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Brothers at the box office

The Kannada and Tamil film industries are often at loggerheads. But scratch the surface and you see a heartening rapport beyond petty politics K.R. GANESH

DOUBLE-EDGED Cinema has a tremendous impact on the common man and his way of life, but it has been misused for dubious political ends.

Chennai (then called Madras) was the hometown for production for most film industries of South India, including Kannada, till the late '60s. The Kannada industry was largely dependent on Madras for various aspects of the film production. So, to an extent, the peculiar love-hate relationship that Kannada and Tamil entertainment industries share goes way back to early days of film making.

Though there were attempts to set up studios in Karnataka, they didn't succeed. The studios failed to flourish as business propositions and ran into huge losses. So, Kannada production houses continued to tap the doors of studios in Madras, Salem and Coimbatore. Kannada icon Dr. Rajkumar's home was Madras because there were no good editing studios and sound labs in Bangalore until 25 years ago.

Literary connection

But it wasn't all easy for Kannada producers making films in Madras. There has always been an ambiguous connection between Kannada language struggles and the film industry. If at all someone has to take the credit of awakening Kannada consciousness among people of the industry, it was the late Kannada writer-activist Aa.Na. Krishna Rao. He urged the industry to become self-sufficient and have an identity of its own.

One must, however, note that Aa.Na.Kru. (as he was better known) was pro-Kannada, but never anti-Tamil, as popularly believed. His withdrawal from Kannada activism after the Kaanchi Talaivan (released in 1964, which was said to have anti-Kannada scenes) protests took an ugly and violent turn is proof of his intentions.

Film industries of the two States have been scapegoats of both language and political issues. So much so that they have taken hideous proportions on many an occasion, including the recent episode of Kannada film industry seeking a seven-week moratorium on other language films. But interestingly, the relationship between Tamil and Kannada industries — actors and musicians — has been an enviable one, despite the oft-erupting controversies. While the problematic issues get more publicity than required, the amazing rapport between stars and musicians never gets any publicity. A rapport that has survived many a testing time. For instance, there were occasions when MGR's posters stuck on the walls of Tamil pockets like Viveknagar, Ulsoor would be torn down by angry Kannada chauvinists. Rajkumar was attacked when he went to shoot in Ooty for his film Yaarivanu. But these instances have not deterred the rapport.

One can list any number of stars who have gone from Kannada and made it big in Tamil film industry. Jayalalithaa herself hails from Karnataka, who has taken the filmy route to turn a successful politician like her mentor MGR. As for men, beginning from Rajnikanth and Kokila Mohan to Murali, Arjun Sarja and Prakash Rai in more recent times, the list just goes on. Tamil film industry has welcomed with open arms all these actors. Kannadigas have loved films of directors such as K. Balachander, Balu Mahendra and P. Vasu. In fact, Balachander, who gave Kannada actors a standing in the Chennai industry, has seen successful runs of several Kannada films made under his banner Kavithalaya. Even in non-Tamil, Kannada stronghold pockets of Bangalore, Tamil films did extremely well.

It then seems like the only prerequisite for a Kannada actor (many who never made it here) to make it big in Tamil films was acting skills with fluency in the language, and for cinema-loving Kannadigas, the need was a good film irrespective of the maker.

Many Tamil stars have a huge following in Karnataka too, beginning with the ebullient Shivaji Ganeshan. Hasn't one heard Kannada orchestra groups singing Shivaji songs at Ganesha Chaturthi? Kamal Hassan too has a fan following in Karnataka. One can trace it back to Raja Parvai, the early '80s film, made under the Rajkamal Arts banner, in which he plays a visually handicapped man. The film bombed in Tamil Nadu, but was a big hit in Bangalore, reaching the 100-day mark.

Mani Ratnam made his name as a director of reckoning with the moving Kannada film Pallavi Anupallavi. In the same way, Kannada's own Kokila Mohan became a star with the Tamil film Payanangal Mudiyuvudillai, even though he did the lovely Kokila, with the late Tamil actor Shobha. Popular Kannada stars Ravichandran and G. Ramesh are Tamil-speaking. In fact, N. Veeraswamy, Ravichandran's father, the man who produced most of Rajkumar's films, was a Tamilian too. And Shivaji Ganeshan who acted in a Kannada film, had his sons studying in Bangalore.

Global standing

Ilaiyaraja, the music director who changed the Indian film music scene completely and gave it a global standing, had his humble beginnings in Kannada. He worked as assistant to the celebrated music director G.K. Venkatesh. It is interesting that "Enta soundarya nodu karunada beedu", a song that extols the Kannada land was composed by Ilaiyaraja.

Films are a powerful medium of cultural expression. That it has a tremendous impact on the common man and his way of life, has also led to its misuse by political powers. But what is special about these two language factions is the fact that all the animosity melts into something as fundamental as love of cinema, each time. We have had sharp differences, as we have noticed during the Cauvery waters controversy. As retaliation, Tamil film industry suggested that power to Karnataka from the Neyveli Lignite Corporation should be stopped in retaliation. But then, judicious stars like Rajnikant expressed displeasure over the mixing up of issues. That a lot of criticism came his way raking up his Kannada roots for taking such a stand is another issue.

Though the people of the two States are unhappy over issues besides entertainment, they continue to welcome a Baba or a Chandramukhi with the same, undiminished love for films. Politically divided we are, but culturally the two industries have always stood united.

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