Bhakta and our heady cinema

L V Sharadha Rao, who played the female lead in the landmark film Vamsha Vriksha, recalls how producer M Bhaktavatsala fuelled Kannada cinema’s high

Bhaktavatsala

My memories of M Bhaktavatsala go back to 1971-72 when there was a creative awakening among Kannadigas. I decided to take to films. I had met B V Karanth and Girish Karnad at a theatre event. They were putting together a team for the film Vamsha Vriksha when I met Y N Krishnamurthy,  well-known journalist. He was friends with the theatre stalwarts.

I was soon offered the role of Kathyayani, the female lead of Vamsha Vriksha.  I accepted it with the hope that it would be a landmark in Indian cinema. The team had uncompromising, committed artistes who were from the non-commercial film circuit.

The novel Vamsha Vriksha was written by the famous S L Bhyrappa, who gave the film rights to G V Iyer on the condition that it be directed by B V Karanth; eventually the film was co-directed by Karanth and Girish Karnad.  The story unfolded on celluloid as a straight narrative, done realistically. When it was shown to friends, the response was encouraging. Now the commercial aspect had to be initiated.

One evening, Iyer and Karanth came home to meet my father L S Venkaji Rao. They wanted him to find them a distributor or theatre owner. My father went to the telephone, dialled a number, and started talking in Telugu. He was talking to Bhaktavatsala, son of Moola Rangappa. The film, an artistic venture, had to become business.

My father advised Iyer and Karanth, “You have to create interest. Get some publicity, hold a press conference. Go to Bhakta’s office and meet him. Show him the film…. I will also talk to (distributor) Mandre.”

Iyer went to Bhakta’s office and everything clicked. Bhakta’s company Sharada Movies took up Vamsha Vriksha and the rest is history.  A non-commercial film became a commercial hit. An ‘art film’ with no stars ran for 100 days and then 25 weeks!

Celebrations took place. Vamsha Vriksha premiered at several cinemas, including Minerva, to a full house. “I am happy, I have recovered my money,” Bhakta said. Sharada Movies threw a party to mark the film’s 25-week run at States cinema on Kempegowda Road.

“I want you all to enjoy yourselves and have a nice evening. I am not for giving you any mementos; I would rather you all met one another and others from the film fraternity,” Bhakta told me.

I met not just stars, but also producers, writers, lyricists, journalists, musicians, poets, and painters. In fact, the entire cast and crew involved in making Vamsha Vriksha, besides others from the fraternity, were in attendance.

After Vamsha Vriksha’s success, an enthusiastic bunch of newcomers tried their hand at films with thought-provoking themes.  Bhakta interacted with many who were not necessarily from the film industry. I met him at couple of films and press shows. His interest in the process of filmmaking was profound. He believed that script was everything. He was also studying and learning; he was well-read and knowledgeable about camera, music and art.

Bhakta was articulate about the subjects dear to him. Prema (wife)and Bhakta actively interacted with the actors–not just stars, they did not have any hang-ups!  He was different from the others in the film business. He had his own opinions and did not hesitate to express them. He liked Vamsha Vriksha’s music so much that he told me, “I want to make a long-play recording of the score.”

The music was composed by Karanth and Bhaskar Chandavarkar. The theme song was written by Chandrashekar Kambar. S G Vasudev had done the art direction for the film. I met them a couple of times at YNK’s house soon after Prema had acted in the film Kaadu and got an award for it.

I met Bhakta at the premiere of Bhoothayyana Maga Ayyu, which went on to become a super hit. He came up to me and said, “The script is very powerful.” Vamsha Vriksha had promoted quite a few people: its actors Vishnuvardhan, Chandrashekar and became popular. Vishnuvardhan had acted in Bhoothayyana Maga Ayyu, which made profits. Quite a few youngsters came forward to make films.  As Bhakta once said, “For Kannada cinema, the ‘70s and ‘80s were the best time for original works.”

Bhakta took to writing. I was happy to read what he wrote about G V Iyer’s Sanskrit film ‘Shankaracharya.’ I had acted in it. He had highlighted certain points professional journalists and critics had not noticed.  People remember Bhakta as an approachable film industry man open to ideas. I remember him screening Vamsha Vriksha for just one person on two occasions. On one of them, he showed it to the famous director Debaki Bose.  Such was his enthusiasm.

Bhakta, who died in August at 84, has left a vacuum. He will be remembered always for his contribution to Kannada cinema.  
 

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