Prashanth Neel’s “K.G.F: Chapter 2,” starring Yash, is one of the biggest box office hits this spring, having grossed approximately $120 million worldwide since its April 14 release.
Produced by Vijay Kiragandur for Hombale Films, “K.G.F: Chapter 2” was made on a budget of $13 million and is a sequel to 2018 film “K.G.F: Chapter 1.” Set during the 1970s and 1980s, the film followed the journey of gangster Rocky (Yash) and his bid to gain control of the Kolar Gold Fields. The sequel continues his journey and the stakes are higher with his opponents including the Prime Minister of India. The film is in the Kannada-language with dubbed versions in the Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam languages.
The filmmakers had some idea of what the film could achieve, when the teaser was released in Jan. 2021, and, as the film’s release got postponed due to the pandemic, gathered more than 258 million views. “It’s overwhelming, for sure,” Yash told Variety about the film’s box office success. “But the potential of the market was already clear.”
The end credits of “K.G.F: Chapter 2” contain an MCU-style hint at a third chapter. “Already we have thought of a lot of scenes, me and Prashanth,” says Yash. “There are a lot of things which we couldn’t do in ‘Chapter 2.’ So we know there are a lot of possibilities, a lot of kick-ass scenes are there. But it’s just an idea. And we’ve just left it there right now.”
The “K.G.F” journey began in 2014, when Kiragandur, fresh off producing Hombale’s debut “Ninnindale,” starring the late Puneeth Rajkumar, approached Yash. They got along and decided to do multiple projects together. Their partnership began with “Masterpiece.” Neel, who’d debuted with “Ugramm” (2014), which Yash was impressed by, had an idea, which he presented to the actor and producer. There was a portion of the story set in a mine that Yash felt had the potential to be a bigger story, which Neel developed. After that was a wait while Yash completed his other commitments.
“K.G.F” was meant to be one film, but midway through the production, Neel decided to split the film into two, because he felt that some scenes were being rushed and the emotional aspect of it, something that is critical to winning Indian audiences, no matter what the genre is, needed expanding. The production took a month’s break to work on this aspect. “The best portions were in the second half, which is ‘Chapter 2.’ So I was worried about ‘Chapter 1’ – if that had not worked, we would never make ‘Chapter 2.’ That was the gamble we had to take,” said Yash.
The gamble worked. “K.G.F: Chapter 1” earned $33 million, was a hit across India and found a further audience on Amazon Prime Video.
For Yash, also described by his fans with the sobriquet “Rocking Star,” the global success of “K.G.F: Chapter 2” is the latest step in a journey that began in his childhood, growing up in Mysore. Born Naveen Kumar Gowda to a bus driver and homemaker, his childhood dream was to be an actor.
“I never had a plan B, I always thought I’m a hero. That’s because in childhood, I used to participate in a lot of cultural activities, and I used to get that extra attention – people used to clap and whistle,” said Yash. “So I think I got addicted to it a very young age.”
After school and junior college, as his parents could not afford to send him to an acting school, Yash moved to Bangalore to work as an assistant director on a film. His parents, ever supportive of his choices, let him go on the condition that if he returned home, he’d have to stay and complete his studies. “They thought okay, maximum one or two days he will be there, or a week, and he will come back. He will realize what life is,” said Yash.
The film on which Yash was serving as AD stopped in two days and he didn’t have a place to stay in the big city. Rather than being disheartened, Yash joined Benaka, a theater group founded by the late dramatist B.V. Karanth, and toured Mumbai, working backstage. As he also learned every part that was being played, he was roped in as an emergency understudy if one of the actors was indisposed. This led to small roles and then to television. Film offers followed, but then, as now, Yash turned them down because of the scripts.
Yash eventually made his film debut with a small role in “Jambada Hudugi” (2007), followed by a supporting role in “Moggina Manasu” (2008), with “Rocky” (2008) being his first film as a leading man. Hit after hit followed. The actor is a big believer in Kannada cinema and used to feel bad when people discriminated against it by calling it small, compared to the other South Indian film industries. He was instrumental in the “K.G.F” films being mounted on a grand scale.
“Just by doing that one step so much has changed for our industry. People received it in every part of the country and nobody expected this to happen. If you’re confident about your product, I think you should go out and explore,” said Yash.
The actor feels that there is a lot of potential for collaboration both ways, of Indian cinema going international and the world looking to India. “I know they have got a lot of technology and budgets and all of that but sometimes it’s not just about that, it’s about the content and they also want to see different things, they also want to see other cultures, they want to see our heroes,” said Yash. Indian heroism of late has been working in the West, beyond diaspora audiences, with S.S. Rajamouli’s “RRR” grossing $145 million.
“The kind of market we have got here in India now, that is definitely something everybody wants to capture. And we have another market outside that is untapped,” Yash added. “If the product is good and the people accept it, then you get these numbers. So the world is our territory.”