Cinema of Karnataka

Cinema of Karnataka

The cinema of Karnataka (Kannada: ಕನ್ನಡ ಸಿನಿಮಾ), sometimes colloquially referred to as Sandalwood and as Chandanavana (Kannada: ಚಂದನವನ) in Kannada,[1][2] encompasses movies made in the Indian state of Karnataka based in Bangalore. Most of the movies are made in Kannada, with a handful of them in Konkani or Tulu. Today more than 100 films are made every year.[3] A handful of the movies are released in the USA, Australia, Germany, UK and other countries.[4] Efforts to further expand its market have met with some success. A total of 650 cinema theatres in Karnataka gives great scope for the cinema industry.


History of Kannada cinema


1931 saw the emergence of talking pictures in the regional languages of South India with the release of Tamil film Kalidas. In 1934, the first Kannada talkie, Sati Sulochana,[5] appeared in theatres, followed by Bhakta Dhruva (aka Dhruva Kumar).

Both Sati Sulochana and Bhakta Dhruva were major successes. But prospective filmmakers in Karnataka were handicapped by the lack of studios and technical crews. Sati Sulochana was shot in Kolhapur at the Chatrapathi studio; most filming, sound recording, and post-production was done in Madras (now Chennai). It was difficult, as well, to find financial backing for new film projects in the region; thus, very few movies in Kannada were released during the early years of Indian sound cinema.

1940s and 1950s

Gubbi Veeranna could be considered the doyen of Kannada cinema during the mid to late forties. He brought his talent as an actor from the theatrical stage to Kannada cinema through his Gubbi Veeranna Theater. From the mid-forties to late fifties, Gubbi Karnataka Productions (of which he was a shareholder) produced movies such as Gunasagari, Hemareddi Mallamma, Adarsha Sati, and Sadarame.

Gubbi Veeranna encouraged and introduced young talent in his movies. One such talent was K. R. Seetharama Sastry, popularly known as Kurasi (also known as Kurasee or Ku Ra Seetharama Sastry). In 1949, Honnappa Bhagavathar who had earlier acted in Gubbi Veeranna's films, produced Bhaktha Kumbara and starred in the lead role along with Pandaribai.

Ku Ra Seetharama Sastry ("Kurasi") was an actor, film director, lyricist, and screen playwright from the mid-forties through the late seventies. Kurasi started as an actor under Gubbi Veeranna's tutelage in movies such as Bhaktha Kumbara, Gunasagari, and Hemareddi Mallamma. He subsequently directed many Rajkumar films, such as Anna Thangi, Rani Honnamma, and Mana Mechida Madadi, among others. He introduced several artists to Kannada film industry, including Shivaram (Beratha Jeeva) and Shakthi Prasad (Karaga Shakti, father of Kannada & Tamil actor/director Arjun). In 1955, Honnappa Bhagavathar again produced a Kannada film Mahakavi Kalidasa in which he introduced B. Saroja Devi. Kurasi directed the movie, while Honnappa Bhagavathar was the music director. Mahakavi Kalidasa won the President's Silver Medal for Best Direction, Lyrics, and Screenplay. Kurasi wrote several Kannada songs that remain popular among Kannadigas. Kurasi was the first Kannada film artist who went abroad to direct two films in the Malayan language in Singapore in the early 1950s; he won an international award for his direction of the film Iman in Malaya (now Malaysia).

1950s and 1960s


The 1950s introduced the doyen of Kannada cinema: Rajkumar. Rajkumar, originally known as Mutturaju, was a theater artist who was discovered by HLN Simha. HLN offered him a lead role in the mythological movie Bedara Kannappa. The movie proved to be a blockbuster. It also launched the careers of comedian Narasimharaju and director G. V. Iyer.

Even after the success of Bedara Kannappa, the Kannada film industry remained stagnant. The lack of financiers, technicians and studios proved to be a hindrance to film making. Rajkumar, Narasimharaju and G. V. Iyer decided to form a partnership and produce movies. The partnership lasted for only a couple of movies. Ranadhira Kanteerava was one such successful joint venture. The majority of the films during this decade were either mythological or historical in nature.

The rise of Rajkumar encouraged the Kannada film industry to make more historical movies. Bedara Kannappa was the first Kannada movie which completed 100 days and it received a letter of appreciation from the central government. The golden era in the history of Kannada cinema was here; it gave rise to not only talents of Kannada cinema but even other film industries. Although lacking a local studio (due to which the industry had to rely on erstwhile Madras or Bombay studios), the industry had its own era of theater personalities making the cinema an art. Rajkumar and other artists worked hard to establish a movie studio in Bangalore. Finally, Balakrishna succeeded in opening Abhiman Studio in Bangalore.

Prominent directors of this era included Puttanna Kanagal, Gubbi Veeranna, R. Nagendra Rao (RNR), H.L.N. Simha, Kurasi, B. R. Panthulu, M. R. Vittal, Sampath, Hunsoor Krishnamurthy, Sathyu, Girish Karnad, and U. R. AnanthaMurthy.

Prominent actors included Kalyan Kumar, Udaya Kumar, Rajesh and Gangadhar. Actresses who left their mark included B. Jayamma, B. Saroja Devi, Pandari Bai, Leelavathi, Rajamma, Kalpana, Manjula, Aarathi, and Jayanthi.

Narasimharaju, Balakrishna , and Natabhayankara Vajramuni carved their own niches as supporting stars.

1970s and 1980s


The 1970s and the 1980s are often considered to be the Golden Age of Kannada cinema. It was also the period that witnessed the birth of alternate cinema or parallel cinema. Kannada cinema spearheaded the parallel cinema movement in India along with Hindi Telugu Tamil Bengali and Malayalam cinemas. B. V. Karanth's Chomana Dudi (an evocative film on caste distinctions), Girish Karnad's Kaadu and Girish Kasaravalli's Ghatashraddha spearheaded the Kannada parallel cinema. Vamshavruksha, Prema Karanth's Phaniyamma, Kadu Kudure, Hamsageethe, Accident, Akramana, Mooru Dhaarigalu, Tabarana Kathe and Bannadha Vesha and mainly Puttanna Kanagal's Naagara Haavu were some of the important movies of this era.

Girish Kasaravalli's first film Ghatashraddha (1977) won him the National Award for Best Film. He won the National Award for Best Film four times. His other award-winning films included: Akramana (1979), Mooru Dhaarigalu (1981), Tabarana Kathe (1987), Bannadha Vesha (1989), Mane (1989), Kraurya (1996), Taayi Saaheba (1998) and Dweepa (2002).

Girish Karnad's Kaadu (1973) and Ondanondu Kaladalli (1978), M. S. Sathyu's Kanneshwara Rama (1977) and Chithegu Chinthe (1978), and Pattabhi Rama Reddy's Samskara (1970) were also among the important movies of this era.

The 1970s and 1980s also witnessed the rise of director Puttanna Kanagal. His movies (Belli moda, Gejje Pooje, Sharapanjara, Sakshatkara, Nagara Havu) pioneered a new style of film making which acted as a bridge between commercial and parallel cinema. In the 1980s, in a bid to popularize film making, the Government of Karnataka granted a 50% tax exemption to Kannada films completely made in Karnataka, and it increased the subsidy amount to Kannada films.

Dr. Rajkumar, by then was already considered the top actor in the Kannada Film Industry. His historical drama film, Mayura was a tremendous success and his depiction of Raja Mayurasharma in the film is regarded with pride by present-day Kannadigas. But Puttanna Kanagal's Nagara Havu gave the film's lead actor Dr.Vishnuvardhan an iconic status. Though, Dr.Vishnuvardhan and Ambareesh were introduced to the film industry by this film, it was Dr.Vishnuvardhan who donned the top most actor position in the Kannada Film Industry. He never looked back since then. Dr.Rajkumar and Dr.Vishnuvardhan, from then were considered as the two pillars of Kannada Cinema.

Shankar Nag made his own mark with the internationally acclaimed Ondanondu Kaladalli and Malgudi Days, along with several commercial hits. Anant Nag, Ambareesh, Prabhakar, Lokesh, Ashok, Srinath, M. P. Shankar, and Sunder Krishna Urs were other actors who made their own mark in the industry. Puttana Kanagal paved the way for the abovementioned actors as well as Ramakrishna, Kokila Mohan, and Chandrashekar. Lakshmi, Padma Vaasanthi, Geetha, Madhavi, Saritha, and Jayamala were some of the actresses who made their mark.

1980s and 1990s

H. R. Bhargava directed numerous popular Kannada movies during the 1980s and 1990s. His movies were family-oriented. Bhagyavantaru, Avala Hejje, Guru Shishyaru, Preeti Vatsalya and Jananayaka were some of his hit movies. Sandesh Nagaraj was known for his offbeat films, Sunil Kumar Desai for his versatility, Dinesh Babu for the depth of his stories, T. S. Nagabharana for his involvement in Jaanapada and historical melodramas, Kodlu Ramakrishna for his subjects based on common man and narrative stories, and Phani Ramachandra for his comic flicks. This was a time when actors who had started out specializing in villain roles tried other roles. Ravichandran and Hamsalekha successfully created a blend exclusively for youth. Ravichandran brought in actresses from other industries. Ravichandran, Devaraj, Jaggesh, Maanu, Suresh Heblikar, Lokanath, Lohithaswa, Sudheer were some of veterans who made their mark in the industry. Shivrajkumar also started his career in this time as Bhavya, Mahalaxmi, Sudha Rani, Tara, Anjali, Vanitha Vasu, Anjana, and Shruthi came to the limelight.

At the late 1990s approached, there was a need for fresh talent. As time progressed, the south Indian film industry became segregated and Kannada and Malayalam were subdued under the huge business-oriented industries of Telugu and Tamil cinema, which faced a surge of fresh talent from younger generations.

New and fresh talents of Sunil, Shashikumar, Ramesh Aravind, Ramkumar, along with Malashri did a commercial survival not maintain the same order. But still this era found a little respite with movies like Nammoora Mandara Hoove, Amruthavarshini, America America and Upendra's Om and A. The decade had some story-based films like Mannina Doni. Ravichandran suffered a failure with Shanthi Kranthi. This decade also witnessed the special movie Beladingala Baale.

The deaths of Shankar Nag and Sunil were unexpected.


The Kannada film industry managed to generate several blockbusters in the first decade of the new millennium. It suffered heavy losses with the demise of superstars like Dr.Rajkumar, Dr.Vishnuvardhan, K. S. Ashwath and Vajramuni.

But this decade also saw the emergence of talented artists like Puneet Rajkumar (Rajkumar's third son), Darshan Tugudeep (son of actor Toogudeepa Sreenivas), Sudeep, Ganesh, Diganth and Vijay. Director Upendra turned into an actor and acted in several hit films. Young actresses like Ramya, Rakshita, Pooja Gandhi, Aindrita Ray, Priyamani, Rekha Vedavyas, Sharmila Mandre, Meera Jasmine, Jennifer Kotwal, Radhika Pandit, Shuba Poonja, Nikita Thukral and Sanjana established themselves in this decade. Matured actresses like Tara, Prema and Bhavana (who gave a dynamic and offbeat performance in the single-actor movie Shanti) led the female brigade for off-beat films. Girish Kasaravalli made huge waves with his subjects in art-based films. Nagathihalli Chandrashekhar, T. S. Nagabharana and Girish Karnad were instrumental throughout in bringing masterpieces.

Yajamana by Dr.Vishnuvardhan broke all previous box office records, running to packed houses in many theaters across the country for more than a year.

The year 2005 witnessed good collections at the box office for the Kannada film industry. Starting with Shivrajkumar-starrer jogi, which grossed INR14 crore in just 2 weeks and ran for 100 days in a record number of theaters in Karnataka, films like Anna Tangi, Gowramma, Amruthadhare, Deadly Soma and Nenapirali performed well at the box office. An estimated four of every five films released succeeded at the box office. Profits soared and there was a happy mood in the industry. In the last quarter of 2006, the huge blockbuster movie Mungaru Male shattered records and was even released in other countries (USA, UK, Australia). Mungaru Male completed one whole year at PVR Cinemas Bangalore, and completed 45 weeks in main theater, while running for more than 100 days in many theaters across the state and it also became the first movie in the world to complete a one-year run at any multiplex, where films keep changing every week with at least 5 films releasing freshly. Mungaru Male even released in Chennai, Hyderabad and even abroad. Comedy Time Ganesh, a small-time TV anchor, became the Golden Star Ganesh of Kannada Cinema; Duniya became another huge hit and gave life to its hero, Vijay.

Puneet Rajkumar became the top most actor in the Kannada film Industry and one of the busiest and highest paid actors of the Kannada Film Industry. His film Appu in 2002 completed 175 days in theaters across Karnataka and the world and was also remade in various languages such as Telugu (Idiot). His film, Abhi in 2003 became a box office hit completing 100 days at the theatres. 2007's biggest hit movie Milana ran for 450 days in many centers across the country and bettered the record of Mungaru Male at PVR Cinemas, Bengaluru. His 2010 releases were Prithvi and Jackie. Both were screened for more than 100 days and Jackie remains one among the highest grossing films in the industry. 2011's films Hudugaru, Paramathma also fared well.

In 2008, the Kannada film industry saw many firsts. More and more films started to release outside the state and outside India. Gaja,Buddhivantha and Navagraha became hits.[6] The budget for Kannada films was now between INR5-10 crores, as opposed to just INR1-2 crore three years previously. Mukhaputa (The Cover Page) won an award at the Ireland Film Festival. In 2009, Raaj the Showman, Manasaare, and Josh ran for 100 days. Kannada actress Umashree won a Best Actress National Award for the movie Gulabi Talkies in 2009; the film also screened at Osian's Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema, and won three awards: Best Film in Indian Competition, Best Actress in Indian Competition (Umashree), and Best Actor in Indian Competition (Vinay BM).

Kannada cinema celebrated its 75-year anniversary in 2009. A function was held on the palace grounds in Bangalore on 1 March 2009 under the direction of V. Ravichandran, featuring a set resembling an open-winged bird. It was attended by many stars from Kannada cinema and from other film industries who had a stint in Kannada films.

In 2010, Vishnuvardhan's final film, Aptharakshaka, created new box office records. Puneeth Rajkumar's film with director Soori, Jackie, broke previous records by collecting INR25 crores in two weeks. Upendra's 2010 film titled Super is the most expensive Kannada film to date and has become the highest grosser in the history of Kannada cinema and has also completed a successful 100 days.

Kannada blockbusters in the 21st century have included: Yajamana, Aptamitra, Jogi, Mungaru Male, Duniya, Milana, Galipata, Cheluvina Chittara, Buddivanta, Aptharakshaka, Krishnan Love Story, Jackie, Super, Mylari, Appu, Akash, Arasu,Malla Huchaa, Kariya,Kalasipalya, My Autograph, Veera Madakari, Munsaje Maathu, Jothe hotheyalli, Nenapiralli,Gaja,Excuse Me,,Hudugru,Kanasugara, Cynide, Aa Dinagalu, Kempegowda.

Movies which have run for over a year include: Bangarada Manushya (Rajkumar),"Prema loka"(V.Ravichandran) Anuraga Aralithu (Rajkumar), "Suprabhatha" (Vishnuvardhan), "Ranadheera"(V.Ravichandran), Jeevana Chaitra (Rajkumar), "Nee Bareda Kadambari" (Vishnuvardhan), Nanjundi Kalyana (Raghavendra Rajkumar), Janumada Jodi (Shivrajkumar)," Putnanja"(V.Ravichandran), Om (Shivrajkumar), Yajamana (Vishnuvardhana), Aaptamitra (Vishnuvardhana), Mungaru Male (Ganesh), 'Milana (Puneeth Rajkumar), Naagarahaavu(Vishnuvardhana), Bandhana(Vishnuvardhana). Most of Dr.Vishnuvardhan's films have had a one whole year run at the theaters that shows the huge fan following and the popularity for the actor in Karnataka.

Film music

Music directors who have made their mark in Kannada films include R. Ratna, M. Venkata Swamy, M. Ranga Rao, G. K. Venkatesh, Ilaiyaraaja, Vijaya Bhaskar, the duo Rajan-Nagendra, Upendra Kumar, Sathyam, C. Aswath, Hamsalekha, Gurukiran, T. G. Lingappa, Mano Murthy, Thomas Rathnam, Harikrishna.

Lyrics of Kannada film songs have been penned by Chi. Udayashankar, R. N. Jayagopal, Hamsalekha, Jayantha Kaikini, Yogaraj Bhat, K.Kalyan, Kaviraj, Hrudayashiva, Dr.V.Nagendra Prasad and Doddarange Gowda among others.

Playback singers in Kannada films include:

  • Male

Ghantasala, Dr.Rajkumar, S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, P. B. Sreenivas, K. J. Yesudas, Rajesh Krishnan, Hemanth, Tippu, Chetan, Badri, Anup Seelin, Harikrishna, Udit Narayan, Sonu Nigam, Kunal Ganjawala, Vijay Prakash, Raghu Dixit,

  • Female

P. Susheela, S. Janaki, L. R. Eswari , Vani Jayaram, K. S. Chitra, Swarnalatha, Sujatha[disambiguation needed ], Manjula Gururaj, Chandrika, Anuradha Sriram, Shreya Ghoshal, Sunidhi Chauhan, B. R. Chaya, Pallavi,Sunitha, Archana Udupa, Lakshmi, Akanksha Badami, Chaitra, Mahalakshmi Iyer, Malgudi Shubha, Priyadarshini, Nanditha.

  • Actors who have done playback

Dr.Rajkumar, Dr.Vishnuvardhan, Upendra, Puneet Rajkumar, Sudeep, Shivarajkumar, Ganesh.


Important Kannada cinematographers include: B. V. Madhusudhan (Daari Tapida Maga), D. V. Raja Ram (Bandhana), B. C. GowriShankar (Om), S. Ramachandra (Rishya Shringa, Ghatashradha), G. S. Bhaskar (Bannada Vesha, Nagamandala), Ramachandra Halkere (Thaisaheba, Dweepa, Nenapiralli), G S V Seetharam (Ekaangi, Aham Premaasmi), Krishna (Mungaru Male, Geleya, Haage Sumane, Maleyalli Jotheyalli, Milana, Birugaali), Gynamurthy (Mani, Payana, Love Guru), and H. C. Venu (Sparsha, A, Ugadi, Aa Dinagalu), Satya Hegde (Duniya, Hudugata, Inthi Ninna Preethiya, Hudugaru, Jackie, Excuse me) Shekhar Chandra (Circus, Krishnan Marriage story), Santhosh Rai Pataje (Savi Savi Nenapu, Josh), Rathna Velu (Cynide, Gaalipata).


Kannada cinema has lost several of its most talented stars at the peak of their careers. Kalpana and Manjula of former years and Shankar Nag, Suneel, Nivedita Jain, Soundarya, and Shashikumar (survived) of the latter, passed away when they were at their prime. Aarathi, Sudha Rani and Anjali faded out due to their personal lives.

Industry crossovers

Popular artists from other industries who have acted in Kannada movies

  • Juhi Chawla - debut movie as actress in the movie Premaloka with V.Ravichandran
  • Anil Kapoor - Pallavi Anu Pallavi (His debut film in his film career)
  • Akshay kumar - vishnuvijaya with vishnuvardhan.
  • Pankaj Dheer - vishnuvijaya with vishnuvardhan.
  • Sangeeta Bijlani - Police Mattu Dada with vishnuvardhan.
  • Chiranjeevi in the movie Sipayi with V.Ravichandran
  • Mani Ratnam debut movie Pallavi Anupallavi as director and writer
  • Amrish Puri - in the debut movie Kaadu
  • Naseeruddin Shah - in movie Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane (1977 film)
  • Shilpa Shetty in Preethsodh Thappa with V.Ravichandran and Auto Shankar with Upendra
  • Rambha debut movie Server Somanna with Jaggesh.
  • Kia[disambiguation needed ] in krishna nee begane baaro with Vishnuvardhan.
  • Yana Gupta in Jogi (film)(Item song) with shivarajkumar.
  • Mallika Sherawat in prethi yake bhoomi male ede with prem.
  • Sivaji Ganesan - In the movie School Master
  • Ramya Krishnan in the movies Mangalyam Thanthu Nanena, Gadibidi Ganda and Ekangi with V.Ravichandran, Krishna Rukmini and Raja Narasimha with Sahasasimha Vishnuvardhan and Raktha Kanneru with Upendra
  • Kushboo in the movies Ranadheera, Anjada Gandu and Yugapurusha with V.Ravichandran
  • Namitha in the movie Neelkanta with V.Ravichandran
  • Amala in the movie Bannada Gejje with V.Ravichandran
  • Prithviraj Kapoor - In the movie Sakshatkara
  • Madhavan - debut kannada film in Shathi Shanthi Shanthi
  • Rajinikanth (who is from Karnataka) - Katha Sangama
  • Kamal Hassan - in and out in movies like Kokila, Benkiyalli Arlidha Hoovu, Pushpaka Vimana, Maria My Darling and Rama Shama Bhama
  • Rekha - debut movie - Goadalli CID 999
  • Jaya Prada - debut movie - Huliya Haalina Mevu and Sanaadi Appanna
  • jackie shroff - care of footpath,Zamana.
  • Atul Kulkarni - debut movie Bhoomi Geetha as actor (1997)
  • Nana Patekar - yaksha with loose maada(yogesh).
  • Nayanthara - Super (2010)
  • Priyamani - in the movies Raam with Puneeth Raj Kumar, Eno Onthara with Ganesh, Vishnuvardhana with Sudeep, Lakshmi with Shivarajkumar.
  • Bhavana Menon - in the movie Jackie with Puneeth Raj Kumar.
  • Bhama - in the movie Modala Sala.
  • Navya Nair - in the movie Gaja.
  • Mamta Mohandas - in the movie Gooli.
  • Genelia D Souza - in the movie Satya in Love.
  • Nikitha - in the movies Vamshi, Yodha, Prince.
  • Celina Jaitley - in the movie Srimathi.
  • Sada - in the movies Monalisa, Mylari.
  • Mammootty - in the movie Shikari.
  • Abhishek - in movie Accident as a junior Artist

Kannada-Tulu artists who migrated from Karnataka to other languages

Konkani actors who have worked for Kannada cinema

Guest appearances made by other film industry personalities

Almost all singers have given playback and female actors have acted in the movies from other industries.

See also

  • Kannada films of 2011
  • Kannada films of 2010
  • Kannada films of 2009
  • Kannada films of 2008
  • Kannada films of 2007
  • Kannada films of 2006
  • Kannada films of 2005
  • Kannada films of 2004
  • Kannada films of 2003
  • Kannada films of 2002
  • Kannada films of 2001
  • Kannada films of 2000
  • List of Kannada movies
  • List of movie-related topics


  1. ^ Sandalwood's Gain. Deccan Herald. January 23, 2006
  2. ^ Young talent applauded. Deccan Herald. December 28, 2003
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ "First film to talk in Kannada" article in The Hindu
  6. ^ "Bangalore: No Production of Kannada Films for One Year". DaijiWorld. 30 September 2006.

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