N R SQUARE: Karnataka Chalanachitra Academy is hosting a tribute to mark the birth centenary of legendary Kannada theatre-film actor, producer and singer C Honnappa Bhagavathar on Saturday and Sunday.
The academy will host a seminar and screen three films, Mahakavi Kalidasa, Pancharatna and Jagajyothi Basaveshwar, to mark the occasion in his honour.
Life and Achievement
C Honnappa Bhagavathar, born on January 14, 1915 in Chowdasandra, Nelamangala, was interested in music from childhood. He took part in bhajan singing, plays and folk art activities while growing up at his mother’s hometown Motaganahalli after his father’s death and learnt how to play instruments like harmonium and tabla.
Honnappa moved to Bengaluru in 1928 and continued his family occupation of weaving with his brother.
Bengaluru opened the doors of opportunities for him as he continued his musical activities. He honed his skills under veteran Karnatak vocalist Sambashiva Murthy Bhagavathar and harmonium maestro Arunachalappa, soon carved a niche for himself and started giving concerts.
Noticing his vocals, G H Veeranna, founder of Gubbi Sri Channabasaveshwara Drama Company, invited him to join the company late 1930s. Honnappa made a popular actor in Gubbi company by playing lead roles in historical and social plays. Interestingly, he continued the practice of classical music.
Honnappa’s talent was at its zenith in 1937 when he presented a concert in Salem (Tamil Nadu) under the auspices of Salem Music Fans Association where he was given the title ‘Bhagavathar’. Thus, he became ‘Honnappa Bhagavathar’.
The success in music led to Tamil filmdom. First, he was invited to play a prominent role in the Tamil film Ambikapathi (1941). The pair of M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and Honnappa Bhagavathar weaved a magic among Tamil filmgoers. He worked the giants of Tamil films like MGR. He acted in more than 14 Tamil films including Krishna Kumar, Sathi Sukanya, Valmiki, Sri Murugan, Gunasagari and Deva Manohari and had a huge fan following in the early 1940s. The Gubbi company cast him as the lead actor in the Kannada film Subhadra’ with veteran actress B Jayamma (1941). He also sang under the music direction of Padmanabha Shastry in this film. The film was a big success and thus he entered Kannada filmdom.
In an article, veteran Kannada film music historian N S Sridharamurthy, says, “In Tamil, there was no other actor who knew both acting and music that time, and he bagged all the offers. Though he was a Tamil superstar, his heart beat for Kannada. He produced Bhakta Kumbara’ and used the Kannada orchestra for it. He composed music for Mahakavi Kalidasa as he had specific views on music. He has used pure Karnatak ragas like Navarasa Ranjini, Shuddha Dhanyasi, besides classical instruments like flute, mridangam and veena. His contribution to Kannada filmdom is unique.”
In the latter part of 1940s, Honnappa Bhagavathar focused on Kannada films. He produced, composed music and acted in Bhakta Kumbara in 1947 which was a huge success. He also acted in many films including Hemareddy Mallamma and Gunasagari (1953). Actress Pandaribai was introduced to Kannada through Gunasagari. He produced, composed music and also acted in Mahakavi Kalidasa (1955) and Pancharathna (1956). He introduced actress B Saroja Devi and director Ku Ra Seetharama Shastry (Kurasee, who also made as a lyricist in later years) through Mahakavi Kalidasa.
In 1959, he played the lead in Jagajyothi Basaveshwara (1959). Thespian Rajkumar also acted in this film. Both Mahakavi Kalidasa and Jagajyothi Basaveshwara secured national awards. He produced the film Uzhavukkum Tozhilukkum Vandanai Seivom at the time and incurred a huge loss.
Starting early 1960s, he turned to theatre and founded Uma Maheshwara Nataka Mandali and staged a number of Kannada plays. He had to stop due to financial constraints. But he continued his music.
A Host of Awards
He was an ‘A’ grade artiste of All India Radio and a well-known Vaggeyakara. He has composed more than 300 kritis in both Kannada and Telugu.
His musical compositions have been brought out through the book Omkara Nadasudha in 1983. He received many awards including the Best Actor award by Madras Cine Fans Association (1956), Natyacharya, Ganabhinaya Chandra titles, Gana Kala Gandharva, Gana Kala Bhushana (1976), Gana Shikhamani gold medal from Sringeri Jagadguru (1976), and Karnataka Sangeetha Nataka Academy award (1972). He was the first Kannadiga to receive Central Sangeet Natak Academy fellowship (1979).
He was on AIR’s Sugama Sangeetha panel, State Film Advisory Committee and a music examiner for the state board exams. He re-entered filmdom as a producer and actor in Sadanada, based on an M K Indira novel, in 1977. He was founder-member and vice-president of Karnataka Gana Kala Parishat. He was felicitated with the Rajyotsava award in 1986. He passed away in Bengaluru on October 1, 1991.
* Tribute to Honnappa Bhagavathar, Jan 17 and 18, Badami House, Corporation Circle.