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I'm Everything That Is Not 'Commercial': Nagesh Kukunoor

Director Nagesh Kukunoor says it doesn't bother him that his wide range of filmography has often been bracketed as "art house" or "offbeat" cinema as he is comfortable about following his instincts.

Nagesh Kukunoor
Nagesh Kukunoor Google Images

Director Nagesh Kukunoor says it doesn't bother him that his wide range of filmography has often been bracketed as "art house" or "offbeat" cinema as he is comfortable about following his instincts.

Kukunoor made his directorial debut in 1998 with "Hyderabad Blues" and has since helmed critically-acclaimed films such as "Rockford", "3 Deewarein", "Dor", "Iqbal" and "Dhanak".

In the age of streaming services, monikers that used to be attached to movies falling outside the mainstream domain have become "irrelevant", he said.

"I have been called so many things. There's parallel cinema, offbeat cinema. At one point in time, there was the multiplex cinema, also the independent cinema and then lastly, art-house cinema. But now these labels don't really matter, especially with the (rise of) streaming platforms. I'm everything that is not 'commercial or mainstream'," Kukunoor told PTI in a virtual interview.

The 55-year-old filmmaker said earlier directors would use such terms to showcase their movies to exhibitors in order to get a decent theatrical release.

"You had to give some kind of moniker to your films because you had to go to a distributor to get it to the theatres. And people would look at my film and say this movie does not have any songs, it is art cinema...

"These things have never actively bothered me. The kind of films I make, I know it can't explode and find an audience that'll make Rs 200 crore. So, I'm very comfortable playing in my corner," Kukunoor added.

When he started working on his first movie "Hyderabad Blues", the filmmaker said he had no idea about the craft of filmmaking.

"The beauty about this whole process was the fact that I didn't come from a filmy background and I'd been living outside of India for a long period of time. I got heavily influenced by American independent cinema. And that was a blessing in disguise because I had kind of loosely developed whatever was in my head," he recalled.

Kukunoor said he had moved to the US in the late 1980s to pursue a master's degree in environmental engineering at Atlanta's Georgia Institute of Technology and later took a job at a reputed firm.

He returned to India in the 1990s to pursue his lifelong dream of directing films and made "Hyderabad Blues", an autobiographical story that explored themes of culture clash faced by an NRI, who returns to Hyderabad and finds himself as a foreigner in his own land.

During the making of the movie, the filmmaker said he never paid heed to any advice that was offered to him.

"There were a lot of people giving just stupid advice, which they do all the time. While I was making the film, I didn't listen to any of it because I always believed that even if it's a piece of s*t, at least it'll be my piece of s*t.

"So once that worked, it gave me the confidence and I said, 'Okay, I think I'm going to stick with it'. There is a certain instinct that every director has and I pay a lot of attention to that inner voice," he added.

Kukunoor's latest project is Prime Video series "Modern Love Hyderabad", which takes him back to the city of Nizams.

Asked if he believes the show was a full-circle moment for him, the filmmaker admitted, saying, "It is more from the point of actually going back to Hyderabad to shoot something as extensive as this. In terms of exploring the city, the answer is yes because the stories were set in such different strata of society that I actually got a chance to truly explore Hyderabad in a way that I haven't actively done at least in the last decade or so."

The Telugu language show is the second of the three Indian adaptations of the original series "Modern Love", based on The New York Times' eponymous column.

"Modern Love Hyderabad" comes months after the release of the Hindi version "Modern Love Mumbai" and will be followed up by the Tamil edition, titled "Modern Love Chennai".

Kukunoor, who also serves as the showrunner, has directed three shorts in the anthology -- "My Unlikely Pandemic Dream Partner", "Fuzzy Purple and Full of Thorns" and "Why Did She Leave Me There…?"

The director revealed that when producer-creator Elahe Hiptoola approached him for the series, he had straight away declined it.

"I said no because I just hate love stories. I had no clue what the show was about. But she said 'Don't say no right away, why don't you watch this show on Amazon?'

"When I saw season one of the original 'Modern Love' and especially the very first episode, I absolutely fell in love with it because this was not just about the cliched love stories or man-woman relationships. It was just so much more and explored so many different relationships. So, I was sold," he said.

"Modern Love Hyderabad" features an ensemble cast of Aadhi Pinisetty, Nithya Menen, Ritu Varma, Suhasini Maniratnam, Revathi, Naresh, Malvika Nair, Abijeet Duddala, Naresh Agastya, Komalee Prasad, Ulka Gupta and Rag Mayur. It will premiere on Prime Video Friday.

[With Inputs From PTI]

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