Tell me about yourself?
My father is hotelier in Karnataka. There are no actors in my family. I used to play a lot of cricket at the junior level . Then I did my engineering and got interested in singing and playing the guitar. Yes, I"m a musician! From music it was a step away to cinema. For six years I struggled in the Kannada cinema industry. I lived on Rs 500 per month.
No sustenance from the family business?
No I never took money from the family after Standard 10. I used to work in a clothes store, play cricket for some money, and do photo-shoots. It was that period of struggle which gave me the experience to be an actor. The emotions have to come from the raw material of life.
Yes, married with a 5-year daughter Saanvi. My wife Priya used to work for an airline then in a bank. I got married very early, in fact right after my first successful film Huccha in 2001 which was remade in Hindi (with Salman Khan) as Tere Naam. They changed the Hindi version drastically.
Do you get linked with your leading ladies?
A couple of times, yes and it was ugly. But it was ok. It fizzled out in a few weeks. My wife knows either I working or I am at home. I don"t party. All my official work including scripting and recording is at home. I"ve also directed a film An Autograph and three other films. While I like to experiment in Kannada in Hindi there aren"t too many directors doing Chak De or Taare Zameen Par. Tips and Mr. Ramesh Taurani have shown interest in remaking my latest directorial effort Just Maath Maathalli in Hindi. I"d like to direct the Hindi version as well.
What prompted you to come to Mumbai to do Phoonk and Rann?
I didn"t come to Mumbai looking for a career. I can"t go looking for roles in Mumbai. That doesn"t suit me. I adore this personality called Ram Gopal Varma. He traveled from the South and became a brand in Mumbai. I never question what he casts me in. I think it was basically Ram Gopal Varma"s trust in my abilities that prompted me to get on that flight from Bangalore to Mumbai. I"ve never hired a PRO to promote my career in Hindi cinema. But since Ramu believed in me I wanted to come to Mumbai to accept the challenge of acting in Hindi and that too in a film directed by Ram Gopal Varma. I had no idea why he cast me. Ramu is from Andhra Pradesh and he could"ve cast anyone from Hyderabad. I come from the other side of the South in Karnataka.
You started your Hindi career with a horror film?
Yes, in Phoonk. I had never done a horror film before. I don"t even like horror films. So the challenge was to do a new genre in a new language, culture and actors I didn"t know. But was I nervous? No not at all. The camera is my biggest friend, no matter which language I work in. But yes I was working with giants like Mr. Amitabh Bachchan and Paresh Rawalji in Rann.
How did Mumbai welcome you?
I don"t meet any other actors in Mumbai. I just meet Ramu, and go on the sets. I just focused on my work. While we shot Rann I don"t remember going beyond a hi with Amitji. I just wanted to do my work. I knew Ramu had cast me against the wishes of many of his co-workers in Rann. Not too many people were sure I could deliver. It was very important for me not to go back to Bangalore disappointed. I didn"t carry any baggage from Bangalore when I came to Mumbai. Nor did I carry any baggage back home. In that sense I"m not that ambitious.
As a Kannada actor did you feel disadvantaged in Mumbai?
Somehow I feel South Indian actors are not that well- known in the Hindi belt. Tamil and Telugu actors have an upper hand. But Kannada and Kerala are totally sidelined by Hindi film-goers. I don"t want to blame anyone for this state of affairs. It"s just that Kannada cinema hasn"t grown. It does get very discouraging at times. But let"s be fair. There"re filmmakers like Ram Gopal Varma to give us a chance. I"m sure there will be other chances given to South Indian actors.
Did you have a hard time adjusting to the change in scale from Kannada to Hindi cinema?
Even in Kannada I"m not known to be a loud actor. I"ve brought in a change in the way audiences in Karnataka look at entertainment with my kind of films and acting. There are other actors practicing my kind of subtle acting in Kannada cinema. In Hindi Ram Gopal Varma lets me interpret my characters the way I want to.
What will you be seen in Hindi in next?
My character in Ramu"s Rakta Charitra is far tougher than Rann. My character is not the main character. Not too many scenes are written for my character. I"ve actually done very silent work here. This was far more challenging than Rann.