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Updated: August 19, 2010 16:26 IST

When laughter fades away...

MURALIDHARA KHAJANE
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Ratnakar
D.C. Nagesh Ratnakar

The minute people heard Ratnakar's voice they would burst into laughter. This ailing comedian who has acted in more than 300 Kannada films unwinds…

The story goes like this. Once actor Jaggesh, who was travelling in a bus, spotted one of the talented comedians of Kannada film industry Guggu and asked him the reason for travelling in the bus. Guggu flashed an endearing smile and said that not all can become ‘stars' in film industry. Kannada film industry is in its 75th year, and the fate of comedians is not drastically different. Except Dwarakish, who is somehow still struggling to survive in the industry, most other comedians including M.G. Mari Rao, G.V. Krishnamurthy Rao, Mahabala Rao, ‘comedian' Guggu, Narasimharaju, Balakrishna, N.S. Rao have had miserable endings. This is not only the case with comedians, even character actors and those who donned role of protagonists led difficult lives. In the highly talented set of comedians in the Kannada film industry, Ratnakar figures prominently. With his shrill voice and inimitable ability to make people laugh, Rathnakar carved a niche for himself in the Kannada film industry. This actor who acted in more than 300 films is now bedridden and is struggling to meet his medical expenses. What he got as remuneration throughout his career was so meagre that he could not save anything for his future. He has not a penny in his pocket, but has plenty of self dignity. He has so far not sought help from anyone in the film industry.

Rathnakar has acted with stalwarts including Dr. Rajkumar, Vishnuvardhan, Ambarish, Shankar Nag and Dwarakish. Coming from a rich theatre background Rathnakar began his film career through “Vichitra Prapancha”. He has done supportive and comedy roles in the films and he was forced to stay home due to change in film scenario and entry of new comedians. He was much in demand during the black and white era and even directed films.

* * *

Born in Kolluru (his father Manjunatha Bhatta was a priest in Mookambika temple) on April 11, 1931, Rathnakar left his native place when he was 12 due to a ‘bitter incident' in his family. He first came to Baindur and from there to Mysore. He worked for some time in a choultry on Seethavilasa Road. Besides working in the choultry, he also worked as a gardener for a while. Music education he received during his childhood came to his help and he used to sing in the temple nearby everyday. Sorat Ashwath and Dikki Madhava Rao, who used to visit the temple were impressed with the mellifluous voice of Rathnakar and asked him to join their theatre troupe and introduced him to H.L.N. Simha who was staging shows at Davanagere at that time. Considering his shrill voice, short and frail frame, Rathnakar was given the role of a comedian in “Prema Leela”. He won the heart of theatre lovers on the first day itself and become permanent member of the troupe. Later he acted with Dr. Rajkumar, Pandaribai in “Vishnu Chaitanya” play.

Rathnakar served various professional theatre troupes headed by stalwarts. Bala Gajapatha Rao noted Marathi director spotted Rathnakar's talent and offered him a role in “Vichitra Prapancha” and that was a milestone in Ratnakar's career. “Mysuru Dasara Bombe…” song sung by Rathnakar for “Kanyarathna” is still loved by people. After assisting noted director Ku. Ra. Seetharama Shastry in his films for long, Rathnakar decided to venture in to direction. “It was in the seventies. Though I had many scripts on hand, I decided to direct ‘Bhagya Devate', as the role was apt for Dr. Rajkumar. The film fared well in the box office.” However, when the economics of films changed, Ratnakar found it difficult to survive and stopped directing. “Swarna Gouri, “Navajeevana”, “Gurushishyaru” are important films in his career. Rathnakar, who will turn 80 soon, lives in a humble house on Ramanuja Road in Mysore.

Except for the Rajyotsava award, the government has not done much for the actor. “People of Karnataka are helping me in every possible way. Karnataka Government has also paid Rs. 45,000 for my treatment. But my financial condition does not permit me to be in a hospital. I strongly believe the Sanskrit verse ‘Anaatho Daiva Rakshaka…,' says Rathnakar without a trace of bitterness.

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