In every nook of Karnataka and Bengaluru, auto drivers and their respective stands adore Shankar Nag’s portrait – you will see stills from his widely celebrated movies, like “Auto Raja” or “SP Sangliana“.
“Auto Raja” is one of the very few movies in the Kannada film industry which had a deep impact on the hearts of auto drivers. Even after 27 years of Shankar Nag‘s death, numerous auto stand associations celebrate Shankar Nag‘s birthday on November 9. In all the programs, mimics of Shankar Nag are bound to fetch non-stop applause.
Till date, Shankar Nag‘s name reverberates in all the houses of Karnataka. In a career spanning 12 years, he left a remarkable and ever-lasting impact on the Kannada film industry. His films, such as “Muniyana Madari”, “Nodi Swamy Navirodu Hige”, “Lorry Driver”, “Karmika Kallanalla” etc, have had a lasting impact on the working class.
Nag is considered as one of the pioneers in the Kannada Film Industry— feeding high-quality content to the viewers. A swift flow of thoughts on the screen, without claptrap, were his strongest plus points. Many of his movies resonate his will to work towards a better society.
Shankar debuted as an actor in Girish Karnad’s epic film “Ondanondu Kaladalli” in 1978 and earned a national award at the Delhi International Film Festival with his flawless acting skills. The rest is history. He went on to act in more than 80 films from 1978 to 1990 besides dabbling in other roles, such as screenplay, direction, production, and numerous other works under the cloud called ‘cinema’. He is the only actor to act in 15 films in a single year after Dr Rajkumar, who acted in 16. His directorial debut “Minchina Ota” fetched him several state awards.
He went on to direct classic movies such as “Geetha”, “Ondu Muttina Kathe” etc. In “Ondu Muttina Kathe”, Shankar Nag was the first director in the Kannada Cinema to show the legendary Dr Rajkumar as a fisherman fighting for his hard-earned pearl. Until then, Dr Raj had been employed in rote, unvarying roles.
Ramesh Bhat, one of the close associates of Shankar Nag, once told an English daily, “He also literally lived in his car. He had a typewriter, book, and food in his car. So, he would read, write scripts, or type in his car. He was also a man who thought ahead of his time.”
Even after shining like a bright star in the Kannada Film industry, Nag did not stick only to the cinema field. He stepped in to direct RK Narayan’s Malgudi days as a television serial. The serial was a hit and Swami, the lead character in the serial, was a household name, and Doordarshan gained immense popularity in the 1980s. He also started Rangashankara – a well-known theatre hosting numerous plays. Upendra, one of the finest actors in the Kannada Cinema industry, once said in an interview, “Shankar Nag‘s energy is immeasurable. He never wasted a single minute in his clock, he was always working on a story, script, and direction.”
Shankar Nag is larger than life, and an idol who ought to be worshipped by millions of Kannadigas. In the 1980’s, he conceptualized Metro Rail Bengaluru, started the Country Club, and came up with low-cost housing projects. Moreover, he had a series of discussions with Ramakrishna Hegde about the developmental initiatives in Karnataka. He always believed that ‘It will be shameful to tell my kids that I was successful as an actor and not as a human being and not contributing to the society’.
Unfortunately, before Shankar could accomplish his plans, his life ended in a fateful accident, leaving lakhs of his followers in mourning. But he lives on through his work in the Kannada film industry.