Karnataka Film City: Why Siddaramaiah wants to move fast on elusive project
The Kannada film industry, with a rich history spanning 89 years, has developed a steadfast practice of seeking the support of each new government to address its perennial issues. Refusing to break the custom, a delegation comprising representatives of Kannada cinema met with Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Tuesday, reiterating their long-standing demand for establishing a dedicated Film City – a demand they have upheld for decades.
Interestingly, it has become a regular practice for government officials to advocate for the establishment of the Film City project in their respective hometowns. Siddaramaiah, for instance, has expressed his desire to develop the Film City in his own Varuna constituency near Mysuru, while HD Kumaraswamy has shown a keen interest in having it established in Ramanagara, his native constituency.
During his tenure as CM, BS Yediyurappa had expressed his intention to bring the Film City project to Bengaluru. However, with the Congress party returning to power under Siddaramaiah’s leadership, the Varuna constituency has once again emerged as the favoured destination for Sandalwood, a colloquial term for the Kannada cinema industry.
A cultural concern is now a political issue
The delegation which met Siddaramaiah comprised representatives of Kannada cinema, including national award recipient filmmakers Girish Kasaravalli, P Sheshadri, B S Lingadevaru, senior filmmaker and former chairman Karnataka Chalanachitra Academy S V Rajendra Singh Babu, N R Nanjunde Gowda, T N Seetharam, Krishne Gowda and others.
Besides demanding the development of the Film City, the delegation also sought land for ‘Gandhada Gudi’ Housing Development Cooperative Society to build houses for Kannada cine fraternity near Varuna, the location of the Film City. Siddaramaiah, it appears, understood the politics behind the demand and assured the delegation to discuss the issue of the Film City threadbare in the next meeting.
What was once a cultural concern, the development of the Film City has now turned into a politically charged issue for political parties and their leaders. Moreover, the choice of location for the Film City has become a contentious issue, leading to a division within the Kannada film industry itself. The demand for a Film City gained substantial momentum when prominent Kannada cinema icons, Rishab Shetty and Yash, emphasized the necessity of such a facility on various government platforms.
Five-decade old project
When D. Devaraj Urs was the Chief Minister of Karnataka in 1972, the then Congress government identified adequate land for the project in Hesaraghatta area, an hour’s drive from Bengaluru. Urs even laid the foundation stone for this project and planned to develop the Film City in three phases.
His intention was to offer it as a gift to Kannadigas on the occasion of Mysuru state being renamed as Karnataka in 1973. Urs’s plan was to hand over the project to Karnataka Film Development Corporation (KFDC). But the project did not take off and it continues to remain a distant and elusive aspiration for Kannada film industry despite the passage of 50 years.
Siddaramaiah is heading the Congress government at a time when Karnataka is celebrating its golden jubilee of the renaming of the south-central Indian state of Mysuru as Karnataka. There seems to be a sincere determination to pursue the Film City project. He wants to take up the project in all earnestness and dedicate the same to Kannadigas and his beloved leader of backward classes, Devaraj Urs, to honour his memory.
The private initiative
In the 1980s, when Ramakrishna Hegde became the chief minister, he decided to take up the Film City project further and earmarked 200 acres in Hesaraghatta. But the plan failed to materialise. When the government failed to undertake the Film City project, the Kannada film fraternity, especially Parvathamma Rajkumar, K C N Chandrashekar and V Ravichandran, came forward to commence the project as a private initiative.
They asked the government to grant 10 acres of land each for the Film City. Ravichandran even made a presentation to chief minister H D Deve Gowda in 1994. But the government did not show initiative for public-private partnership then. The S M Krishna government in 1999 revived the idea of Film City, but it met with little success.
Kannada film industry renewed its demand for the Film City when Siddaramaiah became the Chief Minister in 2013. The Congress government agreed to set up the Film City in the Himmavu area of Nanjangud in Varuna constituency. The government acquired an area of 110 acres and earmarked Rs 500 crore for the project.
When HD Kumaraswamy took over as the CM of the Congress and JD (S) coalition government, he wanted to relocate the Film City from Mysuru to Ramanagara. Siddaramaiah, who was the Chairman of the Coalition Coordination Committee (CCC), asked Kumaraswamy in August 2018 to drop the idea of shifting the project from Mysuru.
Siddaramaiah cited the existence of Navajyothi and Premiere Studios in Mysuru, way back in 1945, in support of his argument and forced Kumaraswamy against taking hasty decision, citing that it was the dream of Kannada matinee idol Dr Rajkumar to have the Film City in Mysuru. Interestingly, DK Shivakumar, who is the Deputy Chief Minister now, supported Kumaraswamy then.
When Yediyurappa became the Chief Minister again, he planned to develop the Film City in an area of 468 acres of Roerich estate. But Basavaraj Bommai, who replaced Yediyurappa, favoured Mysuru again. Now, with Siddaramaiah returning to power, he wants to complete the project at warpath, as it is coming up in his Assembly constituency.
Upon assuming the CM’s office once more, Yediyurappa proposed the development of the Film City on a sprawling 468-acre area of the Roerich estate. However, with Basavaraj Bommai taking over as his successor, the focus shifted back to Mysuru. Now, with Siddaramaiah’s return to power, he wants to move fast forward with the project under his administration, particularly since it is coming up in his own Assembly constituency.