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The Cinema of Karnataka (Kannada: ಕನ್ನಡ ಸಿನಿಮಾ) , sometimes colloquially referred to as Sandalwood encompasses movies made in the Indian state of Karnataka. Most of the movies are made in the Kannada language, with a handful of them in Konkani or Tulu.
Music directors who have made their mark in Kannada films include R. Ratna, M. Venkata swamy, M. Ranga Rao, G. K. Venkatesh, Ilaiyaraaja, Vijaya bhaskar, the duo Rajan-Nagendra, Upendra Kumar, Sathyam, C. Aswath, Hamsalekha, Gurukiran, T.G. Lingappa, Mano Murthy, Harikrishna and Anoop Seelin. Lyrics of Kannada film songs have been penned by Chi. Udayashankar, R.N. Jayagopal, Hamsalekha, Jayanth Kaykini and Doddarange Gowda among others.
Playback singers in Kannada films include Dr. K.J. Yesudas, P.B. Sreenivas, S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, Rajesh Krishnan, Anoop Seelin, Udit Narayan, Sonu Nigam, Kunal Ganjawala, Shreya Ghosal, Sunidhi Chauhan, B.R. Chaya, Pallavi, Priyadarshini, Nandita, S. Janaki and P. Susheela. Dr.Rajkumar, has however sung hundreds of very melodious songs in those movies where he himself has starred as the hero, starting from the mid 1970's.
There have been sad patches of Kannada Cinema- that is losing the most talented stars at their prime. Kalpana and Manjula of former years and Shankar Nag, Suneel, Nivedita Jain, ShashiKumar(survived) of the latter, disappearing at their prime and Aarathi and Sudha Rani fading out due to their personal life. And the recent one with actress Soundarya dying in a tragic plane accident.
1931 saw the emergence of talking pictures in the regional languages of South India with the release of Kalidas. In 1934, the first talky in Kannada, Sati Sulochana, followed by Bhakta Dhruva (aka Dhruva Kumar).
Both Sati Sulochana and Bhakta Dhruva were major successes. But prospective filmmakers in Karnataka were handicapped by the lack of studios and technical crews. Sati Sulochana was shot in Kolhapur at the Chatrapathi studio; most filming, sound recording, and post-production was done in Madras (now Chennai). It was difficult, as well, to find financial backing for new film projects in the region; thus, very few movies in Kannada were released during the early years of Indian sound cinema.
The 1950s will be remembered as the decade that introduced the doyen of Kannada cinema - Dr.Rajkumar. Rajkumar, originally known as Mutturaju was a theater artist, discovered by HLN Simha. HLN offered him a lead role in the mythological movie, Bedara Kannappa. The movie proved to be a blockbuster and signaled the arrival of a new star. It also launched comedian Narasimharaju and director G.V.Iyer.
Even after the success of Bedara Kannappa, Kannada film industry remained stagnant. Lack of financiers, technicians and studios proved to be a hindrance to film making. Rajkumar, along with Narasimharaju and G.V.Iyer decided to form a partnership and produce movies. The partnership lasted for only a couple of movies. Ranadhira Kanteerava was one such successful joint venture. The majority of the films during this decade were either mythological or historical in nature.
The 1970s and the '80s is heralded as the Golden Age of Kannada cinema. It was also the period that witness the birth of alternate cinema or parallel cinema. Kannada cinema spearheaded the parallel cinema movement in India along with Bengali and Malayalam cinemas. B V Karanth's Chomana Dudi - an evocative film on caste distinctions, Girish Karnad's Kaadu and Girish Kasaravalli's Ghatashraddha spearheaded the Kannada parallel cinema. Vamshavruksha, Prema Karanth's Phaniyamma, Kadu Kudure, Hamsageethe, Accident, Akramana, Mooru Dhaarigalu, Tabarana Kathe, Bannadha Vesha, were some of the important movies of this decade. Girish Kasaravalli, a gold medalist from the Pune's FTII, first film Ghatashraddha in 1977, won him the National award for best film. He has won the National award for best film four times including for his latest film Dweepa. His award winning films include Akramana (1979), Mooru Dhaarigalu (1981), Tabarana Kathe (1987), Bannadha Vesha (1989), Mane (1989), Kraurya (1996), Taayi Saaheba (1998) and Dweepa (2002). Girish Karnad's Kaadu (1973), Ondanondu Kaladalli (1978), M.S.Sathyu's Kanneshwara Rama (1977), Chithegu Chinthe (1978), Pattabhi Rama Reddy's Samskara (1970) were some the important movies of this decade.
This decade also witness the rise of Puttanna Kanagal, who is widely acknowledged as the greatest director in Kannada film history. His movies like Bellimoda, Gejje Pooje, Sharapanjara, Sakshatkara, Nagara Havu bought new style of film making which acted as a bridge between commercial and parallel cinema. In a bid to popularise film making, the Government of Karnataka in the 1980s granted a 50 percent tax exemption to Kannada films completely made in Karnataka and it increased the subsidy amount to Kannada films.
Gubbi Veeranna could be considered the doyen of Kannada Cinema during the mid to late forties. He brought his talent as an actor from the theatrical stage to Kannada Cinema through his Gubbi Veeranna Theater. Subsequently, Gubbi Karnataka Productions of which he was a shareholder produced famous movies such as Bhaktha Kumbara, Gunasagari, Hemareddi Mallamma, Adarsha Sati, and Sadarame during the mid forties all the way up to late fifties.
He encouraged and introduced young talent in his movies. One such great talent was K.R.Seetharama Sastry popularly known as KURASI (also referred to as KURASEE and Ku Ra Seetharama Sastry).
Ku Ra Seetharama Sastry - Actor, Film Director, Lyricist, and Screen Playwright starting from the mid forties and up to the late seventies. KURASI started as an actor under Veeranna's tutelage in movies such as Bhaktha Kumbara, Gunasagari, and Hemareddi Mallamma. Subsequently, KURASI went on to become a leading movie director, lyricist, screen-play, and dialog writer. KURASI directed many Rajkumar films like Anna Thangi, Rani Honnamma, and Mana Mechida Madadi among others. He introduced several artists to the Kannada Cinema starting from B. Saroja Devi (Mahakavi Kalidasa) and including Shivaram (Beratha Jeeva) and Shakthi Prasad (Karaga Shakthi,father of Tamil Hero Arjun) to the film industry. Mahakavi Kalidasa won the President's silver medal for best direction, lyrics, and screen play writing. KURASI's composition of Kannada songs that are evergreen in the mind of Kannadigas are Ramana Avatara (Bhu Kailasa, Rajkumar), Dhooradinda Bandhantha Sundaranga Jaana (Samshaya Phala), Binkada Singari (Kanya Ratna), Sathyameva Jayathe (Kalpavriksha) among others. Even to this day, no one has challenged his dialog writing style of Anna Thangi of Halli Kannada. KURASI's lyrical compositions were on par with some of the great Kannada poets (Kuvempu, Dara Bendre, et al.) in their style, philosophical meaning, and meter. KURASI was the first Kannada film personality who went abroad to direct two films in the Malayan language in Singapore during the early 1950s. KURASI won an international award for his direction for the film 'Iman' in Malaya (now Malaysia).
The rise of rajkumar gave a path to kannada film industry to make more historical movies which attracted people towards theatre that time,Bedara kannappa was the first kannada movie which completed 100 days and it also got appreciation letter from central government.Later rajkumar also did some movies like naandi,chandavalli thotadalli,kan theradu nodu which gained popularity and critical acclaim for social themes. Dr.Rajkumar and other co artists worked hard to establish a movie studio in bangalore,finally Balakrishan succeeded by opening Abhiman studio in Bangalore. The golden era in the history of Kannada Cinema was here , which gave rise to not only talents of Kannada Cinema but even other film industries. Although lacking a local studio due to which industry had to rely on erstwhile Madras or Bombay studios, the industry had its own era of theater personalities making the cinema an art. It's not surprising how films made in this era were able to clinch major awards at national level.
Starting from Gubbi Veeranna, R. Nagendra Rao (RNR), H.L.N. Simha, KURASI, B.R.Panthulu, M.R. Vittal, Sampath, Hunsoor Krishnamurthy, Sathyu, Girish Karnad, U R AnanthaMurthy the time found its peak with Puttanna Kanagal's masterpieces which introduced a galaxy of stars on to the screen.
Kalyan Kumar, Udaya Kumar, Rajesh, Gangadhar are some of the veteran actors and B. Jayamma, B. Saroja Devi, Pandari Bhai, Leelavathi, Rajamma, Kalpana, Manjula, Aarathi, and Jayanthi were some of the veteran actresses who left special mark.
NarasimhaRaju, Balakrishna, NataBhayankara Vajramuni carved their own niche as supporting stars.
This was the peak period of rajkumar and rising strides in Kannada film industry.He gave blockbuster movies which created history and established the kannada film industry in firm footing.Bangarada manusha created history. Daari thappida maga,Mayura, Premada kanike, Babruvahana,Baktha kumbara,Krishnadevaraya were huge success which established Rajkumar and gave him an iconic status which lasts until this day , even posthumously . Anant nag, Ambareesh, Prabhakar, Lokesh, Ashok, Srinath, M P Shankar, Sunder Krishna Urs were some of the actors who made their own mark in the industry. Puttana kanagal paved way to the above mentioned actors as well as RamaKrishna, Kokila Mohan, Chandrashekar and also Lakshmi, Padma Vaasanthi, Geetha, Madhavi, Saritha , Jayamala were some of the actresses who made their mark. Shankar Nag made his own mark by the internationally acclaimed Ondanondu Kaaladalli and Malgudi Days along with some of the commercial superhits.
Sandesh Nagaraj known for his off beat films, Sunil Kumar Desai known for his versatility, Dinesh Babu known for his story depth, T S Nagabharana known for his involvement in Jaanapada and historical melodramas, Kodlu Ramakrishna for his subjects based on common man and narrative stories, Phani Ramachandra with his comic flicks, Rajedra Singh Babu were prominent figures of this time. This was the time where the once actors meant for villainous role gradually tried other roles. Ravichandran and Hamsalekha were successful in creation of a blend exclusively for the youth. Ravichandran masterminded in bringing out the actresses from other industries. Ravichandran, Devaraj, Jaggesh, Maanu, Suresh Heblikar, Lokanath, Lohithaswa, Sudheer were some of veterans who made their wave in the cinema. Shivarajkumar also started his career in this time with a hatrick superhits. Bhavya, Mahalaxmi, Sudharani, Thara, Vanitha Vasu, Anjana, Shruti came to limelight.
At the late 90's approached there was a need for gamut of new and fresh talents. As the time progressed more involvement with the changing film scenarios were seen in this era. The south Indian film Industry gradually segregated and Kannada and Malayalam were subdued under the huge business oriented industries of Tamil and Telugu. New and fresh talents of Sunil, Shashikumar, Ramesh Aravind, Ramkumar, along with Malashri did a commercial survival not maintain the same order. But still this era found a little respite with movies like Nammoora Mandara Hoove, Amruthavarshini, America America and Upendra's Om and A.
The decade had some story based flicks like Mannina Doni. Ravichandran suffered a failure with Shanthi Kranthi. This decade also witnessed a special movie Beladingala Bale.
The demise of Shankar Nag and Sunil were unexpected.
The kidnap and later demise of Rajkumar, M P Shankar did a lot in losing aura for an already subdued industry. But introduction of some of the best looking talents like Upendra and Darshan with likes of Puneet and Ganesh gave the industry a respite to compete with not only huge but Tamil and Telugu industries.
Yajamaana, Raktakanneeru, Jogi, Mungaru Male were some of the blockbusters commercially. Aa Dinagalu was a special attempt.
Upendra was recognised as a very good, dynamic and different director and the best one to follow the greats of Puttanna Kanagaal and Shankar Nag.
Taara, Prema and Bhavana (with her dynamic and off-beat appearances like in single actor movie -Shanti) led the female brigade.
Girish Kasaravalli made huge waves with his subjects in art based films. Nagathihalli Chandrashekhar, T S Nagabharana and Girsh Karnad were instrumental throughout in bringing masterpieces.
Coincidentally the sons of Dr. Rajkumar, Shiva rajkumar, Ragavendra rajkumar and Puneeth rajkumar have acted in films which are commercial blockbusters running about a year each.
Kannada Cinema completed 75 years in 2009. A grand function was held in palace grounds, Bangalore on 1st of march under direction of V.Ravichandran which had a grand set in a model of an open winged bird. It was attended by many filmstars of kannada cinema and even from other film industries who had a stint in kannada films.
Almost all singers have given playback and female actors have acted in the movies from other industries.
The year 2005 witnessed stupendous box office success for Kannada film industry. Starting with Shivarajkumar starrer Jogi, which grossed Rs.70 crore at the box office, films like Anna Tangi-50 crores, Gowramma, Amruthadhare, Deadly Soma, Nenapirali performed well at the box office. An estimated four of every five released had succeeded at the box office. In early 2005 a huge hit boosted Kannada film Industry Jogi starring Shivraj kumar. The profits soared and there was happy mood in the Industry. There were many flicks which were moderate hits. Then came in last quarter of 2006 the huge blockbuster movie Mungaru Male, which shattered all records of the kannada film industry and grossed 75 crores, and is released even in many other countries like USA, UK, Australia.This movie made one world record that world's first movie which run for a year in multiplex. The other huge hit of 2007 is Duniya which has done very well grossing a significant money at the Box Office. In 2008 Kannada film industry saw many firsts. More and more films started to release out side the state and out side India. Gaja, Buddhivantha and Navagraha have become tremendous hits. The budget for Kannada films is now between 5-10 crores as against just 1-2 crore 3 years ago.Kannada actress Umashree won Best actress National Award for the movie Gulabi Talkies in 2009 and also Mukhaputa (The Cover Page) won an Award in Ireland Film Festival.In 2009 Raaj-The Showman, Manasaare, Josh went for a 100 days.Also Gulabi Talkies,the movie directed by Girish Kasaravalli won National Award in Best actor female category for Umashree.It also Screened at Osian's Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema, and won the following awards.
Important Cinematographers of Kannada Cinema
B V Madhusudhan-"Daari tapida maga"
G.S.Bhaskar - "Bannada vesha" , "Nagamandala",
Ramachandra Halkere - "Thaisaheba" ,"Dweepa".
G S V Seetharam of "Ekaangi" , "Aham Premaasmi"
Krishna for the movie "Mungaru Male"
Gynamurthy for the movie "Mani" "Payana" and "Love Guru"