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Deep Dive with Harshil Koushik of Aachar & Co. Fame

Updated: Apr 7

We got talking with one of the lead characters in Aachar & Co. movie and we covered a lot of ground from the art form of theater to the success of Aachar & Co. Here's a deep dive into Harshil Koushik's life and the making of one of the best Kannada movies of all time.

1. How did you get your start in acting?

I've always been fascinated by acting since childhood thanks to my lifestyle. Watched a lot of films on cable TV once back from school and my house was in front of Navrang theater.

I let the aspirations stay a secret for a long time till I could muster up the courage to say it out loud to my friends and family. I really got a chance to start working towards it after my degree.

Harshil Koushik of Aachar & Co. fame.

I had no idea where to start and luckily my close friend had met some people who were into short films and theater.

She happened to introduce me to them and that's how I did my first short film called 'HER' directed by Siddhanth Sundar( who's now known for his song Naa Ee Sanjege from Godhi Banna Sadharana Maikattu).

Later met my theater team 'Rangasiri' through my close friend who had started working with them. Sandeep Pai who led Rangasiri was sweet enough to accommodate me even though there were no male actor requirements in the new play they were preparing for.

Though he said there was no need for a male actor initially he changed the role of an old woman to an old man and cast me in that role.

That's how I got to work on my first play 'Aarkanola'. After that, I started working with multiple theater teams including the Prakash Belwadi-led 'Centre for Film & Drama - CFD' where I performed in most of my English plays.

2. What is your view on theater as an art form, Harshil Koushik?

Theater of course is one of the oldest art forms known to humans. There was a time when I felt it was very sacred and that it was the purest form of art.

But as time passed and the realities of life started to hit, my views about it started to change and I could look at it more objectively. More than anything the thing I love about theater is how it brings people together.

Harshil Koushik of Aachar & Co. fame.

Everyone is equal. We would paint the sets, clean up the stage, set the stage, and eat together. This feeling of oneness and equality is something that truly sets theater apart for me.

Coming back to theater as an art form, the best part of it is that it is live. As an actor, you get to see the audience's reactions right then and there and that's what makes it fun.

If you make a mistake you have to move on like nothing happened. You can't show you messed up, you can't go blank. It's challenging. It's all about the play of light and the actors only.

Unlike films, there are no added layers to Influence the audience. It's all about being there, watching the story and performances unfold, and seeing if you like the journey.

3. How did your Aachar & Co. role come about?

The auditions during the COVID wave had shifted to online mode mostly. After the first lockdown had opened up surprisingly I got a call for an in-person audition for a film. One of my theater friends Mohan was helping Sindhu with the casting and he had referred me to the team.

Harshil Koushik of Aachar & Co. fame.

I think more than anything the chance to go out and audition was more exciting. I reached the place and got the scripts and a basic intro about the characters was given.

I had auditioned for the characters of Raghu and Srinatha and thought the audition went really well but then as an actor, you learn to audition and forget about it. And that's what happened precisely.

There was no communication for almost a year and I had harboured zero hopes of getting a call back. And then to my surprise, I got a call in Feb 2022 for another round of auditions.

Finished the auditions, Sindhu took the call immediately, and the next thing I knew I got to meet Anand our Executive Producer to finalize the terms. Throughout all this, I had never asked what's the film called or who is producing it.

This is when it got doubly interesting. Anand tells me it's a film for PRK productions. It took me a while to believe what I had just heard. Appu sir was my favorite and will always remain to be! Such a bittersweet moment that I never got to meet him in person.

April 2022 we started the shoot.

4. I think this movie has too many things going for it to just name one aspect. (Acting, music, direction, plot, execution, cinematography, screenplay...). So what clicked for Aachar & Co.?

Nostalgia and 'PRK Productions'

Films are about teamwork. Even if one of the departments falls short, it will show in the film. So the credit goes to every single person involved in the film. That being said, a lot of preparation went into the film and Sindhu led the team really well and got her vision to life.

PRK Production House

First and foremost she was prepared and was very clear about what she wanted in terms of the shots, the performance, and how it had to be edited. Such clarity adds a lot of confidence in the team members. You want to be in a space where everyone knows what's happening, which makes working easier.

The professional approach was to be seen right from the audition process. On the previous day of our shoot we would get a docket with all the details of the next day's shoot- and the actors, the scene, the props, duration of the shoot for a scene. Rarely do you see such a working method adapted in Kannada films.

Do Creative Labs

Credit for this must go to 'Do Creative' who were the Executive Producers. Anand, Danny, and Boris brought in their experience from the ad industry. I keep showing the dock to the teams I work with, saying this is how organized and prepared a film set should be.

All the department heads - Inchara Suresh (Costumes), Abhimanyu Sadanand (Cinematography), Vishwas Kashyap (Art), Ashik (Editing and DI) bought in their best. Also, we all know what Bindumalini's music did for the film - she's a magician. Her music was a character in the film making it so much more fun.

All these made the film what it is.

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From the moment we started promotions, we caught the attention of the viewers. There's a natural curiosity attached to what is the next film from PRK Productions. The press was interested. Added to this our first song Bengaluru's Suprabhata really hit the sweet spot with our target audience.

It gave the hint of nostalgia that the film brings with it and the audience was hooked! I was shocked to see 50+ yr olds in the morning show on our first day of release.

They are the ones who usually venture out only when there is a very strong word of mouth for the film( usually happens by 3rd and 4th week after release) and for our film, they were there at the morning show! On a Friday!

There were also these genuine young film lovers who had heard stories of their parents and grandparents of how their lives used to be in the 60's and came to witness it on the big screen.

Once they watched it, they went and brought their families back to the theaters for a second watch. We had so many instances when we met these people who were watching it again with their families, sometimes with their friends.

The film acted as a sweet journey back to their young age for a lot of our older audience and a visual storytelling for the younger audience of the stories they heard from the older folks at home.

Great execution with some good luck made all this happen. We held strong amidst some big releases which proves the film's strength.

5. How did you prepare for your role? ( I have to consciously remind myself you're not a time traveler from the 80s haha )

Hahaha. Thank you! Primary credit for your praise goes to two things - My look and the costumes. In reality, I feel like I'm an ancient soul but that's for another discussion.

When we met for the look test at the Vajreshwari Combines office I had this long thick beard.

Sindhu came up to me, looked at me for a while, and said- Go, keep the mustache and get a clean shave. To begin with I do not like myself with just the moustache. But Sindhu was very clear about how Raghu should look.

Harshil Koushik and Anirudh Acharya as Raghunath and Jaggu Aachar

I was very unsure though, I tried to convince Sindhu to let me keep a little bit of a stubble but she said no. I'm glad I listened to her ( not that I had a choice :p ). Then I come back all awkward about how I look, I meet Inchara who gives me a few costumes to try on.

I put them on and we started clicking pics and voila! I was transformed into Raghu in the 60's. Only after the look test was I completely convinced of the look.

Special mention to Inchara whose costumes played such a great role in making us look the authentic 60's. Such great sarees, such awesome shirts.

Okay now with more than half of my job done, let's talk about the prep for the performance.

Assumptions to portray a character set in the 60's:

1. The characters would speak in chaste Kannada with no usage of English.

2. Even if there is usage of English it has to be accented to make it sound authentic.

3. The body language would be much different from our current generation.

To start with I watched Kannada films of the 60s to see how were the people then portrayed.

How wrong I was proven about my assumptions! There was usage of English in conversations especially when the film was set in the city and the pronunciations were also bang on.

Guess all the caricaturization of English spoken with a thick Indian accent I had come across in the films I had watched before this exercise had got to me. With this, my personal pressure of having to steer away from all English in the dialogues was gone.

Also, this exercise of watching films made it clear that I don't need to do anything extra when it comes to body language. It would be enough if I am the way I am.

And throughout the prep work and shoot, there was one person who I constantly pestered Shri. B. Vasudev Murthy and I can't thank him enough. He was extremely kind and patient to answer all of my queries. BV Murthy is an actor, playwright, and director and the father of my dear friend Shrunga BV who's a known film and stage actor himself.

I met Murthy uncle at his residence and discussed how things were in a Madhava household. What were the favorite hangouts of the youngsters around Jayanagara? How did friends and siblings address each other back then? Such great insights!

Though I didn't get to use a lot of it for the screen, it helped me get the era much better mentally. Whenever I needed an input he was a call or a text away.

In this scene, where Suma is pestering me for pics and I'm constantly running to and fro changing my clothes after I've returned from the office, ' ಯಾಕೆ ಚಂಡಿ ಹೆಗ್ಲೇರ್ದಂಗ್ ಆಡ್ತಿದ್ಯಾ' line was suggested by Murthy uncle. Might seem insignificant but such minute things add a lot I believe.

Apart from this, I think irrespective of the era as humans our emotional responses haven't changed much. With this bound script in hand and the character clear, it was a breeze. My upbringing also helped a lot. Sindhu gave all of us actors enough space to make the characters our own.

6. I think Kanthara, Raghavendra Stores, and Aachar Co. are the direction the Kannada film industry should take for international recognition. It is the new wave of Kannada Cinema. What do you think?

I would go on and add Hostel Hudugaru Bekagiddare (my fav Kannada film of 2023) and Daredevil Mustafa to the list of yours. These are films that we can proudly show as good Kannada films and we are seeing how people have accepted and loved these films.

We should make films that are rooted in our culture, and that represent us. This is why I believe the Malayalam industry is doing so well. Plot substance in a movie with decent filmmaking will always make an impact. We can't forget that films at the end of the day are a visual medium. It has to be visually appealing as well.

I met someone in a tiny village near Sirsi who doesn't understand a word of Tamil say that she prefers watching a Vijay film because they are so grand and fun. The bigger commercial films have a wider pull that can't be denied either. So there has to be a balance, but the core has to be the substance.

Without it, there will only be a few miracles here and there with no substantial help to the industry. I would like to believe that this is a new wave in KFI but we are far from being consistent for it to have a long-term impact.

A genuine film will have an impact anywhere in the world thus bringing in international recognition. But this international recognition doesn't guarantee any theatrical collections.

We have to make good films back to back and that is when the very often used line of 'Kannada Janathe Olle Cinema Kaibidalla' will truly come true otherwise we will see them shift to watching more and more other language films. We have to earn back the trust of our audience so that they will come to watch our films without waiting for word of mouth to reach them.

Kanthara Movie

We have to build a stronger local film-viewing audience base. Kantara brought in a lot of non-native audience and we also did see a few non-native speakers during our theater visits watching Aachar & Co. This has to grow. People who don't know the language should be excited enough to watch our Kannada film.

A genuine film will have an impact anywhere in the world thus bringing in international recognition. Jai Shankar's Shivamma, Natesh Hegde's Pedro are doing that. But this international recognition doesn't guarantee any theatrical collections. The last such movie I believe that did well in the theaters was Thithi.

It would be an ideal situation where international recognition and theatrical collections would go hand in hand. So our current focus needs to be on making good films that are watched more widely.

7. I'm curious about the arranged marriage plot elements. Was there a researcher and Subject Matter Expert involved?

Arranged marriage was very common in those days. I don't think we needed any sort of research regarding it, it's just how things used to work back then. But if there was any such expert involved then only Sindhu would know about it.

Harshill Koushik in Aachar & Co. arranged marriage scene

In the film, you would've noticed how disappointed my brother gets when he sees his wife for the first time and vice versa. Also how my father is pissed that I went and saw my would-be wife before the marriage.

This was an era where our parents or the elders of the house would take a call on who are going to marry and we would just go ahead with it. Can't think of being like that now, can we?

8. How was it working for the PRK production house? Did Ashwini Puneeth Rajkumar Ma'am have any creative inputs?

Appu Sir started this company to support new teams and make content-oriented cinema in Kannada. The dream of that great man continued even after him, all thanks to Ashwini ma'am. The grit and courage she showed after going through such a personal loss is commendable. She green-lit our film a few months after Appu Sir's demise and the saying - 'the show must go on' was given new meaning. We have to thank Appu Sir and Ashwini Ma'am for putting so much trust in the project.

We Miss You Appu!

Our project was a great amalgamation of old-school and new-age work styles. Satish sir and Swamy sir who have had experience with filmmaking from Vajreshwari Combines days bring in loads of experience. Along with Do Creative who brought in the Ad Setup to the shoot and preparedness, I believe it was a great combo.

Also, the experiences at PRK offices and their Vajreshwari Combines offices prove why the Rajkumar family is called the Doddmane. They treat everyone alike with so much care and love.

If it's lunchtime, there is no way you are not having lunch. Even after our success meeting at their residence, Ashwini Ma'am ate only after all the others were done. Such humility and hospitability.

Ashwini Ma'am was one of the first few people who watched the film. I'm sure she had some inputs which Sindhu has accommodated in the film. Sindhu was given a free hand to do it the way she wanted to and that again proves the trust Ashwini Ma'am had in the project helmed by a debutant. Says a lot about the kind of person ma'am is.

9. This was Sindhu's directorial debut in the Kannada film industry. How was it working with her? Was the working environment as fun off-screen as things were on-screen?

Sindhu is the writer, director, and lead of the film. I'm very very proud of her and what she has achieved in her debut. As I've said before she was very well prepared. She had a great direction team (Gaurav, Sisnu, Darshan) supporting her throughout.

Without them, it would've been a great challenge for her to balance both acting and directing at the same time. She had clarity about every minute detail and was very particular that it was met.

The director always sets the tone in a set and Sindhu made sure it was a very calm and friendly set. We had a ball of a time while shooting for the film. We literally lived like a family with all of us staying in a serviced apartment.

Sindhu is the writer, director, and lead of the film. I'm very very proud of her and what she has achieved in her debut.

We caught up post-shoot, cooked food for ourselves, and had small parties whenever time permitted. Our room though was THE PARTY ROOM thanks to Anirudh Acharya who plays the elder version of Jaggu.

He's the funniest guy on the set and made sure we all had a good laugh all the time. When we had two or three days of a gap in between the schedules most of us preferred to stay back in Mysore than coming back home cos it was that much fun! We had as much fun off-set as on-set.

10. What are your top 5 Kannada movies? and top 5 movies regardless of language? (preferably different picks haha)

This is a difficult task from the hundreds of films that have taught me, entertained me, and made me cry, laugh, and jump for joy. This list could be completely different if you ask me tomorrow but still, I'll get to the task.

My top 5 Kannada films that come to my mind as I write this-

1. Nodi Swamy Naavirode Heege

2. Amruthavarshini

3. Guru Shishyaru

4. Babruvahana

5. Bhootayanna Maga Ayyu

Sometimes as an individual when u grow, a film that you've loved for a long time suddenly seems to have gotten regressive and outdated.

Top 5 films-

1. Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind

2. Dan in Real Life

3. Dancer in the Dark

4. Pyaasa

5. Life is Beautiful

Sometimes as an individual when u grow, a film that you've loved for a long time suddenly seems to have gotten regressive and outdated. That takes away a lot of films that have been on my fav list for a long time.

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