Veteran Kannada director-producer SK Bhagavan dies at 90

Since their debut movie ‘Jedara Bale’ (1968), the first of many Bond films in Sandalwood, the director duo Dorai-Bhagavan collaborated on at least 27 projects.

ByShashiprasad S M

Published Feb 20, 2023 | 1:39 PM Updated Feb 20, 2023 | 1:59 PM

sk bhagavan kannada

Always well-dressed and well-mannered, SK Bhagavan was a class apart as a filmmaker. He breathed his last at Jayadeva Hospital in Bengaluru due to age-related ailments at 6.15 am today, 20 February.

He was 90 and is survived by his two sons and a daughter.

According to his family members, Bhagavan’s mortal remains will be shifted to Raveendra Kalakshetra from his residence in Sahakara Nagar for the public to pay their last respects. The final rituals will be carried out as per Hindu customs.

Shiva Rajkumar pays tributes

sk bhagavan with shiva rajkumar

SK Bhagavan with actor Shiva Rajkumar. (Supplied)

Paying tributes to the director, Kannada actor-producer Dr Shiva Rajkumar told South First that he shared a special bond with Bhagavan.

“I have known him since my childhood. More than a filmmaker, he was like a father figure to us. He was closely associated with our family, especially with appaji (Dr Rajkumar) in every aspect of our life beyond films.”

He felt that SK Bhagavan did great justice to Kannada literature and movies that were adapted from novels.

“When we think about social drama in Kannada movies, it is filmmakers like Siddalingaiah and SK Bhagavan who showcased the genre effectively on the silver screen. Like Puttanna Kanagal, Bhagavan too gave a lot of emphasis to women-centric issues,” Shiva Rajkumar added.

The actor said his latest movie Vedha, made under his banner Geetha Pictures, reflected a similar issue (harassment) and was inspired by filmmakers like Bhagavan.

“It was saddening to learn of the demise of such a great personality. I pray for his soul and strength to his family members. We are with them in these times.”

Debuted as an actor

Not many know that Bhagavan made his entry into the film industry to become an actor, and in fact, he did so.

Senior film critic S Shyam Prasad noted that SK Bhagavan made his debut as an actor with Bhagyodaya. “It was during the same period when Dr Rajkumar made his silver screen debut. Eventually, his first film in the lead as a hero was Mangala Sutra in the 1950s.”

poster of kasturi nivasa movie

A poster of SK Bhagavan’s directorial ‘Kasturi Nivasa’ featuring Dr Rajkumar. (Supplied)

Then what made him shift his focus to direction? Back then, when the studio system was the norm, directors were paid more when compared to actors who had a fixed payment, either monthly or weekly basis.

“This made Bhagavan opt for direction. The renowned Kannada filmmaker Puttanna Kanagal worked as an assistant director for him before he went on to become an independent director,” Shyam Prasad explained.

The Dorai-Bhagavan duo

Soon after quitting acting, Bhagavan became an independent director with Vidhi Vilasa (1961).

Later, after a gap of seven years, he collaborated with cinematographer Dorai Raj to direct Jedara Bale. It is not just Kannada’s but India’s first-ever Bond film.

Dr Rajkumar played the character of “CID 999”. Its huge success led to three more sequels of the spy thriller: Goa Dalli CID 999, Operation Jackpot Nalli CID 999, and Operation Diamond Racket.

Director duo Dorai-Bhagavan was known for adaptations of novels for their social dramas. They delivered around 15-17 movies based on Kannada novels. They even produced a few under their banners.

Senior filmmakers in Sandalwood revealed that when Dr Rajkumar was paid ₹6,000 as remuneration in Dorai-Bhagavan’s Jedara Bale. He was eventually paid ₹6 lakhs when the director duo signed him for Samayada Gombe (1984).

With Anant Nag & Vishnuvardhan

The directors shared a special bond with Dr Rajkumar’s family and they were favourites of many A-listers.

After Rajkumar, it was Anant Nag who featured the most in their direction.

Benkiya Bale (1983) is one of the finest that was again based on a novel with the same title by TR Subba Rao. Legendary actor Vishnuvardhan, too, acted in their direction.

Dr Rajkumar as CID 999

Later Dr Rajkumar as CID 999 in Bond films directed by Dorai-Bhagavan. (Supplied)

His best

Jedara Bale, his debut collaboration with Dorai Raj, is considered to be a path-breaking movie in the Kannada film industry.

His other notable works with Dr Rajkumar include Kasturi Nivasa, Eradu Kanasu, and Jeevana Chaitra.

Benkiya Bale starring Anant Nag and Lakshmi is again considered a masterpiece.

After his partner, Dorai Raj passed away in 2000, Bhagavan directed his last film, Aduva Gombe (2018). Interestingly, he shared the credit for his direction with his late partner Dorai Raj as a tribute to him.


Liked by all, SK Bhagavan had a persona of himself. He was always seen well-dressed, mostly in suits, even in his 80s. Many remember him being an independent person and often driving his car everywhere.

He was a voracious reader. The reason why he made several films based on novels.

He kept a tab on everything in society. He was a great adviser.

Related: Classic Kannada song Mellusire Savigana recreated

Even if he was not directing, many would approach him for his assistance and his views on filmmaking, a quality which he shared with Dr Rajkumar’s family till his last days.

Bhagavan was also one of the members of Shakthidhama Women’s Rehabilitation and Development Centre. It was founded by the late producer Parvathamma Rajkumar to support women in distress and to educate underprivileged girls.