Kannada films for all time

Which are the top Kannada films you must see before you die? Well-known movie critic and historian K Puttaswamy gives his recommendations

Samskara paved the way for the Kannada new wave.

Bedara Kannappa (1954)

Dir: H L N Simha

Actors: GV Iyer, Rajkumar, Pandari Bai, Narasimharaju, Rajasulochana.

What’s special

It marks actor Rajkumar’s debut. He later went on to become a Kannada icon. The film, based on a folk story about a hunter and his innocent devotion to Shiva, encouraged the production of Kannada films (prior to it, only 40 films had been made; the pace accelerated significantly after it broke box office records).

School Master (1958)

Dir: B R Panthulu

Actors: Dikki Madhava Rao, Udaykumar, Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan and B. Saroja Devi.

What’s special

It was the first Kannada film to run for 25 weeks. It initiated debates, in the style of social realism, about universal education, dowry, and problems of old age. Its concerns remain relevant to this day.

Naandi (1964)

Dir: N. Lakshminarayan

Actors: Rajkumar, Harini, Kalpana

What’s special

This is the first ever ‘offbeat’ Kannada film. It revolves characters with speech and hearing disability, and was supported by lovely songs composed by Vijayabhaskar. It was also the first Kannada film to be screened internationally. It had no romantic scenes, and was acclaimed for its authentic representation of Kannada culture.

Bellimoda (1967)

Dir: Puttanna Kanagal

Actors: Kalpana, Kalyana Kumar, Pandhari Bai, Ashwath.

What’s special

First Kannada film to be shot completely outdoors. No artificial sets were used. This was also the first women-centric mainstream film, and showcased the formidable directorial skills of Puttanna Kanagal. Its success encouraged Kanagal to deliver a string of sensitive, entertaining and commercially successful films.

Samskara (1970)

Dir: Pattabhirama Reddy
Actors: Girish Karnad, Snehalata Reddy, P. Lankesh

What’s special

An adaptation of U R Ananthamurthy’s critically acclaimed novel of the same name, it was pathbreaking in many ways. It features actors who stood in front of the camera for the first time. The film caught the attention of national and international audiences, and set showed how the rich wealth of Kannada literature could be tapped for cinema. It also established a link between Kannada theatre and Kannada cinema.

Chomana Dudi (1975)
Dir: B V Karanth

Actors: M.V. Vasudeva Rao, Padma Kumta, Jayarajan

What’s special

Based on a novel by Jnanpith laureate K Shivaram Karanth, it reflected the stark reality of untouchability. It won many awards, including a national one for best actor for Vasudeva Rao. Its highlight was its freshness of treatment. It remains one of the finest films on the Kannada screen.

Ghatashraddha (1977)

Dir: Girish Kasaravalli
Actors: Narayan Bhat, Ramaswamy Iyengar, Jangannath.
What’s special

The film marks auteur Girish Kasaravalli’s debut. He was 27 when he directed this moving film about desire, widowhood and dogma. It was the first Kannada film to be made by a director with a degree in film studies (Kasaravalli studied at the Pune film institute). Cinematheque Francaise, a French film organization, ranks Ghatashraddha among the top 100 films in the world. It is also one among the top 20 films made in India.

Bhootayyanna Maga Ayyu (1974)

Dir: S. Siddalingaiah

Actors: Vishnuvardhan, Lokesh, M.P. Shankar
What’s special

It is a powerful drama about a village feud, and portrays characters with all their idiosyncrasies (for example, a beggar always longing for pickle from a rich man’s house). The interdependence and rivalries between communities, and also the love and care that binds them, is shown with
stellar performances.

Ranadheera Kanteerava (1960)

Dir: N.C. Rajan

Actors: Rajkumar, R. Nagendra Rao, Sandhya
What’s special

This came at a time when Kannada cinema was fading away for want of funds. It was made by popular actors Rajkumar, GV Iyer, Narasimharaju and Balakrishnam, who raised money by acting in plays. It is one of the most authentic historical films of all time, depicting Mysuru history on the basis of documents found in the palace.

Thithi (2016)

Director: Raam Reddy

Actors: Thammegowda S, Channegowda, Abhishek H.N.
What’s special

Set in Mandya district, this simple, charming film features no known actors. It banks on minimum dialogue and humour to tell a story about money, life and love. Its documentary tone and tenor, showing a farmer trying to sell his land to a real-estate developer, often makes you forget it is a film with a tight script and screenplay. Director Raam Reddy studied filmmaking in New York. Francis Coppola, director of The Godfather, was among those who praised this film.

Prema Loka (1987)

Dir: V Ravichandran

Actors: Ravichandran, Juhi Chawla, Vishnuvardhan

What’s special

This is out and out a commercial crowd-pleaser. Kannada film production picked up again after the spectacular success of this film. A campus love story, it stood out for its lavish song-and-dance sequences. Heroines from other languages became a common feature in Kannada after Juhi Chawla was a hit with audiences here. The film marked the beginning of the Hamsalekha era in the film industry. He changed the way songs were written, bring more informality and street language into them.

About K Puttaswamy


Dr K Puttaswamy

One of Indian cinema’s most knowledgeable chroniclers, he has won several awards, including the national Swarna Kamal. He wrote the detailed, magisterial
‘Cinema Yaana’ (2009), a history of 75 years of Kannada cinema. The book won the national award for ‘best book on cinema.’

Since 1934
The first Kannada talkie, Sati Sulochana, was made in 1934. No footage remains, sadly. Kannada cinema has a history of 84 years.

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