'Film on Basava and Bijjala an unrealised dream'

Celebrated actor who straddles arthouse (G V Iyer, Shyam Benegal) and commercial cinema (Ravichandran, Mani Ratnam) looks back on his life and times, and recalls his 45-year connection with the Deccan Herald group.

Anant Nag

Last week’s visit to the Deccan Herald building sent Anant Nag on a nostalgic trip. He used to frequent the office in the 1970s, when he was still in Mumbai, making monthly trips to Bengaluru to act in Kannada films. “I used to stay at Kamat near Minerva Circle, and come to your office on the days I was free,” he recalled.

Excerpts from an interview:  

Your early education was rooted in religion. Your father was associated with a matha and your mother with an ashram. Did you ever imagine as a child you would be an actor? 

No. I never thought of it. I used to participate in skits. The idea of becoming an actor didn’t cross my mind, but I was good at imitation and mimicry. After my eighth standard, my father sent me off to Bombay, to St Xavier’s High School. I found it difficult to switch from Kannada to English medium. I fell behind. I was well-versed in the Vedas and mantras, but from being among the top five, I was now among the bottom five. They passed me up for two years, but I was detained in the 10th standard. Life was intolerable. And Bombay had given me a culture shock. Around that time, I got to do a play in Konkani. And in five years, I got various roles in Kannada and Marathi. I was then selected for a Kannada film, and directed to meet Y N Krishnamurthy, editor of Prajavani.

You are talking about Sankalpa, your first Kannada film?

Yes. I used to come to the Deccan Herald-Prajavani building, and look at how the printing press works. I also used your library. I started reading a lot of books, and YNK helped me catch up on the Kannada books I had missed out.

Initially, you were working in arthouse films like Hamsageethe (1975) and Ankur (1973) and directors like G V Iyer and Shyam Benegal. 

I did a lot of Hindi theatre back then with Satyadev Dubey. He put me on to Shyam Benegal, and that is how it all started. Bengal was making ad films, and cast me in his first feature film Ankur. Balamuralikrishna lent me his voice in Hamsageethe. I was very familiar with Hindustani music and not so familiar with Carnatic music, and I developed an appreciation for it because of the film.

How did you balance arthouse cinema with the other kind of cinema? How did you approach the two kinds of filmmaking?  


The actor got a big break with Bayaludaari

I think theatre trained me for it. The pay is low in art-house films. I understood you could make money only in commercial films. I had a meaty role in the commercial film ‘Devara Kannnu’ and that is when many people came to know of me. I got a very big break with Bayaludaari, in which I acted with Kalpana.

Which actors and filmmakers did you look up to in your initial years?

I did not look up to anybody, but I had seen a lot of English films and noticed the difference between Indian commercial cinema and Hollywood cinema. I felt they were more natural. I took to that kind of natural acting; I followed that school of acting. My approach is realistic acting. I made that my style without depending on any mannerisms. It should not even be acting, It should be behavioural.

Tell us about your musical and literary tastes. You are a big admirer of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.

I used to observe and absorb a lot. In the mantras, the pronunciation has to be perfect. All of this came in handy when I became an actor. Balamuralikrishna is also one of my favourites. I would keep his cassettes and listen to them. I listened a lot to Bhimsen Joshi and performed to two of his songs on screen, Bhagyada lakshmi baramma and Yadava nee baa.

In the ‘80s, you and your brother Shankar Nag set up the Sanket Studio in Bengaluru? What were the challenges you faced in bringing the film music industry from Chennai to Bengaluru? 

It was difficult. The musicians here were very competent, but cinema music is different. We had to start from scratch, by training the musicians. People like Hamsaleksha and L Vaidyanathan trained our musicians. The studio was started in ‘85. My brother passed away in ‘90. Technology keeps changing. We had to close it down later as we could not keep up with the advances in technology.

You did a series of comedies in the ‘90s, after Shankar’s passing. Was humour your way of coping with the devastating loss? 

Well, I haven’t really thought about it the way you are putting it here, but comedy was my forte even in theatre. And in the films I had done earlier, there were bits of comedy. The assumption then was that full-time comedy would not run, but that was falsified by films like Gauri Ganesha, Ganeshana Maduve, and Undoohoda Kondoohoda.

Not many of your younger fans may be aware of your political side. You were with Ramakrishna Hegde, and later became a minister in J H Patel’s cabinet. 

All my interests started with the JP movement in Mumbai. That got me involved in politics. When I was minister, I was told not to act. And I think that is when I realised acting was my true calling. And today, I have my views and I have interesting thoughts, but it is all restricted to my capacity as a voter now.

Politically, where do you stand today?

I don’t voice my opinion. But given a chance, I take up films. Kavaludaari makes a strong statement about politics and crime.

Whatever I have to say, I say it through films,

Roles are written for you and young directors are keen on casting you. How was it working with directors then and now? 

Back in the ‘70s, directors made films based on novels. Bhagavan and Puttanna Kanagal were among those who made films based on novels. Narada Vijaya, a popular comedy, pitted mythology against the present. The times have changed now. The expectation of youngsters is about the content. I just take it as it comes now.

Which would be the most satisfying films, creatively speaking, that you have done?

My films with Shyam Benegal were very nice. And Bara with Sathyu. I did a series of films with Bhagavan. I would also say Bayaludaari and Chandanada Gombe. Naa Nina Bidalaare with Vijay Reddy. Beladingala Bale was unique.

When you look back, are there any unrealised dreams? At one point, you wanted to do a film with Vishnuvardhan set in the 12th century about Basava and Bijjala.

Beckett was the one film that haunted me. I saw it several times. It is about the church vs state debate. I had suggested to Vishnu we do a film about Basava and Bijjala. If he wanted to play Basava, I could play Bijjala, and if he wanted to be Bijjala, I could be Basava. But it was not to be.

You are a sprightly 70. How do you keep fit?

Right from the beginning, I grew up in mathas, where they used to say we had to be disciplined. I was in NCC during my school days. So physical activity has always been important. I follow a vegetarian diet.


A still from the film.

About Kavaludaari

Anant Nag is excited about his role in Kavaludari, and spoke extensively about how it was tackling the politics-crime connection.“I have a sense of fulfilment doing a cop’s role. The film is dedicated to women and men in uniform,” he says. Policemen and people in the armed forces die in the line of duty, and it is tragic that they don’t get the respect they deserve, he says. Anant was all praise for director Hemanth Rao and producer Puneeth Rajkumar.“A uniform symbolises commitment and dedication, and it was high time someone made a film like this,” he told Metrolife.

 

Follow the link for the full interview, www.deccanherald.com/video/entertainment/in-conversation-with-anant-nag-...

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