Raj B Shetty: Working with Mammootty in Turbo was intimidating

Raj B Shetty, who is excited about his Malayalam debut, reflects on his working experience and the industry itself as he prepares to distribute the original in Karnataka under his home banner on May 23
Raj B Shetty: Working with Mammootty in Turbo was intimidating

Raj B Shetty, known for his distinctive style, is an actor-director who has charted his own path in Kannada cinema. From his unconventional approach in films like Ondu Motteya Kathe, Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana, and Toby, to his latest, Swathi Muttinha Male Haniye, he continues to carve out his niche. Now, Raj is ready to bring his unique flair to the Malayalam industry. With Turbo marking his Malayalam debut, he will be seen alongside Malayalam superstar Mammootty in the film. Apart from this, Raj B Shetty will be distributing the original film in Karnataka under his home banner, Lighter Buddha Films, hitting approximately 100 screens, including multiplexes, on May 23.

Talking about distributing Turbo in Karnataka, Raj explains, “The language landscape has shifted recently. It’s now more about distinguishing between good and not-so-good films. I believe this shift will resonate with audiences who enjoy good entertainers, which are generally well-received in Karnataka,” he adds, “The partnership between the two industries is a positive step forward. It minimises unhealthy competition and works on collaboration. Otherwise, it’s unlikely we would see a Kannada actor venturing into Malayalam cinema. It’s a recognition of talent finding its rightful place, and that’s why we should welcome these changes.”

Raj is a rare actor who can slip into any character effortlessly, proving that looks don’t define talent; authenticity does. He believes that the goal of appearance is to immerse you in the character, making the audience focus on the role rather than physical attributes. In this action comedy film, Turbo, Raj portrays an antagonist and he reflects, “When I was pitched for the role and learned about the established names involved, I felt overwhelmed that I was entrusted with such a significant character, especially as a newcomer to that industry. The team brought a fresh perspective, particularly with my character Vetrivel. They saw potential in me after my performance in Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana. But the decision of considering me was made after they watched me in Toby, which was running in theaters, at the time, they were finalising the cast, and they believed I could do justice to the character, which eventually turned out well. Thankfully, the director Vysakh and writer Midhun Manuel were skilled professionals, and I had faith in their vision and guidance.

Is Raj slowly getting stereotyped into roles like in Garuda Gamana or Toby? Or is he simply catering to what the audience enjoys seeing him in? Raj disagrees, stating, “People appreciate me in certain characters because I’ve portrayed them genuinely. I believe they connect more with the character than with me personally. It’s about the character and the storyline, not the actor. Initially, when I did my first film (Ondhu Motteya Kathe), nobody expected me to do comedy, but gradually I diversified into various roles. I’m open to trying any role I haven’t attempted before, without worrying about audience preferences. If I stick to one style, people might perceive me as repetitive.” Turbo, according to Raj, is all about entertainment. However, he says, “When you take on a negative character of such magnitude, it’s not just about entertainment; the characters are exceptionally crafted. It is the type of content where mass appeal is prioritised, and will also come about as a mainstream commercial film.” He then goes on to talk about his experience working with Mammootty. “It was intimidating at first,” he admits with a chuckle. “My character speaks in Tamil, while I’m more or less fluent in Malayalam. On day one, I had to memorise the dialogue before shooting with him. It was uncomfortable acting in scenes that were new to me, especially in front of an actor who excels in everything. But he was kind enough to assist me, understanding my situation and comforting me greatly. Despite not being so proficient in Malayalam, or Tamil, having to deliver the biggest monologue of the film on the first day, in a language I wasn’t familiar with, was challenging. But I was prepared,” he says.

Looking ahead, Raj, who admits that ‘direction is always his first love,’ is currently working on writing a script. He says, “Direction is my passion, and acting or working in any other departments is more of a pastime. When I write and direct, I feel a sense of fulfillment. As an actor, I view this opportunity as a learning curve for me as a filmmaker. When I stepped onto the sets of Turbo, I also came in as a student. I was impressed by the scale of production and realised I haven’t achieved that level yet.” In the process, did Raj get to learn about the secret behind Malayalam cinema’s recent surge in popularity? He says, “Malayalam films are not made on a shoestring budget. The audience watching the films often doesn’t realise the effort that goes into making them. Most successful Malayalam films in recent months have had budgets exceeding 35 crores, except for a few like Premalu, which had a lower budget. We have misconceptions, but they invest in quality content, and the way they go about creating a big market that we can see on screen. It’s about the grandeur and commitment to the concept, bringing it close to reality. Turbo is also a big film. Moreover, the production phase is remarkably fast, which is commendable about the Malayalam industry.

When asked if he would like to direct a Malayalam film, and if he finds any difference in sensibilities among the Malayalam and Kannada audiences, Raj says, “There is no division of the audience between the two languages,” citing the example of Manjummel Boys, which alone collected 15 crores in Karnataka. “We shouldn’t divide the audience. We should make authentic films. Stars like Mammootty and Shivarajkumar never settle for one style; they keep experimenting, which is why they remain stars. That’s something we need to learn and implement in our films. Garuda Gamana... reached Kerala because of them. If I consider both industries’ perspectives while directing, then I’m disrespecting the audience,” he concludes.

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