Funnily enough, this article was written on Shankar Nag’s birthday this year! The Nag brothers were quite a big part of me growing up in Bangalore during the early 90s. DD 9 i.e the Kannada Doordarshan was the most watched channel at home back then, considering the fact that Zee TV and Star TV etc. had just about started in India then. To me, back then, movies meant either Amitabh Bachchan or the brothers Nag ;). I remember watching a LOT of Kannada movies back then, and as is the case with most childhood memories, the names of these movies are pretty much a blur. The maximum I remembered back then was maybe this one Kannada remake of Teri Meherbaniyan where Jackie’s role was played by Shankar Nag (The name eludes me, so if yáll remember, do contribute in the comments section)
Now, I’m not gonna bore you guys by copy-pasting Shankaranna’s bio from Wiki for I know that you guys can do that yourself. This article is more of a bunch of random paragraphs of musings of what the man means to me and what memories I do have of the man.
Cut to 2002-03. This was the time when I’d started to develop a semi-decent reading habit. One book that featured a lot was Swami and Friends. I must’ve read and re-read the book a lot. I remember the time as my “R.K Narayan” phase, as I pretty much read all of his works during that time(All thanks to my cousin in Bangalore and his love for books). So when Sony started airing reruns of Malgudi Days every day at around 5-5.30 pm, I was elated. Summer vacations were on and I was pretty much free. The routine every day was the same, play cricket till 5, run home and watch Malgudi Days followed by Dekh Bhai Dekh.
So there I was, watching Malgudi Days and I have to admit, was quite taken aback! I mean, there I am, a guy expecting a certain amount of closeness to the book and what I get is the visualisation and the characterization being the exact same. The talkative man WAS the talkative man. Swami WAS Swami. Rajam and Mani were EXACTLY who they were in the book. And of course the famous “Ta Na Na Ta Na Na Na Na” music that got stuck in my head and has stayed ever since!
So that was that. I was hooked. Never missed a single episode of the show, and when the Swami part of the show started airing, I was bloody gobsmacked. A year or two later, when I watched Bawarchi for the first time and came across that dialogue “It is so simple to be difficult, Yet so difficult to be simple”, The only thought that came to my mind was that of Malgudi Days.
But I digress here. It would be unfair of me to pigeonhole Shankaranna to this one thing. It’s almost like telling Sting that he’d never write a song better than Roxanne (Yeah, Vir Sanghvi’s own words). The man is much much more than just a guy who created one of India’s greatest TV series ever!
The whole fascination with Shankar Nag for me started with 2 things. 1st, a review of Accident that I read somewhere. Just the description of the accident scene that forms the whole point of the movie was enough to fascinate me. Then came along my brother-in-law who happens to be a major Kannada movie buff. Mind you, this was a time when all I knew about Kannada movies were the really shitty movies where the plot was all about “longs and macchus”(Sickles) and gangsters and Amma sentiment. So obviously, I was a little bit sceptical. Then one day, just out of curiosity, I browsed through his filmography and read the article on Ondanondu Kaladalli and was quite intrigued.
One day, Reliance Timeout opened up in town and as a guy who LOVES buying movies, this was one “yeeeeeehawwwww” occasion. While I was browsing, I chanced upon the Kannada movie collection and I’m not kidding ya when I said, this was literally like chancing upon the mother lode. Almost EVERY Kannada movie I’d wanted was there. Thanks to Diwali riches and uber-awesome discounts, suddenly, there was a huge pile of movies at home.
So there began my journey into becoming a fanboy. First, Accident was watched. Lived up to what I’d read. The opening scene had me hooked! The Accident scene gave me goosebumps. Anant Nag’s evil turn as Dharmadhikari had my blood boiling. And the climax resulted in mixed emotions. Then came Minchina Ota. A crime thriller based on a true story and true characters. Again, worked for me brilliantly. Months later when I watched 3 Idiots and “All Is Well” started playing, THIS movie was what popped into my head! And I ended that evening with Ondanondu Kaladalli, and what could I say except WOW! Nobody but Shankaranna could’ve pulled off the role of Gandugali. Girish Karnad’s direction worked wonders as the movie had me just sitting back with a big grin on my face after it was done!
Many other movies of Shankar Nag were watched since then. Including the cult classic Sangliana. Now this one was one hell of a cop movie with a little difference. Now I’d love to tell you more, but I’d suggest you go find the movie and watch it yourself. The movie even had a sequel which to be frank was quite meh. His other directorial venture, Ondu Muttina Kathe, I ended up watching on TV I think. The amount of technical brilliance in the movie for that time was bloody brilliant.
Now if we could slightly change lanes from his movie career. I’d like to mention a few more things about how the man was a visionary in other fields too. Lately, Bangalore’s been rejoicing over the launching of Namma Metro after a LOT of fits and starts. But very few remember that it was Shankaranna who actually envisioned a Metro for Bangalore way back. The Country Club which we now associate with Rajeev Reddy’s outstretched thumb and random starlets was again a project left orphaned by his untimely death. Same goes for all the prefab housing schemes being launched now!
I was listening to his last radio interview earlier today, and it was quite characteristic of the man. Very casual, very relaxed and yet very sharp. A man who valued what was around him and cared for its betterment. He spoke about how he got into movies, how he was only a clerk in a bank and cared more about acting in theatre. It was this passion that comes through in his voice. And Ranga Shankara today stands testament to this very same passion.
He also spoke about the situation in Bangalore back then. How everybody had to head to Chennai(Madras then) to record and dub for their movies as the facilities were just not present in Bangalore. This paved way for Sanket Electronics, the first ever recording studio in Bangalore.
His death occurred when I was 2 years old. I probably wouldn’t have even realized it then. But today, this 23 year old self proclaimed movie buff feels the lack of Shankaranna’s presence deeply. Every week when I see a random Kannada movie with a nausea inducing poster release and disappear within a week, I wish for the presence of this maverick. I wish that he would still be around coming up with new and crazy stories. I wish he’d turn up and rescue the Kannada film industry from the current cesspool that it has currently become barring a few good movies. Shankaranna, your presence is missed! It will always be missed. Every horrible Kannada movie that releases will remind us of how much you are missed.