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Memories of The Golden Era - An Interview with S.K Bhagavan
- Harish Mattur, Bangalore

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S.K Bhagwan is one of the veterans of the kannada film industry. In his career spanning for over 40 years he has worked in many departments of the film industry. 

He has been Dr Rajkumar’s close friend since he started working in films from the year 1954. Popularly known as Dorai Bhagwan (Dorai was his partner and friend), the director duo have given some of the most memorable films to the Kannada Film lovers. He has worked in films like CHANDRAVALLIYA THOTA, SANDHYA RAAGA, KASTHURI NIVAASA, YERADU KANASU, VASANTHA GEETHE, OPERATION DAIMOND ROCKET, and JEEVANA CHAITHRA.These are considered to be some of their best films. We met Sri Bhagwan at Adarsha Film Institute (He is the Principal of the Institute)

S K Bhagwan

OKC: You started your career in the fifties when very few kannada films were made. Tell us about those days.

Bhagwan: Those were the golden days of kannada cinema. Although very few films were made, the quality of films were excellent. Film stories were based on Hindu mythology. Most of the actors those days were stage actors who used to perform in front of live audiences. They also knew to sing. Making movies with such artists was indeed a privilege. Only about two or three kannada films used to be released in a year. People had to wait for a long time to see a movie.So the anticipation was huge.

OKC: Dr Rajkumar has worked in most of the films you have director. tell us about him.

Bhagwan:  Dr Rajkumar is one of the best actors the world has ever seen. He is absolutely special. His dedication, commitment and the love for his profession has made him what he is today. His contribution to kannada cinema is immense. The moment a director says action

you can see a different Rajkumar. If he plays the character of Ranadheera Kantheerava,you tend to believe that Ranadheera Kanthirava is in front of you. Such is the impact when he acts. I have been very lucky to be his director in more than 30 films. Personally he is a very good human being. He is a versatile singer and a musician. He is the father figure for all the kannadigas will cherish each and every moment I have spent with him.

OKC: Dorai was the integral part of your long journey in the film industry. How was the experience of working with him?

Bhagwan:    For any director to work with another director it is important to understand each others ideas. The most important factor which made us click was coordination. The kind of subjects we chose to make a film was also very important. Dorai was also a very good writer. This is quite evident in the subjects we have chosen to make films. Due to these films the name Dorai Bhagwan will always be remembered by the kannada people.

OKC: What about the comedy kings of kannada cinema Balakrishna and Narasimharaju?They have also acted in most of your films.

Bhagwan:  We could not imagine a story without Balanna and Narasimharaju.Both were terrific. I must tell you some of the lesser known facts about these two.

Balanna was an excellent playwright. He had a passion for writing. He has even written so many plays for us. He was a brilliant performer. He started his career by doing negative roles. But he became popular after he started doing comedy roles. His dialogue delivery was extraordinary. I remember the days when we used to hang out together in madras. He was very generous by nature. I have seen him giving money to many unit members of the studio. We also toured the whole state in 1958 with our theatre group. As we were very close I could discuss anything with him.

Narasimharaju was a hilarious comedian. The moment he entered the stage or appeared in front of the screen people couldn't stop laughing. Such was his personality. His comic timing, his sense of humor was unbelievable. In most of our films he has acted in a comic role. Although he was a bit short tempered off the screen, he was a great human being. He used to be a very professional. I remember one day he was very furious because we could not send a car to pick him up at seven in the morning. He came fuming to the sets because he was late for the shoot. After a while he came to me tapped my back and started laughing. But Narasimharaju suffered a lot during his last days, he could not overcome the grief of losing his son who died in an accident. For a man who provided wholesome entertainment and made people laugh it was an tragic end. But he will be remembered as the best comedian of kannada films.

OKC: Music has played a very important role in each and every film of yours. Tell us about the process of music production those days.

Bhagvan: Music for us was the most important ingredient of our films. Dorai was a sitar player himself. He had an extensive knowledge of Hindustani ragas. So we had a very good ear for music. I used to follow the hindi music scene. I was crazy about the Mukhesh Rafi and Kishore songs. We were lucky enough to work with great music directors like G.K Venkatesh, M.Rangarao and Rajan Nagendra.later we worked with Upendra Kumar. My favorite songs from my films are NAADAMAYA from JEEVANACHAITRA, AADISI NOODU BEELISI NOODU URULI HOGADU from KASTURI NIVASA, AAKASHADINDA DHAREGILIDU BANDE from CHANDANADA GOMBE and all the songs from SANDHYA RAAGA and ERADU KANASU.

We had a very good lyricist in Chi Udayashankar.He was a brilliant man who could pen the verses in a very quick time. The lines he would give us would be exactly what we wanted. Singers like Ghantasaala, P.B.Srinivas, S.Janaki, P.Suseela, and S.P.Balasubramaniam gave life to all our songs.We were absolutely delighted when Rajkumar himself started to sing for his films. We always belived in his ability to sing. He sang some difficult songs like NAADAMAYA from JEEVANACHITRA. It was a very tough song to sing. But the greatness of Rajkumar is evident here. He sang the song with utmost ease.

OKC: You were the first directors to introduce bond films in kannada.Were you confident that this concept would work here?

Bhagvan: It was a unique experience for us. We started our career by directing mythology based movies. Then there were some films like KASTURI NIVAASA which were famous for its songs and story. We wanted to do all kind of movies. So we thought making a bond film would be a good idea. CID 999 IN GOA and CID 999 IN JACKPOT were back to back bond films we made. everyone including rajkumar and narasimharaju enjoyed this experience. Then we made Operation Diamond Racket which was the biggest hit among this genre of films

OKC: You have worked with most of the actresses all the way from fifties to the nineties. Tell us about them.

Bhagvan: We have worked with almost everybody in the sixties and seventies. Leelavathi, Jayanthi, Bharati, Arati, Kalpana. Manjula, Lakshmi, Geetha, Sudharani are some of the actresses we have worked with. Each and every one of them have played important roles in our films. Every female character in our films have had well defined roles. So they have contributed to the success of our films.

OKC: You are also an actor. you have acted in many films. isn't it?

Bhagvan: Many people do not know this but I have acted in a film as a hero. The name of the film is Mangala Soothra.I have also acted in character roles in 6 other films like Bhagyodaya Bangalore mail,Rowdy ranganna Hosabelaku Vasantha geetha Aaditya and Soothradhaara.

OKC: Most of your films you made in seventies and eighties were based on novels. don't you think film makers today can adapt stories from kadambaries to make good films?

Bhagvan: It's true that the novels and kadambaries can be made into very good films. But today you can rarely see a producer who has the guts to make a kadambari into a film. The film making process today is a costly affair. So they think it is a risk.

OKC: You are now busy making television serials. Have you completely stopped directing films?

Bhagvan: Television is a powerful medium. As you directly reach the living rooms of people they relate to it better than they do with films. So the response we get for a good tv serial is huge.I am planning a new serial right now. I would like to concentrate on this now.

OKC: You are also the principal of the adarsha film institute. you also teach film direction. how does it feel to interact with young and aspiring directors and actors?

Bhagvan: Today's youngsters are full of energy. Their confidence in themselves is also immense. But they have to be trained in various departments of film making, To excel in their profession. so we try to impart the knowledge of filmmaking to them. We call top directors and actors to interact with them. We also show them a lot of films in our screening hall. The main intention is to help them learn every aspect of film making.

OKC:  What do you feel about the present condition of the Kannada film industry? Most of the films released this year have been flops.

Bhagvan; These are the testing times for everybody. Its time for introspection. Where are we going wrong ? the most important question for which we have to find the answer. I believe the producers and directors have to make an effort to make some decent films with a good story line. Now a days the directors forget the importance of a good story. We need some good creative story writers. Let us hope the situation will improve in the coming days.

OKC: We also hope we can see some good films in the coming days. Thank you for a wonderful interview.

Bhagvan: thanks a lot.

- Harish Mattur, Bangalore

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