The Stylist Hero

VISHNUVARDHAN The super star at 50
Last year’s hat-trick hero, superstar Vishnuvardhan, is a cult figure in Karnataka. At 50, his films still go on to become mega hits, as Veerappanayaka, Habba and Suryavamsha did in 1999. And, despite the poor showing of his Premotsava, last year, the sensible, evergreen hero is in an upbeat mood. SCREEN met the hero on the sets of the forthcoming movie, Soorappa, in Mysore...
Did the three hits you had, last year, make you dizzy with excitement? No. I’m seldom moved by such developments in my career. Success and failure are as common as day and night. I know, too, that success is a public affair and failure, a private funeral.

By what yardstick, then, is a hero selected?
Selecting a hero is always a bit like betting on a race horse. Success is often taken as a yardstick, but success alone, isn’t always the best yardstick.

How do you react to the state awards announced for 1998-’99?
I don’t believe in winning awards. I may have won awards, myself, but frankly, they’ve ceased to mean much to me. I’m sick to death of people, who, after selecting me for an award, walk up to me and say they’d argued in my favour. It is so sickening. The people’s award, success at the box-office, is the one thing that really matters.

Have you had bad experiences with regard to awards?
I’ve had several. A prestigious South Indian award was once given to me, a few years ago. But I was stumped when the organisers later called up to tell me they were sending some people over to meet me, and I’d have to take care of all arrangements. Did they think that by giving me the award, they’d done me a favour, that I was obliged to play host to them in return?

Again, take the case of the recent state awards. Actress Shruthi may have come up with an extraordinary performance in Veerappanayaka. But more than me or her, I feel its director deserved an award more, for highlighting patriotism so effectively. I wouldn’t have complained if I didn’t get the award, myself, so long as the director got one.

After one successful remake, you’re working in a remake again...
So what’s wrong with that? Remakes do help the industry, you know. Look at the thousands of workers who’re given opportunities to work, thanks to the remakes. Suryavamsha has shown that remakes can do business worth crores in Kannada, too. The approach is what counts.

Don’t you feel that in Soorappa, you’re playing the same old, cliched character?
The story is different, here. Neither am I playing a role that’s inspired by either Veerappanayaka or Suryavamsha. Soorappa hopes to correct the wrong impressions most urbanites have of life in the villages. I play the chieftain of a cluster of 40 odd villages. Unity, culture and love are qualities that are still alive and well in villages.

Do you find similarities between your screen persona and the many roles you play in real life?
Of course, I do. Art, after all, mirrors reality, doesn’t it? When incidents we see around us are reflected in cinema, what’s the harm?

Do you study the original closely while working on a remake?
Normally, I don’t. I’d rather not let my inner feelings and reactions be shaped by the originals, entirely. It may be only a remake, but I prefer to work on it as an original.

In your long career, have you achieved everything you’ve wanted?
One’s wants are always unlimited. In my 28-year career, I may have played many roles, but the urge to do a completely satisfactory role is yet to be fulfilled. I have worked in 175 films, but I feel my talent is still largely untapped. You’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg, so far.

Have you completed your role in Kamal Haasan’s Mrudanayagam?
A few days’ work is still left. I have worked only for seven days, so far. Only about 30 per cent of the shoot is over. Fortunately, it does seem the project is about to be revived again.

Does it irkyou when others take credit for your success?
It does. I’ve met people who make the kind of claims even my parents don’t make. They’re the sort who get unholy joy out of puncturing your happiness at every available opportunity.

Why is it that Kannada cinema’s still in the dumps?
The prospect for growth does seem bright to me. At least half a dozen films did wonderful business, last year, didn’t they? Suryavamsha, I’m told, did a total business of Rs 15 crore.

People feel you ought to have won a national award early in your career?
Today, even the national awards have lost their sanctity, and they can be had like goods in the market. When their significance and sanctity is lost, what’s the fun and the meaning in receiving these awards? The national awards committee, I’m told, did not even bother to open the Veerappanayaka cans. Such carelessness is intolerable, at a time when patriotism is in such short supply.

The audience, of late, has changed its way of looking at films...
That’s the way it should be. When a dish is served, what went wrong inside the kitchen is not important. The food should be tasty, regardless. Likewise, whatever happens while a film is being made is not important to the audience, as long as the product isn’t good in itself.

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