After delivering three hits in a row, each film in a class of its own, Chetan – an alumnus of the prestigious Yale University – is not yet in a hurry to sign new projects. Ask him why, and his answer is: “I knew that I would become an actor someday. But a film actor? No, not even in my wildest dreams. My presence in the entertainment industry is for a different purpose…”
Chetan’s journey back home to India was not to earn the tag of a superstar, but for many other reasons, some of them personal and others academic. “Cinema happens to be just one of them,” he makes it clear.
Thinking actor, huh? He insists we hear about his past from where he derives all the inspiration. Born and brought up in the US, Chetan’s parents are well-known physicians. He grew up in Chicago in a fastpaced society. “But I was very fortunate to be part of discussions at home on Indian history, culture, literature and anthropology. I wanted to learn more, experience everything first hand,” he points out.
He also had the unique opportunity of spending time with leading historians of Kannada, noted litterateurs and musicians from India who were regular guests at Chetan’s home. Frequent interactions with such intellectuals and an early exposure to a variety of subjects at a young age strengthened Chetan’s quest for more.
That curiosity took him to Yale where he studied Humanities and Anthropology. A Fulbright scholar, Chetan’s quest to learn more did not stop there. “Every summer, I visited India. With each visit, my curiosity about people and culture increased.” After completing his studies, the aspiring actor headed to India for good, disregarding his parents’ opinion.
A mime artiste since childhood, Chetan realised that theatre was one of the best channels to reach out to people with divergent ideas. He travelled the length and breadth of Karnataka with various theatre troupes, performing with them and connecting with people. He also got involved with women’s self help groups helping them in their micro credit programmes.
“Believe me, the experience was an eye-opener. For somebody exposed to western thought and education, the learning was great,” he admits. Subsequently, Chetan became a regular on the Bengaluru theatre circuit. The stage also helped him hone his acting skills for the screen.
Chetan had three issues on mind – understanding society beyond what he knew, fulfilling the passion for language and exploring performance in various forms. This never-ending curiosity took him to Agni Shridhar, a well-known Kannada writer and a reformed underworld don.
An audience with Agni Sridhar is still considered an impossibility for many. Chetan not only had successful sessions with Sridhar on society, democracy and literature, but also became good friends with him. Agni Sridhar’s autobiography, Dadagiriya Aa Dinagalu by then was a bestseller. Sridhar had plans of making a film based on a chapter from his book. The lead role was offered to Chetan, who immediately lapped it up, realising where it could take him.
A dream team comprising renowned filmmaker Girish Karnad, music maestro Ilayaraja, theatre personality K M Chaitanya and ace cinematographer H C Venu was set up. The star cast included Bollywood biggies like Ashish Vidyarthi and Atul Kulkarni. “The team’s profile was mind-boggling. So many bigwigs in one film,” says an excited Chetan, who considers Aa Dinagalu a dream debut.
Aa Dinagalu (Those days) exposed the notorious underworld of Bengaluru of the 80s. The film smashed box office records and went on to become one of the highest grossers of 2007. Ilayaraja’s melodious tracks were on the top 10 all year through. Every actor from the film shot into prominence. Chetan, sporting longish untrimmed hair of the 80s, suddenly became sought after.
He was flooded with offers, most of them commercial ventures, but Chetan’s next release was only in 2009: “I never aspired to become a star actor. I was looking only for interesting projects. That’s how I happened to take up Birugaali.”
Directed by choreographer Harsha, Birugaali saw a completely different Chetan, sporting a pony tail. The film did pretty well, as did the music. Chetan thinks Birugaali helped him connect with the people even more. “Aa Dinagalu gave me my biggest break. But it was Birugaali that took me closer to the people. Even in remote parts of north Karnataka, people identified me as Birugaali Chetan,” he says.
It was again a year before his third release happened. Suryakanthi, his third film was also directed by the director of Aa Dinagalu. “The storyline was so different that it took us all over the world for shooting, including Uzbekistan. I was comfortable working with Chaitanya. Most from the Aa Dinagalu team – Ilayaraja, Girish Karnad and Venu – were also part of Suryakanthi. It was fun working with them again,” he explains.
Apart from these, the new kid on the block also had the opportunity to work with many other well known personalities of the Indian film industry –Nasser, Atul Agnihotri, Ashish Vidyarthi and Ganesh Yadav – in just three films, something that’s sure to make other up and coming actors pretty enviable… A good dancer with a muscular body and a theatre background, Chetan was the missing and much required element in the Kannada film industry. Following Suryakanthi’s success, Chetan is again flooded with offers. He is currently evaluating two scripts. “If everything goes as planned, my next film will go on floors in a few months,” he shares.
When he is not acting, you can find Chetan playing his favorite tunes on his 21-year-old saxophone. You ask him and he can play the tune to precision. He even composes his own music.
“My artistic foundation is very strong. My passion for music is immense. I played the saxophone when I was a kid in front of the legendry Kadari Gopalanath. He wanted me to go with him to Chennai for training. But my parents were against the idea at that point. I became Ekalavya practicing on my own!”
Chetan can also play the violin and clarinet. His favourite leisure time activity is listening to jazz legends like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. An avid reader, he can read just about anything. “I try to make the best use of my time as I live alone in Bengaluru.”
Ask him about other things and Chetan smiles: “Well, I have many friends among girls. Let’s say I am single as of now. I don’t have a girlfriend.”
Hot, single, living alone and in demand. Sounds like mmm… what?