Shankar Nag's 'Accident' And The Tale Of Two Bengalurus

Inspired by Greek filmmaker Costa-Gavras’ ‘Z’, Shankar Nag made the brooding ‘Accident’ as an intense gaze on both Bengaluru and Bangalore
Shankar Nag's 'Accident'
Shankar Nag's 'Accident'@bangalore_photos and @garageworx on Instagram

In 1985, actor-director Shankar Nag cast an intimate gaze on the city of Bengaluru in his film Accident and achieved what very few filmmakers, both prior to and since his time, have managed.

In the process of unravelling an event of crime, Nag and screenwriter Vasanth Mokashi paint a compelling portrait of Bengaluru in 1985 film Accident. Fittingly, the film has evolved as a seminal piece of work that is still recalled for its visual storytelling and for its tactful combining of an overt social message with a complex 'urban' human story. In the same vein, it wouldn't perhaps be far-fetched to claim that Accident is the only Kannada film, to date, that effortlessly brings together the two distinct and starkly contrasting parts of the city; i.e. the Kannada-speaking old town and the more Anglicized or western 'cantonment' region.

In the Heat of the Night

The story, as the title suggests, follows an accident that occurs in the dead of one night. Two young, 20-something men, Deepak (Ashok Mandanna) and Rahul (Srinivas Prabhu), cruise around in a swanky Buick completely hopped up on weed, booze and prescription pills. Their day, we are shown, begins with the former picking up the latter on any typical afternoon and then procuring some marijuana. Deepak is on the wheel while Rahul does the dirty deed, stealthily scoring the 'soppu' from an unassuming, kurta-pajama-wearing man. Moments later, MJ's Beat It plays on the stereo while Rahul draws on his spliff and Deepak drives them to their intended destination of a house party.

"Innu Soppu thagond bandilva?" ("Soppu isn't here yet?") asks one of the party folk, quite irately. To her absolute luck, Deepak and Rahul show up at the door like two knights with the goodies. The party, officially, has now come to life. Paul McCartney's Keep Under Cover spins on the record player and everyone's up on their feet. 

"Sex and smoke - olle combination alva?" ("Sex and smoke—is there a better combination?"), says Rahul to one of the girls at the party, someone he has known quite well. "Aha? How is your mother, Rahul?" she replies to trigger an annoyed look. A couple of scenes later we learn that Rahul's mother, a single woman, is currently in a relationship with a man whom he vehemently disapproves of; he even calls him minda which, in urban lingo, refers to a man who indulges in illicit sexual relations. 

A poster of the film
A poster of the film

Seeing his mother, a middle-aged, independent woman who operates as the chief of an advertising agency, share the bed with another man is evidently a blow to Rahul's ego. But, interestingly, that isn't the first one of his night. We gather that Rahul is a bit of a problem child. He tries to "get close" to women at parties and is duly turned down. Later on, in the car, he even forces himself on one of his friends. Thankfully, she retaliates with smacks that calm him down, at least momentarily.  

His bruised pride now seeks to salvage the night and chase a bigger high, just so he can forget everything. Deepak, to whom Rahul could best be described as his man-Friday, is reluctant but being appropriately drunk and stoned, he gives in. In the bargain, he gets to zip through the arterial MG Road of Bengaluru in his white stallion and wield the power his father, a sworn-in minister, has pocked-moneyed him. Except that Deepak doesn't know when to pull the reins and soon enough, his Buick has run over an array of sleeping pavement dwellers. His car crushes almost everyone to a brutal death, leaving behind splatters of blood and mayhem. 

The Costa-Gavras Impact

For Nag, the first clincher to make Accident is said to be Vasanth Mukashi's script that was inspired by a real event that took place in Mumbai. "I remember picking up an evening newspaper one day and reading about a car running over 11 people in front of Bombay (now Mumbai) Central," recalls Vasanth Mukashi.

Interestingly, he adds, the incident made the headlines probably for about two days and suddenly vanished. "If you know the makeup of Bombay Central back then, the southern end was the red-light town called Kamathipura which functioned 24/7. And right opposite (Bombay Central) is the ST Bus Depot, which was alive day and night," he says to suggest that there was no dearth of witnesses. Yet, a kind of political power audaciously swallowed the crime from public consciousness.


Vasanth Mukashi would then move to Bengaluru with a script in hand inspired by this gross event, even wanting to direct the film at one point. But, having faced rejections from the mainstream producers, he would approach Anant Nag and the script would eventually land at the actor's younger brother Shankar Nag's table.

"Shankar supposedly told Anant Nag that I could direct any other film in the world but only he would direct Accident," adds Vasanth Mukashi. Known for his penchant for the off-the-beaten track as a filmmaker (despite being a bona fide superstar), Shankar Nag would dedicate all his energy to this endeavour.

"I suppose there was a great need felt within him to make a closer-to-life film like Minchina Ota (1980) and step away from the more commercial oeuvre of Geetha (1981) and Januma Janumada Anubandha (1980). Accident was also a medium to 'sharpen his tools'," says Arundhati Nag, Shankar Nag’s wife and also one of the film’s cast members.

More importantly, both Vasanth Mukashi and Shankar Nag were huge admirers of the Greek Master Costa-Gavras' work, particularly his 1969 classic Z. And the 'dialect' of that film is apparent in the way Accident is moulded.

Costa-Gavras' Z
Costa-Gavras' Z

"Making the small seem big and the big, in turn, seem small - I think that's what Z did for us,” Arundhati Nag adds. “If you notice, the impact of Z is quite prominent—the editing pattern, the anti-establishment perspective or just the way he digs deep into the lives of its characters. Alongside, you can even spot The Deer Hunter (1978 American war film) soundtrack.”

For Vasanth Mukashi, though, the film was potentially a channel for a wishful 'what if' in which the common man swims against the massive tide of political power and triggers a revolution. A major part of that revolution is the character of Ravi, an investigative journalist played by Shankar Nag himself. 

Turns out that the accident that occurred the other night left behind one wounded survivor Ramanna (T.S. Nagabharana) who happens to be an indigent farmer from North Karnataka, like those tragically crushed by Deepak's car. Ravi seeks out this man caught in the colossal clash with the mighty & the corrupt and dares to get to the bottom of the crime with the help of Inspector Rao (played by Ramesh Bhat). Together, the duo doubles down on the intensity to seek justice and enable a poetic ending that invokes the sensibilities of the Hollywood cinema of the '70s, such as Taxi Driver (1976) and All the President's Men (1976).

"The film almost plays out like a relay race," suggests Vasanth Mukashi, highlighting that one incident involving a common man, exposing the city's social hierarchy.

Although Z adopts a much larger canvas compared to Accident, one could easily find the storytelling to be starkly similar between the two films. There's a no-frills approach in both films and a kind of palpable grit or stillness with which the story unfolds, meaning that neither of the two filmmakers spoon-feed us. Everything happens in a matter-of-fact, 'procedural' manner sans any love story or the usual commercial tropes. And incidentally, with both films being politically bent (one obviously more than other), they were made on significantly low budgets.

"Ilaiyaraaja, who scored the film’s soundtrack, said outright that we won't be able to afford him! So, Shankar simply got the tracks (the BGM) recorded and then placed them appropriately. That's what he did in the case of Malgudi Days as well - Vydi (L. Vydyanathan) just gave tracks," shares Arundhati Nag.

Arundhati Nag plays the role of Mayarani, Rahul's mother, in the film. In the large scheme of things, a character such as this is normally relegated to the background because it is treated as insignificant by the maker. But thanks to the ornate script, Shankar Nag doesn't tell the story in broad strokes but rather opts to dig deep into the personal lives of his central characters. We understand that Deepak is the way he is because of his father’s political strength but Rahul's situation is far more intricate. We understand that Rahul's troubled equation with his mother is one of the main causes of his waywardness, of his complete regard for human life, let alone her autonomy. 

A behind-the-scene still
A behind-the-scene still

That ‘essence’ of Bengaluru

But despite the strong Gavras inspiration, Shankar Nag manages to make Accident his own artistic rendition by bringing the city of Bengaluru to the fore. The film essentially takes you into its fold through tiny details of urban life and paints a most veristic picture of a very specific demographic of the city. Nag's realm involves rich kids who listen to American or Brit pop music, who dress and speak as “Westerners”, who openly discuss sex, and who are soaked in wealth and comfort. It then juxtaposes this group with that of Ramanna, who has reached the city in hopes of resurrecting life after facing a serious drought back home. The director knows that in order to elicit an honest reaction from the viewer and underline the socio-political condition of present-day Bengaluru, he must first build a detailed and precise world. 

But, again, like Costa-Gavras, he must not spoonfeed us. For that, his account of either of the two demographics cannot be wishy-washy. So, in this earnest pursuit, Shankar Nag creates an unusual 'Bangalore film' that shows the city as a layered, complex entity one hardly has got to see on celluloid. As pointed out already, the film wipes out that invisible line, that demarcation that existed between the two (or even more) worlds—the native and the colonial, the traditional and the "western", the Bengaluru and the Bangalore—breathing under the same roof and presents it as a well-wrought, idiosyncratic place. 

If Ravi, Inspector Rao, Ramanna and Dharmadhikari and his clique belong to the former territory, Deepak, Rahul and their kind belong to the more "cosmopolitan" world of the city. What's important, though, is that neither of the two sides are seen as outsiders. Just as they all speak fluent Kannada, the film unites them as figures of the city’s polarity. 

To understand this aspect better, it is important to note that Bengaluru's tryst with Kannada cinema has been an interesting one. For the longest time, Bengaluru has held a dichotomous and tentative position in Kannada cinema, often fluctuating between being a city of dreams and an epicentre of potential moral corruption. 

"The cantonment or the 'non-Kannada' side of Bengaluru almost did not exist for Kannada filmmakers," asserts revered film theorist, critic and author M.K. Raghavendra. Politics, both state and central, he says, played a huge role in the kind of light that Bengaluru was placed under in cinema and the ‘hegemony’ of the Old Mysuru ethos, too, is a huge factor in this discussion. 

“You must know that Mysuru is an important element of identity in Kannada cinema," M.K. Raghavendra says. "And Bengaluru is not quite Mysuru—it has similarities with respect to the traditional culture but it also has parts that are colonised, English-speaking. Only certain parts of Bengaluru are said to carry that essence of Mysuru. So, in a manner of speaking, there is a clash of personalities here. Since Mysuru was the epicentre of Kannada cinema until the longest time, neighbourhoods like Indira Nagar, Koramangala, Fraser Town, etc. were never seen in our films. It’s almost as though they belong to a foreign territory, and the Kannada film protagonist’s experiences aren’t particularly relevant here. 

Accident, therefore, can best be seen as an anomaly because it simply wasn’t part of Kannada cinema’s framework of the time. It was made on a small budget and Shankar Nag himself regarded it as "avant-garde" at the time. The film could even be classified as middle-cinema or arthouse, meaning that it’s not a Kannada film but a national film.”

The Outsider Gaze

It is possible that Shankar Nag’s own ‘outsider’ take on Bengaluru played a huge role in how Accident was shaped. Arundhati Nag candidly terms the two of them as slightly "out-of-place" kids who came to Bangalore from Bombay in the late 1970s. The two of them, she says, loved frequenting The Only Place, the legendary eatery on Museum Road, for their pizzas. The restaurant, known for its steaks, pies, burgers and all things American, was once flanked by a design studio on one side and a coffin-maker’s workshop on the other.

"Shankar was besotted by the dichotomy of that place," Arundhati Nag remembers fondly. The Only Place is also where his character Ravi, in the film, meets Inspector Rao for a stealthy meeting. 

The Only Place, Facebook

But Accident isn't the first movie, let alone a Kannada movie, to be enamoured by this "cool" and "hip" status of Bengaluru. The city was always hailed and envied by its southern counterparts for its fun and enterprising personality, highlighted by its good smattering of pubs, discos, bars and whatnot. 

In Dorai-Bhagwan's Jedara Bale (1968), Dr. Rajkumar's CID 999 (a funky take on 007) arrives in Bengaluru to crack an important mission and enjoys a cabaret performance, indulging in the city’s snazzy nightlife. In S.V. Rajendra Singh Babu's Antha (1981), Bengaluru becomes the nucleus of the cold-blooded gangster Kanwar Lal, who is the head honcho of a massive counterfeit currency/human trafficking syndicate. In Singeetham Srinivasa Rao's Pushpak (1987), the city is the host of its unemployed protagonist's existential quest and in Balu Mahendra's Moodu Pani (1980), Bengaluru is the playground of a psycho killer (Prathap Pothan) who has unmeasured hatred for sex workers. 

For Balu Mahendra, especially, Bengaluru turned out to be one of his preferred places for his many eccentric musings. If Moodu Pani was about violence and unhinged behaviour, the city's idyllic, 'small-town' nature gave birth to more tender notes in films like Kokila (1977), Moondram Pirai (1982) and Pallavi Anu Pallavi (1983, only as cinematographer). In his seminal comedy Sathi Leelavathi (1995), Bengaluru then morphs into a getaway, vacation town for a couple looking to kick off an illicit affair.


Vacation, curiously, becomes an operative word for South Indian cinema while dealing with Bengaluru. In Rajiv Anchal's Butterflies (1993), Mohanlal and Aishwarya, in the company of a few kids, prance around the wide, open tree-lined roads of the city, singing a happy tune in bright-hued costumes. In K.S. Ravikumar's Panchathanthiram (2002), Kamal Haasan's friends bring him down to Bengaluru specifically for a "fun" night with an escort. Many years later in Anjali Menon's Bangalore Days (2014), three cousins enjoy a life full of vibrancy in the city while they simultaneously face up to personal challenges. In Jithu Madhavan's recently-released Aavesham, the city is both a source of torture and haven for three college students, who befriend a Malayali don living in the city.

There is no doubt that Bengaluru straddles both these identities with equal eloquence. But the fact remains that like any other booming metropolis, its essence lies somewhere in between. Or even beyond that blatant binary. Basav Biradar, a well-known academician, documentary filmmaker and writer, opines that this isn't a "cinematic city" like the Mumbais or the Kolkatas, which have been vividly captured over the years with just visuals. Bengaluru, on the other hand, he suggests, exists more as a subtextual space.

"Accident probably peeled off more layers of Bengaluru than any other film, especially in terms of the socio-political tensions that existed (and still do) in the city," says Basav. "Cinematically, it may not be represented like Mumbai in Deewaar (1975) or Satya (1998), but for those who know the place, Accident shows you many sides of the city."

Deewaar (1975)
Deewaar (1975)

The Epilogue

So, why does Accident stand out in this long and jumbled discussion? The reason, of course, is that unlike most other filmmakers trying to establish Bengaluru as a character, Shankar Nag views the city from within, as its valiant representative and not as a visitor. I might be contradicting myself here, having already termed him an outsider, but the essence lies in that very duality.

There's no doubt that the Bengaluru we get to see in the film is the Bengaluru that Nag knew firsthand - urbane, orthodox, complex, corrupt and so much more. Even the people we meet in the film, it is highly possible that he had crossed paths with all of them - both the Deepaks and the Ramannas - with the same sense of familiarity. But as M.K. Raghavendra notes, his being removed from the conventional system of the Kannada Film Industry allows him to dare something new and out-of-the-box. Unlike a majority of the films, both local and non-Kannada, that use Bengaluru as their backdrop, Accident not only accentuates the "personality" of the city but also uses its traits to make a much larger, more relevant point.

More importantly, the film is an endeavour of a superstar who wishes to use his status for something beyond the ordinary. "While he was doing those routine dancing around the trees, seven fights per movie and thriving as the "Karate King" of Karnataka, the passion for this kind of storytelling was there all along," adds Arundhati Nag, whose creative involvement in all his projects remains understated. 

For her, the experience of making the film remains close to her heart. She talks admiringly about how Shankar Nag would meticulously prepare for the shoot, leaving no stone unturned for the rare opportunity of making a film like Accident. She also talks about how he put together a cast of theatre actors who weren't necessarily well-known among audiences but were fitting to the world he was presenting. And she still recalls the countless small yet fascinating anecdotes from the making of the film, from borrowing coffee planter Puttu Chittiappa's house to agreeing to "model" for Mid-Day, the news publication, in exchange for their office space (where the party scene was shot)! "He saw these films as God-sent opportunities," she says before signing off. 

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