'Shakeela' filmmaker Indrajit Lankesh gets candid about Sandalwood drug case, and his sister and journalist Gauri

Film director and journalist, Indrajit Lankesh, has been making headlines for two things: One, his Bollywood debut with the Richa Chadha-starrer Shakeela, and his explosive revelation about the involvement of top actors from the Kannada film industry in drug racket.

Lankesh hails from a family of illustrious journalists: He is the brother of journalist and activist, Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead three years ago and filmmaker Kavitha Lankesh, and the son of P Lankesh, who among other explosive stories, broke the story of phone tapping allegations against Ramakrishna Hegde, the erstwhile chief minister of Karnataka. Be it social or political issues, the Lankesh family has never shied away from raising their voices when necessary. “We have inherited that from our father. He was very outspoken, and fought against wrongdoers. It’s not about ideologies or what sides you pick... it’s about right and wrong. That’s what he believed in, and I do as well,” Lankesh says. His father was also a poet and filmmaker, and the only one to win the Golden Lotus National Award from Karnataka.

When the drug scandal in Sandalwood (Kannada film industry) broke out in September, leading to the arrest of popular actress Ragini Dwivedi; Lankesh named over a dozen actors and technicians from the industry to the Central Crime Branch (CCB). He also submitted necessary proof in the matter.

But, wasn’t he scared of speaking his mind on such a sensitive case? Especially after losing his sister for being vocal about her opinions? “It’s not about being gutsy, but taking the right route. My father would always say when you are being truthful; you don’t have to fear anybody. Your conscience should be clear, which will allow you to get a good night sleep at the end of the day. Gauri had very strong views. As an activist she did a lot for the society. As a brother I miss her a lot.” Lankesh is still awaiting justice for his sister’s death.

On the work front, Lankesh’s recent release, Shakeela is enjoying a pan-India theatrical run, and has been dubbed in five languages. In an age when digital releases of films is the new normal, Lankesh took the risky theatrical route. “We had offers from various OTT platforms, but Shakeela is a film that has to be viewed in theatres. It has an audience not only in cities, but also in villages and small towns.”

Shakeela was a popular South adult superstar who ruled the roost in the ’90s. Lankesh has tried to bring to the screen her life beyond films. And, he asserts the film is a rags-to-riches story sans any ‘controversial’ scenes. “We have to accept she did adult films. If I had to make a film on Shakeela’s films, it would have been a different matter altogether. But, I have made a movie on Shakeela’s life... films are part of her life, but not completely her life. It’s about a woman hailing from a poor family, and trying to make a living by working in a male-dominated industry. She might have been a successful adult super star, but she was actually an outcast in the industry. She was threatened and a lot of things happened behind the scenes. And, that’s what I have tried to show through my film instead of just focussing on her ‘other’ life. I didn’t want to make a film just for the sake of box office success.”

The Richa-starrer is being compared to Vidya Balan’s The Dirty Picture, which was based on the life of another adult superstar, Silk Smitha. Ask Lankesh about this, he is quick to add, “There is no comparison at all. Silk Smitha was a superstar. She was a great dancer, and popular for doing item numbers. Filmmakers and actors looking at reviving their careers or making their film a success would approach Silk for a dance number. That was not the case with Shakeela. She was the first adult (film) superstar to play a protagonist. Her films were dubbed in all Asian language. I agree there will be comparisons, but they are from different eras, and did different characters in films. One did item songs (Silk), while the other was an actress (Shakeela), and a superstar in the Malayalam cinema as well.”

And was Richa always his first choice for the film? “For Shakeela’s role I was not looking for an actor who could match her physical appearance. I wanted someone who could do justice to the story and the character. Richa is a talented actress. She is never over the top, and always honest in her performance,” Lankesh signs off.

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