One National Award, two Filmfare awards, two Karnataka State awards, and more in his kitty – diverse roles, each different from the others, and stories that seem to be written just to fulfill the urge in the actor to do something different each time – this is Rakshit Shetty’s journey so far in the film industry in which he is considered a flag bearer of new age Kannada cinema. He says that when someone is not writing stories for him. The writer Rakshit takes charge. That is how he has written the iconic character Richie – Richard Anthony of the critically acclaimed award-winning film Ulidavaru Kandanthe – who continues to be so popular that he is going to be back in what could be a prequel or even a sequel ‘Richard Anthony – Lord of Seas’ produced by Hombale Films later this year. “When I was doing short films in the beginning of my career, I started writing as I wanted to do different characters. Even now whenever I feel I am not getting good scripts, I start to think what kind of character I would like to act, and I go about creating the character,” says Rakshit Shetty during an exclusive interview ahead of the release of Telugu version of his latest hit ‘Sapta Sagaradaache Ello Side A’. The film has had a great run in Kannada and has had limited theatre release in Telugu. Rakshit who is also the producer of the film explains.

“We have intentionally kept the promotions low key even in Kannada. This film has had to move with the help of word of mouth, and positive publicity from the viewers. And, we were prepared to wait for it to pick up. Rightfully so, the film started to do better with each week. Post the Kannada success we released in Telugu followed by Malayalam says this lead actor, who released this slow romantic film that in his own words is like visual poetry that needs to be savoured – after the extremely successful film 777 Charlie.

Rakshit has always maintained that it is not just about box office success or making money. “It’s not that nothing is in our control. It’s about how you balance the negatives with the positives. I look at it from a broader perspective. I believe that I must do a commercial film like Kirik Party, create a market, and start experimenting using the market – make a ‘Srimannarayana, create a bigger market and start experimenting with films like Charlie and ‘Sapta Sagaradaache Ello’ – and then make a Richard Anthony, extend my market and start experimenting with one or two smaller films.”

“I want to write stories not just for my on-screen profile, but also for my off-screen story. When I look back at my graph, it must have a profile of different roles and not just one kind of films. It’s not just about making money for me,” he reiterates. Hence you see an innocent lover Manu in Sapta Sagara, an introvert in Charlie, a quirky guy in Srimannarayana… and an out-and-out commercial role or Richard Anthony. In his words “I want to break my previous image and create a new image every time, and explore myself as an actor. When I choose a role, I see if I will have fun doing the role and if it is showing me in a new image.”

The Simple Star as he is lovingly referred to, says it’s important for a film to work after dedicating over two years of life. And, when it gets accepted by the audience, it is a beautiful feeling. Currently, as he revels in the feeling of successful Side A of Sapta Sagara… and awaits the release of Side B in October, he shares nuggets from his life, and his likes and dislikes during an exclusive interview.

What made you choose to do a role like Manu in Sapta Sagaradaache Ello’?
At times I write my own stories. But when someone writes a character that fits into the profile of films I want to work for, then I choose to do those roles. For example, for 777 Charlie, Kiran Raj who is also from my team came up with the character and I grabbed the opportunity. With Hemant Rao, it is more like I can’t resist the chance of working with him. I share with him the love and passion; he has for cinema. I did not want to lose the opportunity to work with him.

What does the title mean?
The title of the film is taken from beautiful poetry which broadly means – where do you reach after crossing the seven oceans? You just come back to where you were; however, your life would have become a dream. The film is about two lovers and their dreams. Two people in love have their own set of dreams that others are unaware of. Dreams of building a house, having children… dreams that are there on the other side of the seven oceans – which continue even though they are not together.

How is it working with Hemant?
Hemant usually does not go directly on the floor. He normally prepares his actors. He does a workshop, and it was during the workshop for the film that I and Rukmini Vasanth understood what Manu and Priya are. Their chemistry was built very well before we went for shoot. When you start acting even though you know the scenes beforehand, you will begin to internalize, observe your body language, and improvise and adopt it even better in the next scene. You keep working on the character for the film.

The character of Manu is intensely emotional. How did you manage?
We shot the film for 137 days. First thing as an actor you need is to have patience. And, 10 years of being in the industry has given me the ability to come out of the character or any emotion I am going through for the scene. Once the director says cut – you come out of it and know its not you. It is also a beautiful experience that you don’t suffer emotions but experience them.

Would you be working on a multi-starrer film with actors from other film industries?
I already have the idea, but I am yet to speak to the actors. So, I cannot reveal the names, But I want to bring stars to represent different regions for a film. You will know when I make the film. I haven’t yet reached out to them.

Do you miss Puneeth Rajkumar?
Puneeth Rajkumar was the beautiful heart of Kannada cinema. All of us – We miss him. All of us. Last few years every film or trailer has been dedicated to him. Go to every corner of the town, you will see a banner in his name even today. Everything done is for him and a tribute to him.

You are so passionate about films. When did this love for films happen?
Love for cinema comes from watching films. When I came to Bangalore all I wanted to be was an actor. When I was working in IT that’s when I started reading about what is cinema writing, direction, and stuff. That was all when I was doing short films. And, I watched more and more films, and interviews of filmmakers like Martin Scorcese, Christopher Nolan, and Quentin Tarantino. The way they speak about cinema Inspired me. Only if you have that kind of love for cinema is when you can explore yourself completely.

I was an outsider and I did not work with anyone as an assistant. I didn’t learn from those who already make films. I chose my own path of learning, and is the edge I bring to the films I write or make. I don’t follow normal procedure, so I don’t get influenced while writing scenes. As I learned things on my own.

Coming back to films – we talk about new-age Kannada cinema – what’s your take?
Earlier we never explored going beyond Karnataka, unlike other South films. That was also because there was a time when we were only making remakes. Today, we are at a stage where films can reach across the world. All you need is to make a good film and the world will watch. The industry is ready to give you a stage. All you now need is more and more good writers. To be in this scenario, you feel more responsible than ever before.

What’s your plan for future?
There are plans for more films. I have not directed a film in some time. SO, the next four films I am going to direct them.

Rakshit Uncensored

What do you do in your free time?
I only do two things. I read books and watch films. I like watching web series, but I am worried I will be addicted, and hence I try to stay away.

What are your favourite Kannada books?
I normally read English books. But I believe that while growing up and in school you must learn your native language and be exposed to literature. Right from schooling we had Kannada poetry – which is certainly how we learned. That is how your hold on the language becomes strong.

Books that are my favourites in Kannada include Parba, which is a very modern take on Mahabharata and Mahasamparka, which is about aliens’ approach to Indian Gods. Chitaadanta is another book I love.

What is your go-to film?
Prestige and Good Fellas are always my go-to films. I love classic films.

Are there any personal takeaways from your films?
Ulidavaru Kandanthe is the first film I did exactly how I wanted without compromising. When my film didn’t work in box office then, I went off-path and did all kinds of film, and not necessarily my kind of films. And, when even that didn’t work, I realised that there is no guarantee that you do certain films and they will work. That is when I made a decision to follow my heart and at least do films I like, the way I like to do. Atleast I will have satisfaction.

Ulidavaru Kandanthe – what it didn’t give me then, gave me so much more later on. It is when I realised that of you put 100 percent into the film, then it will definitely give you back – perhaps not exactly what you want but it will give you what you need.

777 Charlie taught me unconditional love. It brought me back to pets. Now I have three dogs Khaleesi, Khal and Snow.

You seem to be a Game of Thrones fan!
Game of Thrones is my all-time favourite. I have never seen writing as good as that.

Do you cook? What’s your favourite dish?
I don’t cook anything except Maggi. I love Kori Rotti from Udupi – Mangalore side.

What do you miss about being an IT guy?
I don’t miss anything about being in IT industry except perhaps the leisure I had. I also miss sitting with friends in Banashankari and hanging out.

Do you have any favourite travel destination?
I have a place called Kalasa here, which is like a 5- hour journey from Bangalore. It’s a hill station where I keep going. I am a complete mountain person. Probably because I was born and brought up next to the sea and I have seen enough of it.

Who are your 3am friends?
Probably Hemanth also because I know he is a person who is always awake at 3am. I have other friends who are all in IT but I am not in touch with them on a daily basis. So if I have to call someone, it would be Rishab or Raj because they are in film industry.

Can you give a peek into your upcoming films?
I am directing Richard Anthony based on Ulidavaru Kandante which was made 10 years ago and was about an incident and different perspectives. This is going to be about one person and different perspectives.

Then there is Side B of Sapta Sagaradaache Ello which is also poetic, but it’s a completely different genre from Side A where the central character is not normal in the head.

What is your take on love?
Love is very infinite, and we are all trying to capture this infinite love in a finite box. For me sea is the right example for love…which even though is finite, looks infinite.

Your views on marriage?
You grow up watching married people around you and so it leaves a strong impression on you. Either you decide if it’s for you by being outside or get in and see if it’s for you.

Who are your favourite actors?
Internationally it’s definitely Robert Niro and Al Pacino and locally Anant Nag sir is my favourite. Actress has always been Aishwarya Rai.

Some crazy fan comments?
Some really sweet comments keep coming. There are two fan pages where my fans keep posting very sweet comments. Also, recently during one of the promotions in Mysore one of them came to meet me.

Any message for your fans?
Keep watching my movies.

Any marriage plans – everyone seems to be intent on seeing you get married.
None as of now. Will let you know when I do plan to get married (smiles).