop on the thoughts I get and work on every film with equal passion. I got an opportunity to work in the entertainment industry, that itself is a dream. My only dream is to keep getting better at whatever work I do.
How different do you feel you are from the others around and what are the changes you want to bring about?
We are not that big to bring about a change in the industry. It’s a cycle and with our experience and maturity we will try and bring new stories. In earlier days, one genre used to last almost 10 years, then it became five, then 2 and now it’s even lesser. It’s time for the audience to ask for a change and that is what will be trending. I like to show what is happening in the society and what is trending in our daily lives. I like to portray reality and make more realistic films so that everyone can relate to them.
How often do you take holidays with family or friends? What are your preferred holiday destinations?
I don’t plan holidays very often. After the release of Kantara, we have been planning a family holiday, but nothing in particular. Coming to my home town itself is a holiday for me. I love spending time with my family in my village in coastal Karnataka.
What is your take on love and relationships in today’s times?
Relationships are the same, but the technology has improved. People’s thoughts on relationships are not the same anymore. It’s the generation of fast love and fast breakups and social media has had too much impact on everyone. Love stories are kind of the same even today, but with a twist.
Are you a romantic at heart in real life? What is the most romantic thing you have done?
I’m not sure about that. I will have to ask my wife Pragati about this.
Any crazy fan message or incident you’d like to share?
When we were in Mysore for my last film’s trailer release, one girl came and bit me on my cheeks. It was so funny.
Any memorable incidents you’d like to share with us from your work or shoots?
The time when we were shooting our climax fire scene when the villains punch me, my back got burnt a little. The wire that was tied around me was also hurting very badly for many days. We took 24 hours to shoot the Kambala sequence, with multiple camera angles and takes. I didn’t have my shirt on and we didn’t use any double for this scene. It was itching lying on the floor but I wanted to do it myself.
Also, during the pre-climax night shoot, one of my shoulders was damaged and during the shoot both got damaged, but I sprayed some balm and continued to shoot. This was the 360 degree shot and everyone loved it. It was a fight sequence. It continued to pain even later but after the entire movie shoot got over only I took a break. I took good rest and recovered soon.
What is your fitness routine?
If I’m shooting for a movie I’m quite disciplined about my workouts, otherwise I don’t do anything. I like to do yoga and do some surya namaskars sometimes. During the shoot of Kantara, I had a professional trainer for mixed martial arts.
What are the projects you’re working on currently?
I’m relaxing and taking rest for now. I plan to start work mid-January. I have some ideas but I’m on a break now and will be working on my ideas in the beginning of 2023.
Your dream role?
Something better than Kantara. Maybe a mythological character.
Your favourite movie?
Bhootayyana Maga Ayyu directed by Siddalingaiah that had Vishnuvardhan, Lokesh, MP Shankar and Jayamala.
Your favourite actor?
Your favourite actress?
From earlier times Sridevi, Lakshmi, and then Ramya. And now Shriya Saran and a few others.
Your favourite director?
Siddalingaiah Sir and Uppi.
Your favourite villain?
Vajramuni who has appeared in many Kannada movies.
Your favourite comedian?
Narasimharaju in Kannada films and Nagesh and Vivek in Tamil films.
Your favourite music directors?
Ilaiyaraaja and Hamsalekha.
Yoga or gym?
Indian food or global cuisine?
Indian, especially Coastal Mangalore dishes. I love boiled rice and fish curry.
Closest friends from the industry?
Some of close industry friends are Rakshit Shetty, Pramod, Raj B Shetty, Sheetal and Pragathi, my wife.
Beaches or hills?
Veg or non-veg?
Fame or money?
Indian wear or Western wear?
Indian wear. I love to wear lungis.
A few web series you liked watching?
I liked The Family Man. Also Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Vikings. I also enjoyed watching Panchayat.
A book you liked reading?
I don’t read much, but I really enjoyed reading Krishnavatara.
One thing that makes you feel good?
Politics, religion, business, sports or entertainment?
Entertainment, but I’m also a very religious person and I believe that whatever I am is because of God.
Dr Rajkumar, my father and also many other directors who didn’t come from a big filmi background like Uppi and Shankar Nag sir.
COVER STORY PHOTO CREDITS
Photographer: Lucky Malhotra
WARDROBE: P N RAO
STYLING: Pragathi Shetty and Akansha Roy
VENUE: Conrad Bengaluru
Hair & Makeup: Toni & Guy
Text: Namita Gupta.