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'Premier Studio' M.N.Basavarajaiah is Dead

Mr. M.N. Basavarajaiah, 92, a pioneer in film industry, died in Mysore on July 14. The last rites took place later in the day. The owner of the once prestigious film studio, the Premier Studios on the Mysore-Hunsur Road, Mr. Basavarajaiah was ailing since a long time. He had been admitted to a local private hospital on May 27. His end came after a heart attack.

A doyen in Karnataka's film industry, Mr. Basavarajaiah, built a full-fledged film studio on a 10 acre land in Mysore. He purchased the 'Chittaranajan Mahal' bungalow and its lands from the Mysore Maharaja in 1954 and developed it into a famous studio. Earlier to this, Mysore had its first studio, the Navajyothi Studio, started by Mr. Ramaiah, an industrialist, in Saraswathipuram, the land where stands one of the JSS educational institutions now. As it did not have all the facilities for producing films and when it was shut down after a couple of year, most of the film producers had to go to Madras (present Chennai) for producing their films. Madras was then a famous centre for film production having a large number of film artistes and facilities.

Born in 1912 as the son of Mr. Naganna, a businessman, Mr. Basavarajaiah was working in a private insurance company and subsequently had started his own insurance company under the name, Premier Life and General Insurance Company. Over the years, it had grown vastly with about 60 branches all over the country and Pakistan with a number of clients, including top personalities. Later, his company was merged with the New India Assurance Company, when the private insurance sector was nationalized by the Government of India.

Seeing the pitiable plight of film producers in Karnataka and the Kannada film industry, Mr. Basavarajaiah took the challenging task of building a huge studio with his own funds and efforts. Well equipped with sets and modern facilities, the studio, which was declared open by the then Chief Minister, Mr. Kengal Hanumanthayya, began to attract a number of film producers and film personalities to produce their films in Mysore. With his unceasing efforts, the Premier Studios became a prestigious studio in South India and films in all languages like Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi, Tulu, Konkani and even a few English and Italian films were produced here. Veteran film personalities like Mr. Shankar Singh, Mr. B.R.Panthulu, Mr. Y.R.Swami, Mr. G.V.Iyer, Mr. R.Nagendra Rao, Mr. Puttanna Kanagal, Mr. Manirathnam, Mr. Balachander and others produced their films in this studio. Among the several noted film actors who attended shooting on the sets of this studio included famous artistes like Miss Jayalalithaa, the present Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Dr. Rajkumar, M.G.Ramachandran, Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Amrohi and Kamala Hasan, to name a few. The studio also gave job opportunities for a large number of technicians and junior artistes. Over 1,000 films have been produced in this studio till recently. They included the popular Hindi films, "Shola and Shabnam" and "Pakeezah". One of the earliest films to be made here was "Sthree Rathna" in Kannada, by Mr. Basavarajaiah himself. He had also produced "Vamsha Vruksha", the award winning Kannada film. He had been awarded the prestigious Dr. Raj Kumar award in 1996-97 in recognition of his service to the film industry.

The studio and its owner suffered the major setback during the production of the Hindi film, "The Sword of Tipu Sultan" by Mr. Sanjay Khan. A devastating fire on the sets killed 62 film artistes, technicians and workers, some of them leading personalities in their field. The fire which occurred in 1989 came as a rude shock to Mr. Basavarajaiah, who was booked for violation of various rules. With his advancing age and failing health, and beset with a host of problems, Mr. Basavarajaiah went into oblivion in the film industry. His studio almost ceased activity.

Apart from pioneering the film industry in Karnataka, Mr. Basavarajaiah was chiefly responsible for the introduction of subsidy for films produced in Karnataka by the Government of Karnataka.

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