Only some artists can live as intensely as Shankar Nag.
The fact that when this versatile actor breathed his last, he was just a 35-year-old man and had reached many heights proves that he was larger than life.
What puts this Karate King of Sandalwood in a class by himself is that he could think and contribute beyond cinema. As many of his contemporaries acknowledge, Shankar Nagarakatte, born on Nov. 9, 1954, at Honnavar in Uttara Kannada district, was undoubtedly ahead of his time.
When the Bangalore Transport Corporation was still making inroads, this award-winning filmmaker was meditating about metro trains in the early 1980s. He was one of the first few visionaries to have strongly batted for metro trains, which became a reality two decades later.
Shankar wanted the then Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde to implement a low-cost housing project for the economically weaker sections of society, a project that the government would eventually implement.
Shankar, who transcended the boundaries of cinema and tried his hand at teleserials, continues to live on even after his demise. Only a few people par excellence can achieve that distinction.
Virtually across Karnataka, one autorickshaw out of five has Shankar’s portrait. Associations named after Shankar are still active. It was his Auto Raja (1982), a super hit film, that brought esteem to autorickshaw drivers.
“He was shooting for a film when he was approached to adopt RK Narayan’s Malgudi Days for television,” Shankar’s wife Arundati Nag recalls. “He cooked up a story and drove back abruptly leaving the sets. He was breathless when he reached home. He told me that he got an offer that he was yearning for and that his career as an actor was meaningful.”
Malgudi Days (1987) introduced his abilities as a director to a national audience.
Ramesh Bhat, a contemporary and close friend of Shankar, remembers that he did not like to waste a minute. There was a typewriter in his car and books. “He either typed or read while travelling,” Bhat says.
Veteran filmmaker Upendra agrees. “Shankar Nag’s energy was immeasurable. He never wasted time.”
Shankar was extremely passionate about theatre and theatre lovers. Ranga Shankara – a space dedicated to theatre – was opened in 2004.
In films, Shankar either donned the role of a supercop or angry young man fighting against a corrupt system. He was considered the messiah of a transparent system. In his career spanning just 12 years, he acted in movies like Muniyana Madar (1981), Nodi Swamy Navirodu Heege (1983) Karmika Kallanalla (1982) and SP Sangliyana (1988). His last film was Nigoodha Rahasya (1990).
A pioneer in the Kannada film industry, he created high-quality entertainment content.
He began his career in 1978 with Girish Karnad’s Ondanondu Kaladalli. It won a national award at the Delhi International Film Festival. Between 1978 and 1980, he acted in over 80 movies. Apart from matinee idol Dr Rajkumar, he is the only actor to have acted in 15 films in a single year.
Minchina Ota, his directorial debut, won him a state award. Geetha (1981), Accident (1984), and Ondu Muttina Kathe (1987), directed by him, are considered as classics of Indian cinema.
On Nov. 9, 1990, while returning to Bengaluru after visiting a few places in North Karnataka for his dream project Jokumaraswamy, Shankar met with an accident near Davangere and breathed his last.
The accident did not just end an eventful journey for a Sandalwood star, but also, possibly, ended attempts to expand the boundaries of the market for the Kannada film industry.