Bangalore may boast of multiplexes and entertainment zones in its malls, but Gandhinagar is where the heart of Kannada cinema or Sandalwood as the industry is sometimes colloquially referred to, is. Cut-outs of the angry young men of home-grown cinema and its towering veterans surprise you in narrow lanes, indicating the presence of one of the many single-screen cinemas that dot the streets, looking forlorn compared to their flashy counterparts elsewhere in the city.
Multiple single screens
The area has the largest concentration of cinemas in a single neighbourhood. However, from a peak of 24, this number has reduced to 15 in the last two decades.
According to Thomas D’Souza, secretary, Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC), of the 140 theatres in Bangalore, 15 of them, namely Abhinay, Aparna, Kailash, Kapali, Kempe Gowda, Majestic, Menaka, Movieland, Nartaki, Sagar, Santhosh, Tribhuvan, Prashanth, Triveni and Sapna are in this area. “Of this, 12 are on the busy Kempe Gowda Road,” he says with pride.
It is not all about exhibition either. Production and distribution firms, editing and recording studios, advertising, graphic vinyl printing services, film production units and offices of various trade bodies connected to the film industry are all crammed in this central business district.
Sixth Cross of Gandhinagar once had major film production houses, including Vijaya, Eshwari and KCN Movies. Now Vajreshwari Combines belonging to Dr. Rajkumar’s family has its office here. Although there are over 2,500 film production firms, only 1,000 are actively producing films. Similarly, of the 1,407 distribution houses, only 500 are active.
“It is not right to say that Gandhinagar is the nucleus of the Kannada film industry, as it houses distribution houses of other languages too. Gandhinagar can very well be described as centre of film activities,” Thomas says.
The neighbourhood seems to inspire cinema as well, with two films made in its name. Gandhinagar (1968) was directed by K.S. Swamy (Ravee) with Dr. Rajkumar, Kalpana and Jayashree in the lead. B.H. Sudeep and his friends recently directed Gandhinagar , inspired by the multifaceted nature of the area, and to showcase the struggle to enter the industry.
Hotels such as Highlands, where Dr. Rajkumar once stayed, Janardhan, Moti Mahal, Tourist and Kanishka can be described as the ‘adda’ of film activities.
While Highlands has made way for a commercial complex, producers, actors and technicians still stay at the others. Some directors and producers, till recently, had their permanent rooms in these hotels, says Thomas.
Recalling how the film industry came to be centred in Gandhinagar, octogenarian K.V. Gupta, who debuted in the film distribution business in 1955, says that initially the Kannada cinema hub was Chickpet and Avenue Road.
Shantha Pictures was the first one to start its distribution office on Avenue Road.
“As there was danger of nitrate-based film catching fire in the heat, it was decided to shift the distribution offices to outside the city and the natural choice was Gandhinagar, then a newly developed locality,” he says.
According to filmmaker B. Suresh, M.V. Krishnaswamy, noted film personality and associated with many pioneering film societies, had his office in Malleswaram during the silent film era and production houses shifted to Gandhinagar after the advent of ‘talkies’.
Later, distributors from other languages started thronging the area, as the number of Kannada films was meagre.
Fearing a threat from dubbed versions of other regional films, Kannada film producers launched a movement in the 60s and an agreement was reached between pro-Kannada organisations and distributors at Movieland theatre.
“Now, Gandhinagar is slowly losing its glory with corporatisation seeping in to film production, distribution and exhibition,” Suresh notes.