Bombay Showcase

‘I am an untrained actor’

Anant Nag is the kind of actor who can play a classical singer in Hamsageethe as effortlessly as the mischievous ‘ muni ’ in Narada Vijaya , without compromising on his craft. He terms acting as behaving, conveying the seemingly most complex emotions with an air of casualness.

His abode reflects his personality. The modest house in an upscale locality is spacious, airy and completely shorn of the trappings of stardom. No showcases piled with dusty plaques and pictures. You are warmly welcomed by his wife Gayathri, a yesteryear star herself and generously complimented for a recent column. The increasing salt in Anant’s mane is the only sign of aging. A cocktail of enticing aromas emanate from the kitchen as we settle for a long overdue chat.

Has acting become like another day at the office over the years?

Not when I do films like Godhi Banna Sadharana Maikattu . Otherwise it is, I agree, but with better facilities. In my younger days, we had to make do with a make-up room at best. Now with caravans, it’s like a luxurious office. It is monotonous when you take up films for various compulsions, including financial ones. It’s sometimes depressing when you see the kind of money being spent and the quality of the output. It’s probably because of my theatre and art films background.

You were drawn to underplaying when you’d steal into Metro in Bombay to watch Hollywood classics but it’s an alien term in theatre. How did you deal with this?

There was a degree of over-acting because the man in the last row should be able to see you and he goes by your voice rather than visually. We had to be loud and gesticulate. I felt torn when working with old-time directors but there were some like R.D. Kamat, whose forte was comedy. I had to be natural unless it was slapstick. With Amol Palekar, it was subtle but with Satyadev Dubey we had to be a little loud. There were a variety of schools. Onstage too, I could not bring myself to overact. Even here I had to argue with people like Dore Bhagwan to get my way. My approach was naturalistic. I feel if you were a young wannabe actor today, you probably wouldn’t have made it because the first requisite for budding actors today is learning dance and stunts.

I wouldn’t have. I was not equipped for all this. I did short skits in school after which there was a gap. I felt lost in Bombay. I was hardly 11 when I was sent there. It was a culture shock having grown up in a mutt . I went into a shell because of the shift from Kannada to English medium. I failed in my 10th exams. I was miserable food and culture-wise. I wondered why my father had sent me to this ‘ naraka ’. I would sink into the shadows if I spotted someone familiar lest they ask me about my exam results. I strayed into acting. It was while distributing wedding cards for my sister’s wedding that someone suggested acting in a play because I was good looking. I gave it a shot.

The rehearsals and the shows made me regain my confidence. I was a good athlete but was not equipped to dance. I was only confident about my acting talent. I would call it behaving, not acting. I had this feeling that men shouldn’t dance till I watched Kamal Haasan do it. Action is bogus and not realistic. I used to argue. Imagine, I’m a cop with a gun and I’m fending off goons without using it. I argued with the stunt master that if I were in that situation I’d just draw and shoot. I slowly cut out action from my films.

Even after the Shyam Benegal phase when you came down here, you were never in the rat race. Have you ever sought a role from someone?

I could never do that. Everything just happened to me. Venkat Rao did Vamshavruksha and that’s how I came here. Satyadev Dubey sent me to meet Shyam Benegal. Shyam just asked me to turn this way and that before signing me. I was riding two boats: one in Bombay and the other in Bangalore. Meanwhile, I was called for a Tamil film much before Rajinikant went there. Tamil was an alien language for me being from coastal Karnataka. They offered me a princely sum for two films. Krishnan Panju was the director. I just couldn’t handle the language. After a few days, they wanted to shoot for the second film. For two successive days, it rained in Madras. I thought it was divine intervention. I wrote a note excusing myself and left.

For a certain period you had one foot in theatre and the other in cinema.

Yes, I did, but shifted completely to cinema till Shankar [Nag] made me act in his play Barrister and a couple of others. I was drawn to the J.P. movement. After Kalyug in 1979, I shifted to Bangalore. My political aspirations confined me to Bangalore but films kept happening. Some directors said they’d written roles only I could do. One day I came home late and turned on the TV. Around 15 songs from my films were continuously played. I was just standing around while the heroines danced. I realised how limited an actor I was. I can’t dance and wasn’t interested in fights. I was comfortable doing Hamsageethe and Swathi Tirunal in Malayalam because it was natural. I’m an untrained actor.

Of late, you were excited about a couple of films but were disappointed by the way they turned out on-screen.

Yes, you are right. All of them were youngsters and the films were nowhere close to what was narrated. I tried putting some sense [in them] but they have a circle of advisers. It happened with Yograj’s Vasthu Prakara then Plus and Plan . I did try to correct them but to no avail. I was disappointed because I wanted the film to run well and earn laurels for the team.

You’re also reluctant to travel too much. I remember you turned down Vishwaroopam because it would be biting cold in New York.

That’s right. Probably because I grew up in the coastal belt I cannot handle anything below 18 degrees. Even Bangalore was cold for me in the initial days. I just can’t function in cold weather. I’ve seen that when we went on holidays. My family would go out but I’d remain in the room swathed in thermals and layers of warm clothing. My nose and eyes start watering and I feel disoriented. Kamal is a Sakalakalavallavan [multi-talented] and a bundle of energy. He wanted me to play a role in Hey Ram too. If it had been shot here, I’d have gladly agreed.

Was it difficult acting in Godhi banna Sadharana Maikattu ?

As an actor, I found it very interesting to play that role. I found Hemant’s [Rao] script thorough and brilliant. He had to abort one project because the producer backed out at the last moment. That’s when he approached me. I was apprehensive but this script is about a common man. There are various tracks, about the father and son, the degenerative disease and crime too. Everything is interwoven intelligently. I did not want to be inhibited by a method. Anyway Gayathri too liked the script and even guided the young team. She was of immense moral support. For the first time I wanted to watch my film after it was completed.


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