Dingri Nagaraj: Comedy was clean earlier

Dingri Nagaraj: Comedy was clean earlier

Dingri Nagaraj with son Rajvardhan.

Dingri Nagaraj has made many Kannadigas laugh with his comic timing and playful self on screen. Seen in more than 600 films, he has won many prestigious awards.

Since his first film ‘Parasangada Gendethimma’ in 1978, he has appeared regularly on the Kannada screen, and is most remembered for his roles ‘Khaidi’, ‘Maneye Mantralaya’, ‘Olavina Aasare’, ‘Mutthu Ondu Mutthu’, ‘Central Jail’, ‘Namma Oora Devathe’, ‘Anupama’, ‘Thayiya Nudi’, ‘Thaliya Aane’, ‘Chellida Raktha’ and ‘Bombat Raja Bandal Rani’.

In Tamil, ‘Kalaignan’, a film he did with Kamal Haasan, is dear to his heart.

Chance first film

Nagaraj was born and raised in Gandhinagar, Bengaluru. His father Keshav Naidu was a school teacher, and mother Sharadamma a homemaker. 

“My mother passed away soon after I was born. All my childhood memories are with my father and my sister Ranganayaki. I was homeschooled and my father taught me till the seventh standard,” he says.  

He then joined Arya Vidya Shala, Gandhinagar, and continued there till his tenth standard.

Keshav Naidu, turned to theatre and became an actor, and that triggered Nagaraj’s interest.

“I loved going to rehearsals with him, and I wanted to be an actor. I had no interest in sports or other activities in school,” he says.

In his teenage years, Nagaraj started acting in the well-known Subbaiah Naidu drama company. “I started with plays ‘Sri Jagajyothi Basaveshwara’, ‘Bhaktha Kumbara’ and ‘Bedara Kannappa’. Later, I joined the Gubbi drama company,” he recollects. 

When he got a job at the government-run Indian Telephone Industries, he met interesting people, including Maruthi Shivram, director of ‘Parasangada Gendethimma,’ based on a Kannada novel.

“I used to be a helper on the sets serving coffee and tea. The team wanted someone to play a small role and since the director knew me, he offered it to me. After seeing my acting skills, he made the role more elaborate,” he says. 

‘Parasangada Gendethimma’ was a big hit. “One of the most memorable moments was choreographing the song ‘Tera eri ambaradaage’. A choreographer was hired but he didn’t make it, and I stepped in. Everyone liked what I suggested and the song became a super hit,” Nagaraj says. 

With stalwarts

Nagaraj has worked with most big actors, including Dr Rajkumar, Ravichandran, Vishnuvardhan, Lokesh, Narasimha Raju, Shankar Nag, Anant Nag, Ambareesh, Shivarajkumar, and Sudeep. 

“I liked working with Dr Rajkumar because of his dedication to the craft. He would be on the sets early in and the way he respected everyone was inspiring. Ravichandran treats everyone alike, and he would often eat with the team. Nowadays, actors finish their scenes and go back to their caravans,” says Nagaraj.

Among the directors, he has worked with V Somashekar, Rajendra Babu and Rajendra Singh. Nagaraj’s favourite films are ‘Parasangada Gendethimma’, ‘Khaidi’ and ‘Anupama’. 

“I was lucky to portray varied characters, from a constable to a beggar. I never prepared for any character, it was always spontaneous,” he says.

Comedy is a challenging genre. But for Nagaraj, it came naturally. “I never felt it was difficult, as I enjoyed every moment,” he says.

Comedy has definitely changed over the years, Nagaraj observes. “During our times, the content would be clean. There was no double meaning in the dialogues,” he adds. 

People should start laughing by just looking at the comedian. The expression and attire should trigger laughter, he believes.

“Everyone would laugh when they saw Narasimha Raju on screen, and he is the greatest comedian I have ever seen,” he says. N S Rao, another favourite, would make everyone laugh with his voice.

“The pandemic has been tough on everyone in the film industry. It has reduced opportunities. Currently, I’m shooting for ‘Coffee Kate’ and an untitled project,” he signs off.