Seasoned & sublime

Anant Nag

It’s impossible to think of Kannada cinema without Anant Nag. He has been gracing the big screen since his debut way back in 1973. Call it a limitless passion for cinema or an innate zeal, Anant Nag has embraced films like few others. At 50 years in the industry and 300-plus films, Anant Nag is a legendary actor and an illustrious one at that.

However, when we are sitting in his home on a rainy afternoon for this interview, Nag’s legendary image seems to be only a garb that shrouds an impassioned actor. His eyes, charming as they are, often say more than his words. While the world clamours about how big a star he is, Anant Nag is only concerned about his craft, a craft that has become his life and his very identity. As if to prove it, he goes soft when I speak of him in superlatives, but bellows when I ask about the specifics of his craft. From time to time, he nods assuringly to his wife, Gayatri, who is sitting nearby.

His next is a thriller

We begin the conversation with the present times. He’s very excited about his upcoming releases: Sarkaari Hi. Pra. Shaale, Kaasaragodu. Koduge: Ramanna Rai and Kavalu Daari; diametrically opposite films, but equally interesting. He says, “Sarkaari... is a children’s film based on the state of Kannada-medium schools in a Kerala district close to Karnataka; it will evoke a lot of nostalgia. Rishab (Shetty, director) has made the film in a very entertaining and humorous manner. I play a character that adds to the humour quotient of the film. It’s very different from what I have done in the past.”

In Kavalu Daari, Anant Nag plays a retired cop. “It’s a mystery thriller,” he explains. “Hemanth’s (M Rao, director) screenplay and characterisation are very strong. Just like Godhi Banna, even this film proves his mettle in that department. So, I have a good, meaty role. He has made that character so complex that I had to study it thoroughly to deliver well.”

Anant Nag is all praise for the film’s producer, Puneeth Rajkumar. “In these days of self-promotion, Puneeth has produced this film but not acted in it. He took up the project and his wife handled everything very efficiently. They were ideal producers.”

Ask any young Kannada director today and he would be sure to express a desire to direct Anant Nag. How does he feel about working with these young directors of today? “It’s very interesting because the kind of films I made in the past were very different. In our days, we mostly did adaptations of novels, but these youngsters hunt for new stories and are willing to experiment. So, their approach is fresh. Be it Kavalu..., Hiriya..., or KGF (cameo), these youngsters are very sure of what they want. They work a lot on the script,” he says with a smile.

Be it for a young director or old, now or then, Anant Nag has always followed the same preparation process. “My approach right from the beginning has been to immerse myself totally into the mental make-up of the character. Once I accept the role, it’s always going round in my mind. Wherever I am, whether I am sitting quietly or meeting someone, I observe things and people around me to look for references for my role.” He pauses, “The role haunts me,” he adds.

For an actor of his repute, is acting second nature to him by now, I ask. But this senior artiste surprises me with his answer. “I still get the ‘butterflies in my stomach’ feeling because every film is different. And you are only as good as your last film. If my last film did well, butterflies are less. If not, they are more,” he laughs.

As our train of conversation chugs along, it becomes very clear that Anant Nag is an actor who takes his job very seriously. Choosing better films, newer roles, and drawing parallels between the reel and the real are what excite him. For instance, he reveals how he chooses his scripts today. “I look for roles that are different from my previous film. They should be challenging and test my mettle. In the bargain, I should also learn a few facets of life which I haven’t experienced yet, either as an actor or as a person.”

Not for labels

Many are of the opinion that Kannada cinema is finally making better films today with more focus on content, I point out. But Anant Nag thinks otherwise, “Everything has to sell. If it doesn’t, then the effort is futile. The focus on content was also there earlier, but it’s more prominent now. Every film has to be commercial, otherwise, it’s a loss for the entire unit. However new, modern or unique the film is, everyone hopes for the film to succeed at the box office.” So, does this mean we can define a ‘hit’ movie? “No,” he says, “That’s the ultimate challenge.”

Anant Nag is not a fan of labels. He’s taken on every possible kind of role but wants to leave it to the audience to decide how they want to perceive him. “It’s their privilege to decide how they want to remember me,” he begins to explain, when his wife adds, “If you look at his body of work, you will notice that he has not confined himself to any one genre. Today’s audience will perceive him as an intelligent actor. The audience wouldn’t expect Anant to indulge in double-meaning jokes or perform high-octane action sequences.” “That would be a let-down to them,” says Anant Nag definitively.

While, overall, Anant Nag is positive about Kannada cinema, he does have a few concerns. “Like a farmer needs a market, we filmmakers need one, too. Sometimes, the tickets are priced too high. We can’t have the same market for a budget and a 50-crore film. Of course, newer markets have cropped up like Amazon and Netflix, but for us, at the moment, there’s no other market. We have to expand, do more films. The audience is ‘blessful’. They are always willing to bless you. But the kind of films we make should be so interesting that they should pull more people into the theatres,” he says.

Before I take leave, I ask him, when is Anant Nag, the actor, the happiest? He replies, “When I walk on the razor’s edge, and it pleases the audience.”

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