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Ramesh plays a repressed man haunted by his father's constant discouragement. To add to his emotional insecurity, the stepmother he loves dies, leaving him with the fear that he is destined to lose anyone he loves



Patil does not tackle the philosophical question of whether emotions indeed die when put into words, and takes the psychoanalyst's view that self-confidence is all it takes to speak out and win love


'What fascinates me is greed and insecurity, and the extent to which people are driven by them'

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Check 'Shaapa' venues and show dates in the US

Hear 'Shaapa' song clips


When love rages
like a river  

Ashok Patil  talks about Shaapa, his 'musical' debut film set against the Cauvery water dispute, and traces his journey from Hollywood to the Kannada film industry

Shaapa (The curse)
Kannada feature film
starring Ramesh, Anu Prabhakar, B C Patil, K S Aswath
Director: Ashok Patil
Songs and music: Hamsalekha


Ashok Patil: slick debut Ashok Patil's debut film Shaapa is a love story that gets entangled with the Cauvery water dispute  between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Released mid-May in Karnataka, Shaapa stars Ramesh and Anu Prabhakar. The heroine is called Kaveri, and is a flute player (which explains this magazine's special interest in the film!).

Patil heard the outline of the story from the star music director Hamsalekha,and worked on it for eight months to develop his screenplay. He began shooting in April 2000, after he had chosen locations in Bangalore, Madikeri and Srirangapatna. By September he had it all ready, but Rajkumar's kidnapping, and the  distributors'  reluctance to take up a film with no formula elements, stalled its release. The film has won critical praise in the papers. Patil has subtitled the film in English and is now showing it across the US.

Between 1984 and '88, Patil studied electronic engineering in Bellary, in northern Karnataka, and took a master's degree in computer science from Bradley University in the US in 1992. He worked as consultant for Motorola, and was cruising along comfortably like any other computer professional when he was seized by the desire to get into film making. He resigned from his job and took up a fullfledged course in film and TV production.

'Shaapa' means 'a curse'. Ramesh plays a man haunted by his father's negative, discouraging influence. To add to his emotional insecurity, the stepmother he loves dies, leaving him with the fear that he is destined to lose anyone he loves. When, as a grown man, he falls in love with a doctor, he is again consumed by self-doubt and an inability to speak out his emotions.

Patil does not tackle the philosophical question of whether emotions indeed die when put into words, and takes the psychoanalyst's view that self-confidence is all it takes to speak out and win love. In the tradition of Mani Ratnam, he sets his story against a political upheaval: the love turns obsessive, and takes its own tragic, cathartic and destructive course.

Like Mani Ratnam and Ram Gopal Varma, Patil is inspired by the slick style of Hollywood -- Spielberg and Zemekis are among his favourites -- and tells his story in a style that is understated by Indian melodrama standards but which still employs all its musical devices. 

In an exclusive interview, Patil spoke about his debut:

The story of Shaapa is credited to Hamsalekha. Hollywood films don't use songs the way Indian films do. Did you include songs because you were consciously trying to follow the Indian film tradition or did you feel obliged to do so because a music director and lyricist like Hamsalekha was part of your project? Or did you set out to make a what is called a 'musical' there?

It was a mix of all that. Adding songs to the film brought in a lot of extra work that I was not prepared for. I am the kind who plans everything down to the last bit, and when I landed in India with the script, I did not have any songs in it. So I had to sit with some writers and Hamsalekha to find places to insert the songs. That was a new experience. And I regret that I spent a lot of time on the songs, which took away from my directorial preparation time. But that is the way Indian films are made and I had to conform to it in my first attempt. Now, if I make another film I have experience about how to deal with songs, and how to incorporate them into the script.

What was Hamsalekha's part and your part in developing the story? Whose idea was it to make the heroine a flute player?

Hamsalekha gave the basic story idea and the major plot points. I developed the rest over eight months.

Are you happy with the way the songs have turned out in the film?

I personally like the tune of every one of the songs. However, I feel the lyrics could have been better.

When did you decide you wanted a career in film making? What films do you watch and which films and directors have inspired you?

In 1997, I quit my software engineer's job in Chicago and moved to California to study film making. That had always been my dream, and I was waiting for the right time. I studied and finished my coursework in MFA -- Master of Fine arts. It was in film and TV production at Chapman University in Orange, California. Then I worked as a trainee for three months at the Warner Brothers studios. I am pretty much focused on making dramas, serious dramas. However, I also want to do some action, comedy and adventure as well. Many directors have influenced me... Bob Zemekis of Forrest Gump , Steven Speilberg, James Cameron, to name a few, and Indian directors like Satyajit Ray. I watch a whole range of movies and dissect the good ones.

Shaapa is about a personal crisis, and by calling your heroine Kaveri you relate it to the river dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Towards the end of the film, you resolve the issue after a devastating flood, which you probably meant as a cathartic device, and talk about Indians being children of the same mother. Did you think of Shaapa as a film upholding Indian nationalism, somewhat like Mani Ratnam's Roja, Bombay and Dil Se?

Once we introuduced the river and the related dispute as a track in the screenplay, we had to bring it to a conclusion. I did not want to leave it hanging. I wanted that track to influence the character to act negatively, and then wanted to resolve it positively when the chief minister says we are all children of India. It is also an irony that the dispute ends positively after uprooting his life. And also, I did not want anyone to say that the film is against Tamilians. They are as nice a people as people of any other Indian state.

What difficulties did you find in releasing the film? Did you find the Kannada film industry hostile and inhospitable to a newcomer like you? Did your actor-brother B C Patil's presence in the industry help?

Making the film was an experience, and relasing it was another. I guess that is the case with any independent film maker anywhere in the world. If the film does not contain what is believed to be a success formula, then it is hard to sell.

Are you happy with the way the film is faring in Karnataka? You are releasing the film in the US on 25 May. What audiences do you expect there? What is the market like for Kannada films in the US?

As I heard recently, it is faring okay. This film is made for a class audience. It is unfortunate that class audiences don't watch Kannada films. But, at the same time, I have the world as a market because of the quality of the film. I have subtitled the film in English. So I hope to appeal to a general indian audience, not just Kannadigas. There is a market for any good film. You just have to get enough publicity through the media and people will start coming. Americans who have watched film so far have really liked it a lot.

What do you plan now? Mani Ratnam and Ram Gopal Varma have brought the slick craft of Hollywood films to Tamil, Telugu and Hindi films. Were you inspired by their success to attempt something similar in Kannada?

I am taking Shaapa all around the USA. Those interested in watching it can check for the timings and locations. After that I am planning to write a script in English for a Hollywood production.

What are the issues that fascinate you as a film maker? Do you want to specialise in one genre or try your hand at a wide variety of genres?

What fascinates me is human action born out of greed and insecurity, and the extent to which people are driven by them. I want to explore those infinite layers of emotion and present them to an audience. I also want to do action and comedy films.

Who are your favourite authors, and musicians?

I like R K Narayan's books, and I like reading biographies, Sarvajna's little Kannada poems, Chanakya's stories -- ancient, highly valuable literatures. As far as musicians go, I like Indian classical music and some of A R Rahaman's music.

Are you contemplating settling in Bangalore full time to make films?

No, I might end up travelling back and forth if I make another Kannada film.

S R Ramakrishna

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