“Grandpa, look here!” yelled one man. “No, here first,” said another, his phone’s camera on ready.

Channegowda and Singrigowda stared blank-faced at the crowd. Their eyes watered under the arc lights, and Channegowda coughed endlessly, but the media and fans were unrelenting. They had to make the most of the duo’s brief visit to Bengaluru.

Channegowda and Singrigowda are better known as Gaddappa and Century Gowda, which are their nicknames as well as the names of the characters they played in Raam Reddy’s Kannada indie hit Thithi (2016). The men, both in their eighties, had travelled from their village Nodekopplu in Mandya district to Bengaluru for the audio launch of their upcoming Kannada film Haalu Thuppa (Milk and Ghee).

It’s their most recent screen outing after Thithi’s phenomenal success, but if you ask them individually about the exact number of films they have signed together since, they are not sure.

Fourteen, said Singrigowda.

Seven, said Channegowda.

“I haven’t kept track,” Channegowda told Scroll.in, his eyes still glistening with tears from all the coughing. “Century Gowda may have signed more films than I have.”

Singrigowda (left) and Channegowda. Image credit: Archana Nathan.

There have never been two more unlikely movie icons. Century Gowda dies in the opening minutes of Thithi after unleashing a string of profanities. Gowda’s son Gaddappa lives on in the story. The men who played them have never acted before, but ever since Thithi’s success, they have been recruited by filmmakers to play Century Gowda and Gadappa over and over again.

They should be familiar with media attention, and yet, when the cameras were clicking at the audio launch, their aged bodies adopted the traditional photo studio pose – heads held high, hands stuck to the sides, a cold stare, and no smile.

A selfie-seeking gent took a bewildered Channegowda’s hand, bent his fingers to form a thumbs up gesture and asked him to look up at the camera. Next to him, Singrigowda, wearing a red woolen cap, a half-sleeve shirt and traditional lungi folded up to his knees, looked equally stunned.

Singrigowda as Century Gowda in Thithi. Image credit: Prspctvs Productions.

An intersection of reality and fantasy can also be found in Raam Reddy’s acclaimed debut. Reddy cast non-actors in Thithi, in which the death of Century Gowda’s character leads to the unravelling of his family. Among the characters created by Reddy and co-writer Ere Gowda, who hails from Nodekopplu, Gaddappa and Century Gowda stood out for their earthiness and eccentricity.

Century Gowda appears only in the opening sequence that sets the chain of events rolling but his one scene – in which he sits by the roadside and hurls abuses at passersby – seems to have been enough to etch him in the minds of audiences.

Gaddappa, on the other hand, has almost the entire film to himself. A detachment devotee who shuns his son’s repeated attempts to sign away his property rights, Gaddappa’s character has a lingering, poetic quality.

Thithi (2016).

Both characters became instantly popular after Thithi’s release, and not just in terms of internet memes, t-shirts and merchandise with one-liners from the film. Nodekopplu is now a tourist site, according to a report in The Hindu. The report quotes a local guide as saying, “This is the place where Century Gowda was found dead... And this is where Gaddappa’s grandson met his girlfriend.”

In an attempt to repeat Thithi’s success, the two elderly men were cast in KM Raghu’s Tharle Village (Naughty Village) in December 2016. Gaddappa and Century Gowda appeared in watered-down versions of their roles in Thithi. Century Gowda, introduced in the credits as “Abusive Star”, uttered expletive-laden dialogue. Gaddappa appeared periodically to say “Cold aagiru” (Calm down) – a line that was made popular by Thithi.

It was clear to everybody that Gaddappa and Century Gowda were added to the cast just for laughs. Not surprisingly, Tharle Village flopped dramatically.

And yet, the offers have been rolling in for Channegowda and Singrigowda. Among the films they have been in are Yen Nin Problemmu (a title based on yet another line from Thithi), Gaddappa Circle and Thathana Thithi Mommagana Prastha.

In Gaddappa Circle, Channegowda is cast as a don. His kinky hair has been tamed into three ponytails. He wears a waistcoat and walks with an obviously rehearsed swag. Singrigowda, clad in a yellow t-shirt, jeans and red sunglasses, yells a string of abuses for the nth time.

Gaddappa Circle.

Halli Panchayati appears to be a Thithi knockoff. Gaddappa is almost a saintly figure who goes about reforming a village, while Century Gowda seems to have been cast just for laughs again.


As more such films began to be made, Raam Reddy and Ere Gowda wrote Facebook posts distancing themselves from the projects. “I have nothing to do with the films that are coming up with these actors,” Ere Gowda told Scroll.in. “Filmmakers are, of course, free to pursue their creative freedom. I just hope they don’t misuse these actors.”

A local newspaper report wondered whether re-using characters created for a particular production amounted to plagiarism. “For Channegowda, we used Gaddappa because it is the name he is called by people in his village. Gaddappa was not created in Thithi,Tharle Village director Raghu said in his defence.

“I’ve cut the symbolic umbilical cord from Thithi,” Raam Reddy said in an interview. “Call me idealistic, but I’m not an artist who believes that anything is mine alone. I’ve put my work and the characters I’ve crafted out into the world and now the journey that they craft further is not something I apply my mind to.”

Reddy, who is also Thithi’s producer, sent a legal notice to a production company that filched Thithi’s posters, but he has kept away from the Gaddappa-Century Gowda photocopies.

“As far as accusations of plagiarism are concerned, I frankly haven’t seen many of the films,” Reddy said. “The names are a grey area. Gaddappa and Century Gowda are their real names but the characters of Gaddappa and Century Gowda in Thithi are fictional.”

The director of the latest Gaddappa-Century Gowda retread, Shashank Raj, wants to make sure that nobody is confusing Haalu Thuppa for the movie that started the casting craze. The tagline for his film, which among other things, speaks about the value of elders in a family, is “Thithi alla” (This is not Thithi).

“This is a deliberate attempt to rescue Gaddappa and Century Gowda from all the stereotyping and caricatures,” Raj said. “I want my film to portray them in a completely different avatar and treat them as performers and not just as dolls that mouth a particular set of lines.”

Hallu Thuppa.

Shooting with Channegowda and Singrigowda is anything but easy, Raj added. “They are absolutely clueless about everything around them,” he said. “Gaddappa’s daughter and Century Gowda’s grandson do all the talking when it comes to signing films, their fee and their schedules. Both the old men barely remember their lines. I had someone assigned just to prompt the keywords. They also do not understand where to look or where the camera is. So I kept two to three cameras in different directions. That way, there is a better chance to capture them when they eventually say their lines properly.”

What prompted him to cast them in the first place? “They are signature brands, of course,” Raj said. “If a good message comes from them, the audience is likely to listen.”

The collective reputations of Gaddappa and Century Gowda have begun to bother many, as was evident at the audio launch. “Don’t dance with young girls, please,” advised Sa Ra Govindu, president of the Kannada Film Chamber of Commerce. “Century Gowda, you can abuse all you want on screen. Just don’t dance with young girls. The abuses and the verbal expletives are a part of your background, your manner of speaking. No vulgarity or sex please.”

Singrigowda yelled out his reply the minute the microphone was handed to him: “Please preserve our reputation. It is up to you film producers to do that.”

After the music launch, Channegowda vowed that he would pick his future roles more carefully. “We didn’t know much when these roles came to us,” he said. “We thought that this is how the film industry works. These are the kind of roles that one would have to do. Now, we will begin to say no to such roles. We don’t want to be stereotyped.”

A reporter interrupted Channegowda’s stream of thought to address Channegowda and Singrigowda: “Can you say a line from Thithi?”

“I don’t remember any dialogue,” Channegowda said. He whispered in Singrigowda’s ear. Seconds later, Century Gowda came to life and began to scream expletives into the camera.

Also read:

‘Thithi’ movie review: A comedy about death and the absurdity of life

‘The whole village was a set’: The making of Raam Reddy’s comedy ‘Thithi’