T S Nagabharana is known as the director of several memorable films. Born in the desert-like town Talakadu, whose beautiful temples are buried in sand for several years before they reappear, he did his primary schooling at his hometown. In his childhood, he was fascinated by ritual and folklore.
His father A Srinivasaiah was deputy director of agriculture. His mother Rudramma was a homemaker, and he was the second of five siblings. He owes his creative flair to his grandfathers, both of whom were proficient in Yakshagana and the 'bayalata' theatre popular in the region.
Nagabharana’s family moved to Bengaluru when he was in his fourth standard. His father was often transferred. "I completed my primary, middle and high school at the Corporation School in Chamarajpet. My elder brother Shivarudra Dev would visit the Kannada Sahitya Parishat, and I would accompany him, but I had never imagined I would be involved in theatre later," he says.
His grandfathers came to Bengaluru for recordings of performances in Cubbon Park for All India Radio. "In Yakshagana, every character is introduced after a set of curtains is pulled away. At a show, I was asked to hold the curtains. This was my first brush with theatre," he says.
When he was to join college, Nagabharana would cycle from his house in Chamarajpet to Central College, where he was registered. "I used to pass Ravindra Kalakshetra. Right after attendance, we would be asked to leave. I would go and sit on the steps of Kalakshetra with my friends,” he says.
He met an elderly man in 'kache panche' there. The man would come in an Ambassador car, and peer at Nagarbharana and his friends lounging on the steps. After a few days, he told them, “Why are you sitting outside like beggars? Go inside and see what is happening.”
Nagabharana soon found out that the elderly man was Adya Rangacharya aka Sriranga, pioneer of modern Kannada theatre. "When we went inside, I was floored by the glory of the space. A Russian ballet group was rehearsing, and I started helping them. Later, I found a notice about a workshop, where any student who signed up could get paid Rs 2.50 a day for 40 days," he says. The workshop was conducted by the famous theatre and film personality B V Karanth.
Soon, Nagabharana was assigned to National College, from where he moved to Vokkaligara Sangha College of Arts and Science. "I did my graduation from Sri Jagadguru Renukacharya College of Science. Since I was working with Karanth in amateur theatre, I experimented with it at college too. My father told me I should become a double graduate, so after BSc, I took up law," he says.
Law classes were conducted from 8 am to 10 am, after which he would hang out at theatre venues like Ravindra Kalakshetra and Town Hall. "I was a stage manager then. I was fond of lighting and costume design. Everybody wanted to be in front of the audience, but I never wanted to go on stage," he says.
Move to filmmaking
Around that time, playwrights and intellectuals like Lankesh, Karanth and Karnad began exploring films. "The technical part was mostly my responsibility. All experimental films were done on small budgets and I started working with them. I got a film to direct in 1975, and started working on the script of 'Grahana'," he says.
The film won him many accolades, but didn't run for too long at the theatres. He was then offered a film called 'Bangarada Jinke', with Vishnuvardhana as the hero. "I was in search of a middle path. Art and commercial content had to blend properly. I was successful in bridging these in 'Aasphota' which won awards and also ran for 100 days," he says.
Almost all of Nagabharana’s works are based on literary works. "'Janumada Jodi' was based on a Gujarat novel and was lauded by many. It's a socially important film about the caste system," he says.
Actor and director
Ask him what he is most comfortable with — acting or directing — and he quips, 'I'm yet to find out'. Nagabharana has directed Rajkumar, Anant Nag, Prabhakar, Srinath, Vishnuvardhan, and their next generation of actors Shivarajkumar and Arjun Sarja.
His favourite actors are Rajkumar, Anant Nag and Shivrajkumar. "How Anant blends into a character is superb. Rajkumar and Shivrajkumar are professional and have a clear approach to acting. They are energetic and inspire a filmmaker," he says.
Then and now
Nagabharana believes the seriousness is gone, with filmmaking becoming easier. “The preparation is lost. Each and every shot would be calculated and planned, with multiple rehearsals," he says. Nagabharana has directed 36 films of which 19 films have received prestigious awards. "Each time I wanted to learn more. I am a cinema student even now," he says.
Nagabharana is now the chairman of the Kannada Development Authority. "I am also working on a biopic of Bangalore Nagarathnamma, the Carnatic singer and cultural activist. I had worked on a play about her in December. I am with the 13th version of the script and there will be more before I start shooting," he says.
His biggest hits