Versatile veteran

Excellence

For a little over three decades, Anant Nag has managed to grace the screens of Kannada cinema, enamouring his audience with his accentuated dialogue delivery and natural sense of humour. S Nanda Kumar catches up with this superlative talent.

One-of-a-kind : Anant NagAnant Nag — the name is enough to conjure up the Kannada cinema-lover’s image of the quintessential actor, and of innumerable hits, of his superlative acting skills, and of the melodious songs that were filmed with him on the screen.

Even today, 36 years after Bayalu Daari, the famous helicopter sequence with Anant as the pilot, searching for his love, singing Yelliruve, manava kaaduva roopasiye continues to be the favourite of millions.

The actor carved a niche for himself with what the audience called ‘natural acting’.

As his actress-wife Gayatri bustled around their unusually designed house, getting us tea, Anant spoke of Kannada films today. “I was 24 when I came to Bangalore. Of course, everything has changed now. The film industry has moved, but whether it has moved backwards or forwards, I cannot say,” he said animatedly.

“The kind of editing we have today is so fast that it seems as if they want to bamboozle the audience with the noise, movement and visuals. One can hardly see the hero or heroine in a shot, let alone observe their acting. The basic requirement is acting. And even that’s missing now,” he says ruefully.

Anant has the skill to go deep into character and work on gestures and body language — in effect, he breathes life into the role. He has the rare ability to transform a mundane dialogue into a superlative moment by interspersing the words with a glance or a meaningful pause that threatens towards silence before being broken by the actor’s next word or gesture.

He has had wide-ranging roles and says that in earlier days, directors would search for a suitable actor to essay a particular part. “I was lucky to get those kind of films and my producers, directors and story writers worked on it. “Here is a character,” they would say, “we think Anant Nag would suit this character the best.” And such roles came my way. That’s why I say I am lucky. Take my role in Na Ninna Bidalare. It is so different from the tragic character in Benkiya Bale.

Both are also different from the characters in Ganeshana Maduve or a negative-shaded character as seen in Undu Hoda Kondu Hoda. They expected an actor to rise to the occasion and join the dotted lines. Today, the roles are designed to suit an actor. That’s why things are going haywire.”

Changing face of cinema

Perhaps the very versatility of the actor added to his appeal. “So far as I was concerned, I never promoted any image. Because I thought the success of an actor depended on the variety of roles he presented to the audience.” He says the depth of characterisation in the films of his era, when he was the leading man, is missing, and that this is also to do with what the present-day audience wants.

“My audience in those days, whether it was educated, upper class, middle-class or even the so-called Gandhi class, would appreciate a good film with good acting. The characterisation that they do these days is very, very frivolous. That’s why I say it’s not about the actor these days. There is no worthwhile story…and I am not talking only about myself or my roles — it applies to any and every actor.”

The conversation veers to the music of those days, when songs used to be an integral part of the story. His expressive eyes light up, “Nowadays you have to suspend everything when the song comes. The song has nothing to do with the subject — the hero is suddenly dancing abroad, even if it is a rural-based or a city-based subject in Karnataka. He sings a song and comes back!”

The lyrics of old Kannada songs had a depth that is hard to find in today’s films, although recent films like Mungaru Male did bring the focus back on meaningful lines.

The movies Anant Nag had acted in had some fabulous songs as well. He says, “Films like Bayalu Daari, Na Ninna Bidalare, Chandanada Gombe, Benkiya Bale, Aruna Raaga, Mududida Taavare Aralithu, Gagana, Narada Vijaya — there are at least 50 films of mine which have beautiful songs.

Today, one song becomes a hit and everybody copies it. Most of the time the lyrical value is absent.” He adds thoughtfully, “But I would not complain about it. As generations change, tastes also change. It wouldn’t be right to say that what we did during our generation was the most correct.” He ranks Aakashadinda from Chandanada Gombe, sung by S P Balasubramaniam, as one of his all-time favourites.

The talk turns to his 24-year-old daughter, Aditi, who is just about to complete her MBA. Perhaps they would not want her to be in the world of Kannada cinema, I ask gingerly. “On the contrary, both Gayatri and I wanted her to do at least one film, just for the record, since both of us were actors. But she is very firm that she wants nothing to do with cinema! There was even a good offer for a film, but she would not even hear of it. She is very keen to pursue her career in finance,” laughs Anant.

A keen reader, with his favourite authors being Albert Camus, V S Naipaul and Graham Greene, Anant says he is now devoting a lot of time to reading about philosophy and spirituality. He has already written a book of memoirs on his brother Shankar Nag and the same publisher has approached him for an autobiography. But Anant says he is not interested at the moment.

Anant says that very few films now challenge him as an actor. “Of course, I got some good roles recently — like Nagathihalli Chandrashekar’s Breaking News, and Indrajit Lankesh’s Dashamukha.” He says he has had a very interesting 40 years in the world of cinema, with about 200-odd Kannada films, 15 Hindi movies and some in Tamil, Marathi, Telugu and Malayalam.

“I am satisfied. Thanks to god’s grace and my producers, I am comfortable…I don’t really have to work now. It’s not a hand-to-mouth existence that I am leading any more. I don’t have that fire in my belly any more. Unless the role is challenging and the money is good, I am not for it,” he says philosophically.

But producers and directors will not give up so easily, with many ready to make changes just to have this master craftsman in their films. Recently, a director changed the entire location of his film from Mysore to Bangalore just because Anant said he could not take up the offer if it was out of town. They knew that having him in their films would make a lot of difference.

Many hours later, as I drive away, my mind buzzing with images, I can hardly hear the cacophony of traffic, even though my music system is silent. I could still hear Anant Nag’s voice, and the wonderful songs from his movies.

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