The late director S.R. Puttanna Kangal’s “Naagara Haavu” created history despite odds. It hit the screens when New Wave cinema was at its peak with the success of U.R. Ananthamurthy’s “Samskara” and S.L. Bhyrappa’s “Vamvashavriksha”.
Based on the popular novelist Ta. Ra. Su’s trilogy “Eradu Hennu Ondu Gandu,” “Naagara Haavu” and “Sarpamatsara”, the film was a grand commercial success and heralded the end of the hegemony of Rajkumar, Kalyan Kumar and Udaya Kumar in Kannada cinema. It paved way for the stardom of Vishnuvardhan and the “villain” Ambarish who morphed into a lead actor and politician.
Even as the roots of commercial Kannada cinema were facing want of nourishment with transforming tastes of cinema buffs, Puttanna Kanagal, with a handicapped academic background but well versed and known for his penchant for novel-based cinema, arrived on the scene with a new outlook. Voracious reader that he was, he sensed the ideological differences between the Navya and the Pragathisheela.
Supported by a band of writers, Puttanna found a brilliant and perfect theme in Ta. Ra. Su’s trilogy which would in a way, snub New Wave cinema.
Ta. Ra. Su’s trilogy, set in the early 1950s against the backdrop of the imposing Chitradurga Fort, deals with the tragic tale of a closed society and the predicament of an upright angry young man Ramachari. On the one hand is his bravado, while on the other is his inability to keep his promises to the two girls, Alamelu and Margaret, owing to diabolic influences of social and religious factors.
Besides, the writer also attempts to trace the reasons for the dwindling ethics in public life and depleting individual morals and warns about the impending consequences of increasing material interests.
Armed with a powerful and challenging theme, and supported by his producer N. Veeraswamy of Eshwari Pictures, Puttanna conducted screen tests. He chose an obscure artiste Kumar, who played the small but significant role of Prithvi in “Vamshavrkisha”. He renamed Kumar after the renowned King Vishnuvardhana of Hoysala dynasty. He accidentally met Ambarish at Premiere Studios in Mysore and offered him the role of the villain. Besides Arathi as the main heroine, he introduced Shubha, daughter of veteran Telugu film director Vedantham Ragahavaiah to Kannada cinema.
Although Puttanna retained elements of the trilogy in the film, he took liberties with the theme and interspersed it with sequences and situations that suited his cinematic and commercial purposes. He roped in redoubtable talents such as Ashwath, Shivaram, Leelavathi, Jayanthi, Loknath, M.N. Lakshmi, M.P. Shankar, Ranga and Shakti Prasad. Puttanna bestowed the script and dialogue responsibilities on Chi. Udayashankar and Vijayabhaskar scored the music.
Even as Puttanna was preparing to shoot in Chitradurga, the Department of Archaeology refused to give permission.
The then Union Minster S.M. Krishna intervened to obtain permission.
Amid the film’s grand commercial success and populist reviews, writer Ta. Ra.Su. issued public statements complaining that the purpose of the trilogy had been distorted.
He said “The film ‘Naagara Haavu’ is not ‘Naagara Haavu’, but only a kere haavu.” (It is not king cobra but only a rat snake). Many intellectuals attacked Puttanna’s treatment of a literary work. Writer Ananthamurthy felt the film was a deceitful approach to man-woman relationship.
Angered by this, Puttanna launched another film “Katha Sangama”, based on three short stories by three writers identified with different schools of literature. The film made in the New Wave mould, introduced Rajnikanth as the villain.
The National and State award winner “Naagara Haavu” is also remembered for its music. The mellifluous “Karpoorada Bombe Naanu”, the romantic “Baare Baare Chendada Cheluvina Taare”, the gallant “Kannada Naadina Veera Ramaniya” and the tragic “Kathe Heluve Nanna Kathe Heluve”.
To be remembered for: Vishnuvardhan as the angry young man and Vijayabhaskar’s fantastic music.
K. N. VENKATASUBBA RAO