A doyen of film production
The Premier Studio in Mysore stands as a testimony to M N Basavarajaiah’s contribution to Kannada film industry. S N DEEPAK pays tribute to the
veteran film producer who passed away on July 14.
The contribution of Mysore Naganna Basavarajaiah to Kannada cinema is invaluable. Apart from owning the prestigious Premier Studio, he produced films like Streerathna and Chudamani, and co-produced the path-breaking film Vamshavriksha (1970). Basavarajaiah is perhaps most remembered even today for his crucial role in securing the state government subsidy for Kannada films that proved to be an incentive for the industry to survive the intense competition.
At one time, Basavarajaiah’s name was synonymous with Premier, the studio he established in Mysore. Thanks to his pioneering efforts, film production and studio facilities improved drastically in the Kannada film industry.
During the 1940s, Navajyothi studio was the nerve centre of film activities in Kannada. Mounting production costs and falling number of films forced the closure of the only studio in the city, shifting the focus of film makers to Madras, which was the hub of South Indian films.
At this critical juncture, Basavarajaiah bought a 10-acre land and built the Premier Studio in Mysore with modern facilities. It was inaugurated by Kengal Hanumanthaiah on August 6, 1954. The land had a princely palace which can be seen even today.
Twelve years of hard work finally paid off, when the studio started attracting the attention of the film makers both at home and abroad. Kannada industry showed signs of growth and many like Basavarajaiah thought support from the state government would help the fledgling industry. The producer’s requests to the then Chief Minister of Mysore, S Nijalingapa yielded results when the Finance Minister Ramakrishna Hegde agreed to provide a subsidy of Rs 50,000 for Kannada films.
By then, the popularity of Premier Studio had grown far and wide.
The studio had seven floors and several state-of-the-art facilities that attracted film makers in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, Hindi, Bengali and even English.
So far, the number of films shot in the studio exceeds 300, of which most of them are in Kannada. Most of the popular directors like Puttanna Kanagal, B R Panthulu, Shankar Singh and R Nagendra Rao have shot their films here. Hindi films like the ever-popular Sholay, Pakeeza, Shola aur Shabnam and the English film Elephant Boy feature the glittering background of the Premier Studio. The period between 1966-73 can be termed as the golden period of the studio.
Basavarajaiah produced the film Streerathna in 1954, in which K S Ashwath, the famous character artist, made his debut. Vamshavriksha, which he co-produced with G V Iyer, brought Girish Karnad and B V Karanth to limelight as directors.
After 1973, the fortune of Premier Studio steadily declined as Bangalore became an alternative centre for film makers. The major fire accident on March 29, 1989, during the shooting of Sanjay Khan’s teleserial for Doordarshan The Sword of Tipu Sultan was the final nail in the coffin for the studio. The tragedy claimed 62 lives and brought its proud owner to the court.
Sources close to Basavarajaiah reveal he was more devastated by the loss of lives than the damage to his property. The fire may have caused heavy financial loss, but it did little to the towering reputation of Basavarajaiah.
The Government of Karnataka honoured him with the highest recognition, ‘Dr Rajkumar Award’ in 1998.
Though he carved a niche for himself in the film industry, Basavarajaiah originally started his career as the inheritor of his father’s insurance company. The company had a branch in Pakistan and boasted of an impressive clientele like Jawaharlal Nehru, until it was amalgamated into the nationalised insurance sector.
Basavarajaiah even produced a teleserial for Doordarshan, but the still standing Premier Studio would live as the testimony for his contribution to Kannada film industry.