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August 21, 1997


Hero Hedge!

Madhuri Krishnan in Bangalore

The leader rides again: Ramakrishna Hedge
How would you like to see Sunil Shetty as Karnataka chief minister? Or Ramakrishna Hegde as a hero? Fear not, the first isn't true. But the second is.

Being a chief minister was fun, being chief of the brand new Lok Shakti party is quite nice, but that's about it. So Hegde is considering a return to cinema.

Yep, return is right. Hegde has already acted in two Kannada films, Marana Mrudanga (Drums of Death) and Praja Shakti (People's Power), both of which went through the motions and then disappeared. Now Bangalore-based distributor G V Kutty has decided to make him play the lead in a film titled Leader or Democracy or Garden City as his whim and the script takes him. Kutty must know something -- after all he has 200 films under his belt. Or maybe he's reached a point that he doesn't care.

Of course, there is also the political angle. Of course, of course.

The Lok Shakti does not expect current Chief Minister J H Patel to finish his full term, which, if wound up honourably, will last till 1999. Patel has made many enemies and his personal life lagged somewhere behind Mahatma Gandhi's. Hedge, naturally, has no complaints.

If, in the film, Hegde plays the virtuous politician -- no tautology intended -- and manages to pull some heartstrings, the Lok Shakti may have a better time at the hustings. Clever, no?

No, no, say Hegde and Kutty, almost shaking their heads. The film is not intended to boost the Lok Shakti's prospects. "Acting is only a pastime, nothing more," explains Hegde patiently. According to Kutty, "a man of Hegde's stature does not need a mere film to boost his image."

Asked if he really was going to play hero, the Lok Shakti chief was hesitant.

"It is premature to state anything as I have yet to see the script," he said cautiously, adding quickly, "If the script is written keeping in view my ideology and stature, I will definitely consider acting in the film."

Kutty is prepared to offer Hegde what he wants. He first proposed the idea of a film project to the political hero. When Hegde raised no serious objection, Kutty industriously prepared three prospective scripts for selection.

"All three have political overtones, from which we are sure he will select one. Our idea is to promote him as naturally as possible. He will wear no wigs, no make-up even. He has his own charisma to draw in the crowds," says Kutty.

Make no mistake, Kutty is no novice. He is a Congressman with political connections, one of them being former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, funnily Hegde's bete noire. Kutty says he admires Hegde, "for his sincerity, vision and tremendous appeal with the masses." Whew. Before Hedge, Kutty got former chief minister S Bangarappa to star in a movie that never got completed.

Kutty has roped in Joe Simon, the Kannada film-maker, to direct the film. Simon has made 30 films, the last being Time Bomb, based on the Bombay blasts of March 12, 1993. His earlier film, Wanted, released in 1995, was loosely based on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. There it was an industrialist who was blown to smithereens.

Simon says, "If I could make this film true to life, exposing the chinks in the political armour of our state and country, I will find it most challenging." When it was pointed out that Kutta Patri (Chargesheet), a Tamil film based on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination was put on hold by the censors, Simon laughs, "I think we will have to manipulate them." Bravely said, especially since Kutty is on the board of the Central Board of Film Certification, Bangalore.

According to Kutty, "One story line has Hegde playing himself, detailing his career in relation to the power play that happens at both the state and Centre, the second deals with the nexus between politicians and the mafia, and the third is a political satire, a look at the CBI, the police and the hoodlums."

"Hegde will be our main star. After he agrees, we will select his co-stars," says Simon, making it clear the film won't be a documentary and will have all the masala required, including songs. Anyway, Hegde admits he quite likes acting in plays and films.

"So what if his earlier films were not box office hits? They ran for more than 100 days in Karnataka," says Kutty defensively, blaming the failure squarely on the directors. "They did not project the leader effectively enough," the distributor says with a straight face. His film, he adds, will depict Hegde's amazing strength and resilience. Made in Kannada, it will be dubbed in Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu.

"We have isolated a few locales for shooting like the Jog Falls, the Srirangapatna bird sanctuary, and Nagarhole," says Kutty. "Unfortunately, the Karnataka government does not allow us to shoot inside Cubbon Park, Lalbaug or the Central Jail within Bangalore city, so I have to create sets for all these locales."

But before you rush to get an advance booking done, remember, Kutty and Simon are still to get the all-clear, which should sound on Tuesday, August 26, when they meet Hegde again.

Kutty wants to sign Hegde on before the political climate changes and their star gets involved in some hectic politicking. In that case, they can forget the film.

"We are keen to begin shooting as soon as he approves the script. All I need is 30 shooting days," says Kutty. The rest he'll get done in the five months thereafter. He expects to spend of Rs 10 million or more on the film.

And what about Hegde's fees?

"He is not a money-minded person," Kutty says generously.

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