The ‘pan-Indian’ film as a commercial phenomenon has gripped Indian theatres and the latest entrant is the Kannada movie Vijayanand, directed by Rishika Sharma and starring Nihal, Anant Nag, Siri Prahlad and Bharat Bopanna; the film is also being released in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi. Vijayanand has been marketed as the first-ever biopic to come out of the Kannada-language film industry. It is based on the life of the businessman (and later, politician) Vijay Sankeshwar, the founder of the VRL group (which provides logistics solutions), which holds a Limca World Record for the largest fleet of commercial vehicles in India (over 4300 at last count). The crux of the film is how Vijay and his son Anand Sankeshwar (hence the name of the film, ‘Vijayanand’) built an empire starting with just one truck; the problems (financial, socio-political) he faced and the innovative solutions he came up with in order to succeed.
During a promotional event in New Delhi, FirstPost caught up with the three leads of the movie—Nihal, Siri Prahlad and Bharat Bopanna—as well as Anand Sankeshwar himself. Explaining the narrative scope of the project, Sankeshwar said, “The story will begin in 1950, when my father Vijay was born; Anant Nag sir who is one of the most senior actors in the Kannada industry, he’s playing my grandfather. In the 1970s, Vijay’s business journey began with one truck, when I was just one year old. We began with just Gadag and Hubli, which are both towns in North Karnataka. And today we have vehicles running from Kashmir to Kaniyakumari.” This is the VRL group’s first foray into film production (they already own a popular newspaper in Karnataka) but Sankeshwar insisted that they would make many more films in the years ahead.
Nihal, who’s playing Vijay Sankeshwar, pointed out that he belongs to the Dharwad region, also in North Karnataka, and that for the children (and parents) of this region, Sankeshwar’s success story was a well-known one. Therefore, he was doubly grateful for the opportunity to bring Vijay’s story to life. “I told Anand sir, ‘This is a dream role for me’,” Nihal said. He also mentioned how he came to be a part of this project. “Rishika (Sharma) and I are both parts of this Bangalore theatre group, Rang Shankara, and we have been friends for a long time,” he said. “I have worked with her before and when we were discussing what we could collaborate on next, Vijay Sankeshwar sir’s story came to mind immediately. We were both mindful of the fact that the Kannada film industry has never had a biopic so we knew we had to create something truly powerful.”
Vijayanand has clearly been designed like a masala movie, with the requisite doses of action, romance, drama and so on. Siri Prahlad, who plays the role of Vijay Sankeshwar’s wife Lalitha, commented upon the ongoing surge in popularity of Kannada films across the country. “We have seen how you, the audience, have shown your love to films like Kantara, KGF and 777 Charlie. We hope that you support our film Vijayanand, too, in the same way.”
It’s worth noting that all three actors were quite proficient in Hindi and did not stumble over Hindi words even once — this despite the fact that for Nihal and Bopanna, this was their first Delhi visit in decades. This is yet another nod to the changing realities of the box office and the overall marketplace for films in India. Actors and filmmakers are expected to be readily conversant with audiences from a wide variety of linguistic and cultural backgrounds. The core belief or ideology is that if a story is ‘universal’ enough, it will appeal to the audience, regardless of the language being used.
Bopanna said, “For me this film is about inspiration more than anything else. The inspiration that Anand Sir and Vijay sir provide, the problems they overcame. What you see in the trailer, 99 per cent of it is based on reality. Of course, we have taken the artistic license to fictionalise certain details. But it is all based on the true story of a father and a son who overcame life’s hurdles together and built something great.”
Vijayanand will be released in theatres on December 9.
Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based independent writer and journalist, currently working on a book of essays on Indian comics and graphic novels.
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