All these years later, there hasn’t been another like Shankar Nag

He juggled various roles with ease, and altered the landscape of Kannada cinema through his films.

Actor, writer, director and producer Shankar Nag died on September 30, 1990, in a car crash. He belongs to a rare category of people who juggle various activities with ease.

The spotlight fell on Nag when he starred in the 1978 Girish Karnad film, Ondanondu Kaladalli. He co-wrote a Marathi film the next year, 22 June 1897. Direction wasn’t far away either. In 1980, Nag directed Minchina Ota. For his debut, he roped in his brother and actor, Anant Nag. The duo went on to star together in several successful movies. I’m drawing an example which will make it clear for the millennials: imagine Chiranjeevi and Pawan Kalyan in a scene. Isn’t it mind-blowing? That’s how it was back then.

When Anant Nag and Shankar Nag shake hands for the first time on screen in Minchina Ota, there’s a pause. The pause is for us, the audience, to break into a smile. The heaviest star on Shankar Nag’s shoulder has to be that his directorial debut doesn’t look like a film made by a first-timer at all. It has the angst of the working class and the brilliance of actors who know their job well. The 36-year-old film might be a little old for today’s tastes, but it is still enjoyable on the whole. Dull moments in the screenplay are few and far between.

You’ll find Shankar Nag’s poster on most of the autos in Karnataka. The actor passed away more than a quarter of a century ago, yet that hasn’t come in the way of pulling his aura down in the minds of audiences. Though he is known for his action roles (starting from the National Award winning film, Ondanondu Kaladalli), he is also reputed for his lover-boy appearances.

‘CBI Shankar’.

If Karnad’s film showed Nag as a mercenary with a heart, Minchina Ota showed him as a thief who is fed up with society. In both films, his character is unhappy with the way he is being treated by his bosses. Co-incidentally, his character is killed in both movies. If the former opened the doors for experimental cinema, the latter cleared the path for uninhibited storytelling.

Every mimicry artist that goes on stage will definitely do a set on Shankar Nag. It’s really that easy to mimic him and entertain viewers. The fact that he stood tall among the stars of Kannada cinema in the ’80s cannot ever be erased.

Had Nag survived the car crash in 1990, he would have gone on to act and direct numerous meaningful movies. We would have seen more variety in Indian cinema. Karnataka may have lost a true star, but it’ll always cherish the works of Shankar Nag.

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