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Dwarakish, the first showman of Kannada cinema

Last Updated : 03 September 2022, 04:37 IST

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Dwarakish, who began his career in Kannada cinema in the 1960s, always had big dreams.

He was keen on entrepreneurship and sold spare parts of vehicles after completing automobile engineering. The acting bug had bit him back in school, where he did small roles in plays and he continued to perform in college as well.

His uncle Hunsur Krishnamurthy, a prominent filmmaker, gave Dwarakish his first break as an actor in ‘Veera Sankalpa’ (1964). The historical films, with hit songs, became a success and Dwarakish, who featured in a comic role in the film, had made a mark in his debut.

It was a time when Narasimharaju was the most sought-after comedian and directors found it hard to get his call sheet. Balakrishna had drifted towards playing his age of an elderly person. Dwarakish sensed an opportunity and capitalised on it.

He became a regular feature in Hunsur Krishnamurthy’s film. People loved his comic acts in ‘Maduve Madi Nodu’ (1965) ‘Satya Harishchandra’ (1965), ‘Sri Kanyaka Parameshwari Kathe’ (1966), and more. Apart from a fine comic timing, Dwarakish evoke laughter with his expressions. He exuded a Jim Carrey-like energy on screen. His style was also similar to that of popular Tamil comedians like Thai Nagesh, Chandra Mohan, Cho Ramaswamy, and others.

Dwarakish’s creative urge didn’t allow him to just stick to acting. After he made a name for himself as a comedian, Dwarakish had expressed his wish to be a producer.

After continuous attempts to make a film with Dr Rajkumar, he finally got an opportunity with ‘Mayor Muthanna’ (1969), which marked the birth of his banner Dwarakish Chitra. Dwarakish bought the story from Tamil writer G Balasubramniam and worked on the screenplay with Chi Udayashankar. Directed by debutant Siddalingaiah (who would go on to be a legendary Kannada filmmaker), the film, a super hit, was praised for breaking popular perceptions about urban and rural living.

Post that, Dwarakish was drawn towards the trend of detective and cow boy stories in the Telugu industry. This led to films like ‘Kulla Agent 007’ (1972) and ‘Cowboy Kulla’ (1973) and . It’s important to note how Dwarakish turned his short stature, considered a disadvantage in films, into his major trump card. He declared himself a ‘kulla’ (a short man) to essay roles that were written around his physical personality. This was a masterstroke from Dwarakish as those films, with a good mix of suspense and action, were successful ventures.

His career received further boost when Dwarakish started his association with Dr Vishnuvardhan. Their combination delivered excellent adventure comedies like ‘Kalla Kulla’ (1975), ‘Kittu Puttu’ (1977), ‘Singaporenalli Raja Kulla’ (1978), and more.

It is in this phase that Dwarakish became an integral part of the Kannada industry. ‘Singaporenalli Raja Kulla’ was the first Kannada film to be shot in a foreign location. Dwarakish was a daredevil producer and never shied from lavish experiments. Before V Ravichandran, Dwarakish was the showman of Kannada cinema. His films were known for grand sets, songs and exotic locations. His new year parties were the talk of the town in Madras. The who’s who of the city knew Dwarakish.

He also brought in artistes from other industries to the Kannada film industry like Jayachitra and Bhanupriya and worked with non-Kannada filmmakers like SA Chandrashekhar, Rajashekhar, SP Muthuraman, and CV Rajendran. The production house also introduced local actors like Vinod Raj in ‘Dance Raja Dance’ (1987) Shruthi and Sunil in ‘Shruthi’ (1990).

It’s remarkable how Dwarakish Chitra bankrolled films of great variety. If Singaporenalli Raja Kulla was an action adventure then ‘Guru Shishyaru’ (1981) was a comedy. ‘Mane Mane Kathe’ (1981) was a family drama while Nee Bareda Kadambari (1985) depicted a husband-wife relationship.

Around 60 per cent of his 54 films were remakes and that is one of the major negatives in a chequered career that witnessed many downfalls. His films in Hindi (‘Gangva’ with Shabana Azmi and Rajinikanth) and other regional languages (‘Adutha Varisu’ with Rajinikanth) failed. He put himself in the lead in ‘Manku Thimma’ (1980), ‘Kulla Kulli’ (1980), and Pedda Gedda’ (1982) but the films tanked at the box office.

He revived himself by making films with Shankar Nag (Nyaya Hengide, Gedda Maga,) but his ambitious nature convinced him to make ‘Africadalli Sheela’ (1986), a film that put him in a huge financial trouble. Shot in the forest ranges of Africa, the movie was a disaster. His failures even forced him to sell his properties.

After a lengthy layoff, the humongous success of ‘Apathamithra’ (2004) resurrected Dwarakish Chitra, which produced more hits like ‘Vishnuvardhana’ (2011), ‘Aaatagara’ (2015), and ‘Chowka’ (2017). After that, as is the pattern in his career, he faced financial woes with the failure of ‘Aayushmanbhava’ (2019). Dwarakish was also a controversial figure. Some incidents were uncalled for while in other episodes, he was misunderstood. Dwarakish, who has crossed 60 years in the industry, is the longest-surviving Kannada artiste currently. At his prime, he was a rare artiste who plunged into film production and improved the industry’s prospects by making films regularly.

(As told to Vivek M V. Puttaswamy is a senior film historian).

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Published 02 September 2022, 19:13 IST

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