Puttanna's big feats
Puttanna Kanagal created history. Many of his films went on to become milestones in Kannada cinema. He died 20 years ago on June 5.
PHOTOS: COURTESY D.C. NAGESH AND KANNADA CINEMA ITIHASADA PUTAGALINDA BY GANGADHAR MUDALIAR
HUMBLE BEGINNING Puttanna Kanagal, who was a cleaner to begin with, was one of the best things to have happened to Kannada.
If there is one director whose name comes to your mind almost instantly in the last 75 years of Kannada cinema, it is Puttanna Kanagal. This director, who died twenty years ago on June 5, 1985, brought stardom even to the director who was mostly a behind-the-scenes man. It is needless to say that this director who left an indelible mark on Kannada cinema, brought a rare dignity to film direction with his remarkable contribution.
Puttanna, who always believed that form shouldn't drive content, famously said: "No amount of props will help a film which has no soul. What is most important in a film is what the director wants to convey through the film and not a lavish decor and extravagant sets. Both form and content are important for a film." At this juncture, his statement almost makes it seem it was a comment on the present-day industry.
Puttanna entered Kannada cinema when it was going through a crisis. Production of most Kannada films took place in Madras and Hyderabad, while a huge number of films were also being dubbed.
Shubraveshti Ramaswamiah Seetharama Sharma, better known as S.R. Puttanna Kanagal, hailed from Kanagal, a small village on the banks of river Cauvery in Mysore district. In the early days, he struggled hard to earn his livelihood and did several odd jobs including that of a cleaner and a driver in a private transport company, apart from being a salesman and a teacher. His career in films began as a publicity boy, even as he acted in professional theatre groups. It was here he developed an association with B.R. Panthulu, the noted film-maker and worked as his assistant director.
His first directorial came in Bellimoda, based on a novel by the noted Kannada writer Triveni. This went on to become a landmark film. Kannada film industry had found a director who wouldn't rest until he exploited the medium completely. Story goes that Puttanna scaled the heights of the Western Ghats on his bicycle to find that perfect location to shoot the song "Moodala Maneya", Bendre's poem. After his leading lady Indira's tragedy in Bellimoda, he delineated the story of Kaveri, a schizophrenic in Sharapanjara. Sakshatkara, Kappu Bilupu, the outstanding Gejje Pooje established him as a director par excellence. But the film that brought Puttanna star status was Nagarahavu, based on the trilogy of Ta.Ra.Su. and many considered it as his magnum opus. The film was remade in many Indian languages. From Bellimoda to Masanada Hoovu, Puttanna made 23 Kannada films including Shubhamangala, Bili Hendti, Upasane, Katha Sangama, Phalithamsha, and Amritha Ghalige.
With his experience of professional theatre, Puttanna made Ranganayaki, which had a path-breaking theme, the first film to deal with Oedipus complex in Kannada films. His three-in-one film, Katha Sangama, based on some well-known short stories in the language was a unique experiment. Muni Thayi one of the components of this anthology soared to classic dimensions. His film Yedakallu Guddada Mele was much ahead of its times. Puttanna even made films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi.
Puttanna's films had a very different take on women. They were seldom the stereotypes that one got to see in any language until then. His films, devoid of glamour or masala, were appreciated by the masses, the classes and discerning critics as well. He was the first one to intensify the interaction between literature and cinema, first director to use steady camera, first to direct an English song. He was considered a clean and value-based film-maker. He was a man full of powerful emotions, sharp impulses and a grit and determination that were unique. He was an emotional being and his films bore every sign of it.
He was considered an expert in song picturisation because he could transform even dreary prose into sheer poetry. He was constantly accused of making his films women-centric, though he personally thought it was a wrong notion. He was an ambitious film-maker, often bogged down by the realities of the film trade. As many considered he was not arrogant and egoistic. He never abandoned his quest for perfection; in fact it was his driving force. His treatment of films was empirical. Most of his films were a metaphor for the troubled times of the middle class. He was known for his effective use of freeze shots and negative images to heighten the introspective effect of key scenes. Combining personal and social tensions in to a multi-layered text was his strength. He has left for the Kannada screen, a legacy of celebrated artistes whom he either discovered or honed.
Puttanna believed that he had a long innings before him, but the end came too suddenly. He died at 52, creating a void in the Kannada film industry.
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