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I am awaiting Moksha
Interview with Anant Nag

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Anant Nag, the actor, was in the City recently along with his wife Gayatri and daughter. He is particular about preserving the privacy of his family. In a free - wheeling interview with our correspondent, he revealed that there was another Anant Nag hidden inside the Anant Nag that we see on the silver screen or we have occasion to meet… An Anant Nag who is deeply spiritual and who said several times during the interview that he was now in the last stage of his spiritual journey. "I am awaiting Moksha," he said.

Anant Nag, sitting in the airy balcony of music connoisseur K. Srikantiah's house in Chamarajapuram, dressed in white kurta - pyjama, pulls out a couple of packs of cigarette. He lights up what is going to be the first of the several cigarettes to be smoked in the next two hours.

Are there times when you ask, "Just who is Anant Nag? Or, Who am I?"
Yes, but there has also been a resolution in myself. A resolution that has been growing within me for years. You see my elder sister, myself and my younger brother are all products of Chitrapur Mutt and Anand Ashram.

Papa Ramdas' Ashram in Kanganhad, near Mangalore?
Yes. I spent my early formative years, six wonderful years… learning the Vedas, practicing chanting shlokas, memorizing the Gita, visiting Ramana Ashramam in Tiruvannamalai regularly… In fact I was even tipped to be the Matadhipati of the Chitrapur Mutt when I grew up. Then my father decided that I had to go to Bombay for my education. I remember pleading with Swami Ramdas not to let my father send me away. I do not know what transpired and I found myself in Bombay.

The Ashram's loss seems to have been the silver screen’s gain?
No, not really. The ashram is a part of my life. My roots lie there. I was passionate about theatre and right from school days I was involved in Konkani and Kannada theatre. The Mysore Association in Bombay and also the Bombay Karnataka Association were promoting theatre and there would be dramas staged every weekend. I was not interested in studies. You know, I had the record of failing in the first attempt in class IX, X and intermediate. I managed to get a B. Com degree and joined Union Bank. I had to earn money to maintain myself so that I could indulge in theatre.

Were you then a professional stage artiste?
No, I was an amateur. My first gurus in theatre were Venkata Rao Talegiri and R. D. Kamat. In one of the plays I seem to have caught the eye of Satyadev Dubey and Amol Palekar and the transition to Hindi theatre was made at that point.

Then perhaps came your joining the "Art film Gang" as Naseeruddin Shah called it. I remember that group photograph of all of you with Smita Patil and Naseeruddin making faces and a very serious looking Anant Nag.
No, No, we were involved in alternate films even earlier. I am not a product of FTII Institute or the National School of Drama like Naseeruddin Shah or Shabana Azmi and others. We were amateur players… Amrish Puri, Amol Palekar and even Dubey. Amrish also worked in a bank like me. We had to survive.

Wasn’t this the time you made an entry into films?
Yes, Satyadev Dubey saw me in Girish Karnad's “Yayati”… and took me to Shyam Benegal who cast me in “Ankur”. And this followed by acting in films like Nishant, Manthan, Bhumika …

That was the beginning of the art film movement?
No, we were not the first. There was already an alternate cinema movement in Bengal with Satyajit Ray, Mani Kaul, Tapan Sinha and Rhitwik Ghatak. There was the Kerala movement with Adoor Gopalakrishnan and others. The focus on us was much more because, well, thanks to the print media. Remember there was no TV in those days. The film critics those days were very knowledgeable and they wrote about our films. The English and Hindi papers had a wide coverage and so more people came to know about the kind of films. Our audience was the educated, articulate middle-class at home in at least a couple of languages. It was also the time that I came to be recognised by the alternate film makers in Karnataka, to the notice of B. V. Karanth, Girish Karnad and G.V. Iyer.

Sankalpa and Hamsageethe were the films that came out in that period?
Yes, Sankalpa was a black and white film produced and directed by Dr. P. V. Nanjaraje Urs. Hamsageethe was a G.V. Iyer film. Both were trend setters and were well - received by the intelligentsia. Of course, the real change came with B. V. Karanth's Vamshavruksha. You must have seen the other alternate films like Kaadu and Ondanondu Kaaladalli, also Ghatashraddha released during that period. They were all trendsetters.

You, I think, were the perfect Venkatasubbayya in Hamsageethe. So, the transition to commercial cinema was easy. You were already well - known.
Yes. Of course! M. S. Sathyu’s Bara was the turning point in a way.

I think most of us wanted to be Satish Chandra later in our lives. The cameo by C. R. Simha was typical. Surprising that no politician sued him after the film was released.
Well the story was good. Shama Zaidi, Dr. U. R. Ananthamurthy and Javeed Siddiqui wrote the screenplay.

This was followed by a series of very successful Kannada films…
Yes, I am fortunate. How good is your knowledge of Kannada films?

Oops! Confession time. Mostly art films in Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi and some Dr. Rajkumar’s mythologicals. Of course, Mungaru Male, that's about it. You were good as the eccentric Major.
[Srikantaiah has joined us: "You mean you have not seen all his films. You have to see all of them. How can you say this."]
I am not making any confession now! I starred in several successful films and followed them up with a series of light comedy films like Ganeshana Maduve, Gauri Ganesha, Udbhava, Beladingala Baale, Hasyaratna Ramakrishna and a host of other lighter films.

Let's move to safer ground. You were involved in politics, actively.

I was involved in the Jayaprakash Narayan movement and during Emergency we, all of us in theatre, had formed a “chain” to help those jailed. We took care of the basic needs of their families. I was a Socialist even before the word came into vogue.

You were known to be close to Jayanna? How did you come to be associated with J. H. Patel?
I met JH in Shimoga jail. You see we were shooting the film, Kanneshwara Rama and that hanging scene was to be shot in prison cell. We had decided on Shimoga jail. The scene was shot in one cell and JH was in the next cell. That was the start of our long association.

That too seems straight out of a film. Kanneshwara Rama had the whole gang, Tom Alter, Shama Zaidi, Amol Palekar and Shabana. You remember that sensual sucking of a mango by Shabana? How was your relation with JH?
JH was not what he was painted out to be. You yourself know that as you are associated with their family. He was the most understanding and broad - minded man who could go beyond the confines of ideology. He could see your point of view, even if he did not agree with you. I was an MLA, MLC and a Minister in JH's regime and I have no regrets. It is not my nature to speak ill, unfounded ill or otherwise, of another.

What next after "Eradane Maduve," I meant the film!
We will see. I take things easy, as they come. I look forward to my regular monthly visits to Ananda Ashram. I am awaiting Moksha now. Wait, wait, I must show you something...

[He rushes out and comes back moments later with a little book that is old and bit tattered]

Look at this…

It is a small diary kind of notebook, with pictures and photographs of a very young Anant Nag with Swami Ramdas and Mother Krishna Bai in Ananda Ashram. The photographs have been glued. There are handwritten slokas and japas, the ink fading. He looks at each photograph for a long time.

There is a mist in Anant Nag’s eyes and he says, "We will meet again someday, sometime at the Ashram. I am sure of it."

Jagadish Prasad
Courtesy: Star of Mysore

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