The journey of an accidental actor

H G Dattatreya talks about how he balanced profession and passion

H G Dattatreya in his study at his residence in Srinagar in Basavanagudi.DH Photos by Srikanta sharma R

After spending more than three decades in the film industry and having worked in about 200 films (as opposed to 80 as mentioned in Wikipedia), I feel there’s so much left to learn and explore. Acting was never on my cards. I served in the Indian Air Force for 21 years before being sent on deputation to HAL and was later absorbed into the job. I worked there for nine years and then called it quits to plunge into acting full time. I found it hard to balance both my profession and passion. 

I always tell people that I was an engineer and now an actor, both by accident. I appeared to be a shy boy, but the one thing that I was interested since childhood was theatre. I started acting in plays in high school and this passion continued through college. I never let theatre come in the way of my academics. I was state topper in SSLC and later stood second at the state level in my pre-university. My excellence in academics got me a seat in IIT Madras but I didn’t join because I would have to stay in an unfamiliar atmosphere. So I enrolled in UVCE for my engineering and later completed my masters degree from IISc. While I excelled in academics, my love for theatre grew deeper and got a lot of thrill from that.

Straying into films and television was something that I had never imagined. My first break in the film industry was in 1987. It was a Hindi film that was Bengaluru-based, directed by T S Ranga. It was called ‘Udbhav’.

Exactly, a month later, director T S Nagabharana offered me my first Kannada film called ‘Aasphota’ (meaning explosion) in 1987. It’s been a non-stop journey for me since. There have been some remarkable changes in the film industry and Kannada cinema in particular from when I began.

I don’t think acting has changed but the way the films are being made has changed. Earlier, filmmakers didn’t experiment too much with technology but concentrated on quality. We have graduated from black and white cinema to colour. The subjects, back then, also had a strong content. It had a good story with neat narration. But the last five years has ushered in a new wave of thinking and new directors have brought in fresh ideas. Earlier, most of the actors and directors, assisted senior filmmakers and then branched out on their own. But today, we have people who study filmmaking and then foray into cinema. This breed has brought in a new culture in cinema. Filmmakers like Girish Kasaravalli and P Sheshadri, who have been exposed to international cinema, have brought in bolder subjects.  We have today become technically advanced. Veteran actors like Dr Rajkumar and Dr Vishnuvardhan ruled the film industry during their time and worked on subjects that were easily understood and appreciated by people. Back then, we made only 20 to 30 films a year but today we make 248, thanks to the digitisation of filmmaking. There is now an escalation in the number of films. 

I also feel acting hasn’t changed, only the styles have changed. Glitz and glamour rule. Now, the clothes worn by an actor, their accessories and hairstyles have become fashionable.
Today, to be a hero, you have to be trained in some form of martial arts and have to be adept at dancing. Without these two prerequisites, it is impossible to be a successful star. 
I have been in the news recently for ‘Mission Mangal.’ This is my first Bollywood film, although, I have earlier worked in two Hindi films which were mostly made out of Bengaluru and a couple of Hindi serials. It was a wonderful experience. 

I believe that I am in a good phase at the moment. I have about 20 films lined up for release in Kannada and a couple more offers coming my way. 

But I have also noticed that there aren’t many character actors of my age and the roles too are becoming fewer in number. I have, in the past, essayed some very unusual characters.
There was a time when roles were being written for me. I have played an uncle, father and now I mostly play a grandfather. 


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