Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Nanna Tamma Shankara" : A summary

In July last year I came across a Kannada book called 'Nanna tamma Shankara' (My brother Shankara) written by Anant Nag, brother of the late film maker and actor Shankar Nag. I grew up on a strong diet of Shankar's 'Malgudi Days' and was witness to the Nag brothers in the 80s via their many Kannada and Hindi movies. It was only over the last few years that I have had the chance to properly process the impact of Shankar's untimely demise not only on Kannada cinema but also on Karnataka. Over this time period I have read a lot about Shankar's off screen life, his passionate associations with theater, his immersion in literature of Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez among others and his highly ambitious visions for both Bengaluru and the rest of the state. In all of this his elder brother Anant Nag's thoughts on Shankar's life and demise somehow never seemed to surface. Given how low profile that family remains to this day 'Nanna tamma Shankara' seemed like a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the man behind the actor/filmmaker/celebrity.

Hence, here are some of the highlights of what I gathered from the book.

Bonds of brotherhood

I always knew how close the brothers were but it wasn't until I began reading the book that I was able to understand the true nature of the bond they shared. I also got a sense of the painful pinch of irreplaceable loss Anant Nag must be (is) going through with each passing day. My perspective on him as a talented performer amplified some more after recalling that he did some amazing comedies like 'Ganeshana maduve', 'Gauri Ganesha', 'HendatigelbeDi' and 'Yaarigu Helabedi' after Shankar's death. I cannot comprehend how this man was able to overcome such a horrific loss and yet manage to pull himself together for these performances. I came across a book called 'Off the record' written by veteran cinema journalist Ganesh Kasargod recently where he mentions that Anant Nag in fact had traveled to Hyderabad in grave depression after Shankar's death to end his own life. It was after long and hard conversations with his wife Gayatri that he eventually decided not to go through with it.

The book essentially begins with Shankar's birth in Honnavara, North Canara. Anant Nag, six years his senior, talks about the immense pampering Shankar received for being the youngest in the family. He also writes how his father would never miss an opportunity to smack him behind the head but always ensured Shankar was left unharmed. I also learnt that Anant Nag has a elder sister who, not surprisingly, also did her best to pamper little Shankar. He goes on to speak of how unafraid the boy was without forgetting to mention how extremely close he was to Anant. Being six years younger it was no surprise to learn that Shankar looked up to Anant as a father figure in many ways. Right up to the point where the two began formal education shuttling between Honnavara and Mumbai, due to their parents' circumstances, Shankar is shown to have been Anant's shadow in almost everything.

Life in Mumbai and entering cinema

It isn't until Shankar moves to Mumbai that he gets a chance to finally start doing things his own way. His love for stage takes him to the Marathi theater scene and thus begin his associations with the fine arts. Anant documents in good detail the way Shankar immersed himself into the various activities there and came in close contact with likes of Amol Palekar, Smita Patil, Girish Karnad among many others. It is also during this time that Shankar started acting in movies, his first feature being a Karnad directed venture called 'Ondanondu Kaaladalli' which went on to win various awards when it was released. The book then talks of the way the two brothers got together and started to think of starting their own production house. It was here that the movie 'Janmajanumada Anubandha' was released with Shankar donning the director's cap for the first time with Anant and himself in the lead roles. The film, Anant says, was a pretty bad disappointment probably because of the often used reincarnation theme in the plot. The book at this stage includes various conversations between the two about everything from personal life to political scenarios in the country. Anant also documents the successes of the later films they made like 'Minchina Ota' and 'Accident' that continued to register Shankar as a better film maker than an actor. In one particular sequence Anant writes about how the climax for the movie 'Accident' was changed at the last moment. A climax scene that shows the protagonist kill the minister in frustration had to be changed to a non violent one since, coincidentally, it was the same time that the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi had been gunned down. The censors clearly raised objections about it because of which Shankar is said to have screamed at Anant and asked him to sit down when he got up to pay respect during the television forecast of her funeral. 'Shankar' he writes 'had taken his first political decision.' Anant also reflects, with slight melancholy, that for a long time Shankar wasn't accepted as a local Kannadiga due to his roots predominantly coming from the Marathi scene. But he also acknowledges the effort Shankar put into ensuring that his name became synonymous with Kannada.

Malgudi Days

This part of the book was perhaps the most interesting one for me. Having been a major aficionado of both the RK Narayan book and the television series, it was refreshing to learn the beginnings of it. Anant writes of his associations with the series producer TN Narsimhan who had expressed interest in bringing Malgudi to life. It was with much reluctance that Shankar is said to have accepted the project primarily due to his commitments to both cinema and the theater. In fact it was Anant Nag who recommended to Shankar that Agumbe in Karnataka was perhaps the ideal spot to recreate Malgudi. It was then that Shankar spent months reading and re-reading Malgudi Days to ensure that he did complete justice to the adaptation. Anant speaks of how, once the project got underway, their lives became all about Malgudi Days for a good three to four years. Every conversation they had at the time would invariably be about thinking of the best possible way to shoot the mini series by hiring the most suitable actors to play the role. Anant writes of how their extended circle of friends came forward to help Shankar launch himself on the national scene by volunteering to play many of the roles. This list included great names like Girish Karnad, Vishnuvardhan, various people from the Marathi and Hindi cinema and of course Shankar's constant friend-philosopher-guide Anant Nag. All of Agumbe had become a shooting set with literally every home in the area used at some point to cook food for the cast and crew members. In fact, I heard Kashinath (one of Shankar's closest friends) speak in an interview recently that as one of the assistant directors he would always keep a guy handy during the shoot of Malgudi Days to ensure the walls of homes Shankar had broken to get the camera angles just right would be constructed back. Shankar wanted no compromise to the vision of Malgudi he wanted to portray. An attribute becoming quite rare in the field of cinema today. Anant then documents the way in which the two brothers traveled to Canada to market their product and to get people overseas also invested in spreading the word. As I read these stories in the book I also looked up interviews of Arundati Nag (Shankar's wife) and others who spoke on similar lines of just how energetic Shankar was during the shoot of Malgudi Days. Despite the non stop stress of working with a limited budget Shankar went to extreme lengths in ensuring that RK Narayan's work did not get jeopardized on screen after the debacle called 'Guide' by Dev Anand many years before that. History, as we have seen, is proof that Malgudi Days did in fact find the best maker in Shankar Nag.

Visions of a better tomorrow

One of the prominent portions of the second half of the book documents Shankar's affection to new and exciting ideas. The way he observed things in foreign countries and then asked himself 'Why can't we have that in India?' In that long list of projects that Shankar wanted to implement are – the much talked about metro train service in Bengaluru (which is now a reality after more than two decades and more than two hundred crores), the Nandi hills ropeway project, house building scheme for the poor using German construction mechanism, looking at alternatives to health care for the middle and lower middle class and of course, the country club – a project that involved creating an exclusive place for people to come and relax. Today we look around and find such places on every street but for a man to see this vision for a sleepy city like Bengaluru back in the 80s is nothing less than a marvel. Apart from these projects Shankar's love for the theater is consistently documented as his 'Nagamandala' based on Karnad's play by the same name went on to run to packed houses for several weeks. It was to realize this dream of his that Arundati Nag, after his untimely demise, went to hell and back to build 'Ranga Shankara' in Bengaluru. After reading all this it occurred to me that what Karnataka really lost wasn't just a brilliant film maker with an eye for detail but also a much needed visionary who would have perhaps created magic with the technology now available. A 'what if' scenario that will haunt his admirers forever.

Untimely death and final statements

The last few pages of the book are full of anticipation. That agonizing wait for the inevitable to occur. It was during the shooting of a film Shankar had managed to get sponsorship for called 'Jokumara Swamy' that his car met with a gruesome accident in the wee hours of September 30, 1990. His wife Arundati and daughter Kavya were with him at the time. Anant writes of the unimaginable waves of shock that passed through him when a stranger called him up that fateful morning and delivered the awful news to him. When he broke the news to his mother she is reported to have said – 'He was supposed to die many years ago as a child in Mumbai when he almost got hit by the truck. The time he got until now since then was his gift. A second birth.'

Anant documents the support he and his family members got from the huge gathering of friends and innumerable fans of Shankar after that. The nonstop incoming of well wishers from the most unexpected corners of the globe. He writes that it was then that he truly realized just how beloved his brother Shankara had been. He ends the book with the lines...

'Shankara is unforgettable to me. Not just as a brother but as an individual – as a complete individual. It is impossible to document the millions of memories I have of him. I don't think it suffices to say 'I think of him a lot'. He is in my thoughts every day, every passing moment, tormenting me.'

Some photographs from the book

Anant Nag, Shankar Nag with their father

During the shooting of Malgudi Days in Agumbe

During the shooting of 'The Green Jacket' episode

During the shooting of 'The vendor of sweets' with brother Anant Nag

12 reflections:

delusionalgod said...

And now I HAVE to pick up that book.

mouna said...

yen gotta?
i've been seeing a few of his movies of late and trying to read on him. but not much is available.

ShaK said...

@Delusional : Hey buddy! Haven't seen you on Twitter lately. Do read it. Its a pretty unconventionally written piece about Shankar.

@Mouna : That is true. Both on the personal and the professional front very little has been written on Shankar. His family is, understandably, rarely available off camera. I for one respect that.

Sandhya said...

I knew that Late Sri Shankar Nag was a brilliant film maker. But after reading your summary on Anant Nag's book, I came to know that he was a great visionary too. Had he been alive, he would have been one of the best film makers India would have ever produced.

I remember how as kids we used to look forward to watch Malgudi Days on the television. Brilliant teleserial, indeed!

Shankaranna, as he was fondly called, will remain in hearts of Kannadigas for his brilliant directorial skills.

mouna said...

i agree with you.

when we do read about personalities as such, i guess what they did is sometimes influenced by the things that occur in their personal sphere. and an a reader would want to read this.

Avinash said...

yes.demise of shankar was a huge blow to karnataka both to arts and to those admirers of him who believed that if had he entered politics in full scale, it would have changed perception of karnataka altogether. Missing that wonderful personality.

Prashanth said...

Where did you get hold of this book??? Have been searching for one for a long time...

Sandhya said...

I knew Late Shankar Nag as a brilliant film maker. I got to know from the summary that he was a great visionary too. He would have been a successful politician, had he been alive. I appreciate his wife Arundathi ji's efforts in making her husband's dream turn into reality. Hats off to the family!

Very well written summary!!

ShaK said...

@Prashanth: It is available in all the major stores in Bangalore. Flipkart also delivers it. You can have someone from India send it to you I guess.

@Avinash : Thank you. I agree.

@Sandhya: Well put. The efforts behind Rangashankara can never be documented with full justice given how much tears, blood and sweat have gone into it.

Eshwar gowda said...

shankranna evergreen...... & I read all books of shankranna....

Chetan said...

Bought this book recently , His off screen stories are more exciting than his on screen.

We friends do short films in our free time and Malgudi days has helped us a lot in learning the film techniques.

His story narration has some magic. Something new pops up for me even after seeing the same episodes few hundred times

A rare Gem disappeared suddenly :(

Chetan said...

Bought this book recently , His off screen stories are more exciting than his on screen.

We friends do short films in our free time and Malgudi days has helped us a lot in learning the film techniques.

His story narration has some magic. Something new pops up for me even after seeing the same episodes few hundred times

A rare Gem disappeared suddenly :(