Kannada cinema
No. of screens925 (as of 2022)[1]
  • 630 single screens (as of 2021-22),[1][2]
  • 260 multiplex screens (as of 2021)[2]
 • Per capita1.3 per 100,000
Main distributorsMahatma Pictures
Sri Vajreshwari Combines
Sri Eswari Combines
KCN Movies
Rockline Entertainments
Jayanna Combines
Thoogudeepa Distributors
Mars Distributors
PRK Productions
Paramvah Studios
Pushkar Films
Hombale Films
KRG Studios
Produced feature films (2019)[3]

Kannada cinema, also known as Sandalwood,[4] or Chandanavana,[5] is the segment of Indian cinema[6] dedicated to the production of motion pictures in the Kannada language widely spoken in the state of Karnataka.[7][8][9] Kannada cinema is based in Gandhi Nagar, Bangalore.[10] The 1934 film Sati Sulochana directed by Y. V. Rao was the first talkie film released in the Kannada language.[11][12][13] It was also the first film starring Subbaiah Naidu and Tripuramba, and the first screened in the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom.[14] It was produced by Chamanlal Doongaji, who in 1932 founded South India Movietone in Bangalore.[15][16]

Major literary works have been adapted to the Kannada screen, such as B. V. Karanth's Chomana Dudi (1975), (based on Chomana Dudi by Shivaram Karanth), Girish Karnad's Kaadu (1973), (based on Kaadu by Srikrishna Alanahalli), Pattabhirama Reddy's Samskara (1970) (based on Samskara by U. R. Ananthamurthy), which won the Bronze Leopard at Locarno International Film Festival,[17] and T. S. Nagabharana's Mysuru Mallige (1992), based on the works of poet K. S. Narasimhaswamy.[18]

Kannada cinema is known for producing experimental works such as Girish Kasaravalli's Ghatashraddha (1977), which won the Ducats Award at the Manneham Film Festival Germany,[19] Dweepa (2002), which won Best Film at Moscow International Film Festival,[20][21] Singeetam Srinivasa Rao's silent film Pushpaka Vimana (1987), Ram Gopal Varma's docudrama Killing Veerappan (2016), Prashanth Neel's action franchise K. G. F. film series being the highest-grossing Kannada film, and Rishab Shetty's Kantara (2022).[22]

Kannada cinema is reported to have 8% market share in the gross domestic box office collections for the period January to August 2022, making it the fourth-biggest Indian film industry.[23] The share rose to 9% by October 2022.[24] The total gross collections of the top five Kannada movies of 2022 in first ten months was reported to be ₹1800 crores.[25] The year 2022 began new era for the industry in terms of popularity, quality content and collections.[26] However, the market share of Kannada movies in the gross domestic box office collections declined to 2% in 2023[27] with the footfalls dropping from 8.1 to 3.2 crores in 2022.[28]


Early history

Kannada film doyen Honnappa Bhagavathar
Rajkumar on a 2009 stamp in India

In 1934, the first Kannada talkie, Sati Sulochana,[29] appeared in theatres, followed by Bhakta Dhruva (aka Dhruva Kumar). Sati Sulochana, starring Subbaiah Naidu and Tripuramba, was shot in Kolhapur at the Chatrapathi studio; most filming, sound recording, and post-production was done in Chennai.[30]

In 1949, Honnappa Bhagavathar, who had earlier acted in Gubbi Veeranna's films, produced Bhakta Kumbara and starred in the lead role along with Pandaribai. In 1955, Bhagavathar again produced a Kannada film, Mahakavi Kalidasa, in which he introduced actress B. Saroja Devi.[30] B. S. Ranga was an Indian photographer, actor, writer, producer and director made many landmark movies in Kannada, under Vikram Studios.[31]


Matinee idol, Rajkumar entered Kannada cinema after his long stint as a dramatist with Gubbi Veeranna's Gubbi Drama Company, which he joined at the age of eight, before he got his first break as a lead in the 1954 film Bedara Kannappa.[32]

He went on to essay a variety of roles and excelling in portraying mythological and historical characters in films such as Bhakta Kanakadasa (1960), Ranadheera Kanteerava (1960), Satya Harishchandra (1965), Immadi Pulikeshi (1967), Sri Krishnadevaraya (1970), Bhakta Kumbara (1974), Mayura (1975), Babruvahana (1977) and Bhakta Prahlada (1983). His wife Parvathamma Rajkumar founded Film production and distribution company, Vajreshwari Combines.[32]

Vishnuvardhan entered Kannada cinema with the National Award-winning movie Vamsha Vriksha (1972) directed by Girish Karnad based on the novel written by S. L. Bhyrappa. His first lead role was in Naagarahaavu, directed by Puttanna Kanagal and based on a novel by T. R. Subba Rao. It was the first in Kannada film history to complete 100 days in three main theatres of Bangalore. In his 37-year career, he has played a variety of roles in more than 200 films.[33]

Vishnuvardhan on 2013 Indian stamp

With his debut in Puttanna Kanagal's National Award-winning Kannada film Naagarahaavu (1972), Ambareesh's acting career commenced with a brief phase of portraying antagonistic and supporting characters. After establishing himself as a lead actor portraying rebellious characters on screen in a number of commercially successful films, he earned the moniker "rebel star".[34] He also earned the nickname Mandyada Gandu (transl. Man of Mandya)[35]

Rajkumar, Vishnuvardhan and Ambareesh are collectively known as Kannada cinema's triumvirate.

Method actor Shankar Nag received the inaugural IFFI Best Actor Award (Male): Silver Peacock Award" at the 7th International Film Festival of India for his work in the film Ondanondu Kaladalli.[36] He is the younger brother of actor Anant Nag.[37][38] M. V. Vasudeva Rao, the first Kannada actor to win National Film Award for Best Actor, was starred in over 200 films in his career; however, post Chomana Dudi, he only played minor roles.[39]

Actress B. Saroja Devi

B. Saroja Devi is one of the most successful female leads in the history of Indian cinema, she acted in around 200 films in over seven decades.[40] She is known by the epithets "Abinaya Saraswathi" (Saraswati of acting) in Kannada and "Kannadathu Paingili" (Kannada's Parrot) in Tamil.[40]

M. V. Rajamma (first female producer of Indian cinema) and Pandari Bai are considered as the earliest female superstars of Kannada cinema. Other popular female actresses of 1970s through 1990s include Leelavathi, Kalpana, Aarathi, Bharathi, Jayanthi, Manjula, Malashree, Sudharani, Shruti, Tara among others.

Neo-realistic cinema

Main article: Parallel cinema

Kannada Cinema majorly contributed to the parallel cinema movement of India.[41] Directors like Girish Kasaravalli,[41] Girish Karnad,[42] G. V. Iyer[42] were the early names to join the movement. T. S. Nagabharana[43] and B. V. Karanth were also popular names in the movement. Puttanna Kanagal's films were however considered a bridge between Mainstream and Parallel Cinema.

Modern era

Prominent actors of the contemporary Kannada cinema

Prakash Raj began his acting career with Doordarshan serials such as Bisilu Kudure (Kannada) and Guddada Bhootha (Tulu and Kannada).[44] He later took up supporting roles in Kannada films such as Ramachari, Ranadheera, Nishkarsha and Lockup Death. He was known for his dialogue delivery and histrionics. His breakthrough role came in Harakeya Kuri, directed by K. S. L. Swamy starring Vishnuvardhan, with whom he had acted in other films such as Mithileya Seetheyaru, Muthina Haara and Nishkarsha. Prakash re-entered Kannada films through Nagamandala in 1997, directed by T. S. Nagabharana.[45] Veteran Kannada actor Shakti Prasad's son Arjun Sarja is known for his work in South Indian cinema.[46] He starred in movies such as Prasad; the film was screened at the Berlin Film Festival and Arjun received the Karnataka State Award for his performance in it.[47]

Sanchari Vijay's portrayal of a transgender won him the National Best Actor Award.[48][49][50] With the award, Vijay became the third actor after M. V. Vasudeva Rao, and Charuhasan to win the National Award for Best Actor for a performance in a Kannada film.[51]

Shiva Rajkumar is known for his work in Janumada Jodi, Anand, Ratha Sapthami, Nammoora Mandara Hoove, Om, Simhada Mari and Chigurida Kanasu. He acted in Sugreeva, which was shot in 18 hours. His Om, directed by Upendra, set a trend of gangster movies in Kannada and other film industries in India. It continues to be shown even to this day.[52]

Prominent directors of the contemporary Kannada cinema

Rockline Venkatesh founded Rockline Entertainments which has produced over twenty five films as of 2012.[53] New age actors - Yash, Darshan, Puneeth Rajkumar, Rakshit Shetty and Sudeepa are some of the highest paid actors in Sandalwood.[54][55][56] The Rakshit Shetty starrer Kirik Party went on to become one of the highest-grossing Kannada films by collecting ₹ 50 crores[57] against a production budget ₹ 4 crores[58] and completed 150 days in the main cities of Karnataka.[59]

The 2015 release RangiTaranga starring Nirup Bhandari and directed by Anup Bhandari, created overseas market for Kannada cinema with a mega release, amassing $318,000 in USA alone. It went on to become the first Kannada film to enter the New York Box office listing, the first Kannada film to complete 50 days in USA and the first Kannada movie ever to release in several countries across the world. It ran for 365 days in Bangalore.

In 2018, Yash starrer K.G.F: Chapter 1 became the first Kannada film to gross ₹250 crores at the box office. Its sequel, K.G.F: Chapter 2 (2022) made ₹ 1000 crores at the box office. Its teaser gained more than 250 million views on YouTube as of April 2022.[60][61][62] In 2022, Yash starrer K.G.F: Chapter 2 became the highest-grossing Kannada film of all time with a record collection of over ₹1000 crores within India itself.[63] Kananda cinema is reported to have 8% market share in the gross domestic box office collections for the period January to July 2022 making it the fourth biggest Indian film industry.[64]

Film scores

Composer Hamsalekha is usually referred to by the title Naadha Brahma (transl. The Brahma of Music) who is considered to be the major cause for the change in the music composing and lyric writing style which would appeal much to the younger generation. He integrated folk and introduced western musical sensibilities into the Kannada cinema.[65][66]

Mano Murthy scored the blockbuster film Mungaru Male starring Ganesh and Pooja Gandhi. Upon the album's release, it topped the charts with the song "Anisuthide" receiving significant radio and TV air time.[67] The album emerged as a massive success topping every Kannada music chart. It was reported that by mid-May 2007, over 200,000 copies were sold in compact discs.[68]

International recognition

The 1964 movie Naandi set a landmark by being the first ever Kannada film to be screened at an international film festival.[69][70][71][72] It was screened at IFFI 1992 Kannada cinema Retrospect.[73] The 1969 movie Uyyale was screened twice at the IFFI retrospect - once in 1992 and again in 2019.[74]

The 1970 movie Samskara won the Bronze Leopard at Locarno International Film Festival[17] The 1977 movie Ghatashraddha which had the distinction of being shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York,[75] became the only Indian film to be chosen by the National Archive of Paris among 100 others, during the centenary celebrations of cinema.[76][20] It also won the Ducats Award at the Manneham Film Festival Germany. At the 2009 International Film Festival of India, it was announced one of the 20 best films in Indian cinema, having received 1.6 million votes.[77][78] The 1978 movie Ondanondu Kaladalli was released at The Guild Theatre, 50 Rockefeller Plaza on 17 May 1982. Vincent Canby, the chief film critic of The New York Times, called the movie "that is both exotic as well as surprising in view of all the bodies on the ground at the end, sweet natured!".[79] The film was subtitled into English for its American premiere on 18 October 1995 in Shriver Hall at the Johns Hopkins University as part of the 1995 Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium "Framing Society : A Century of Cinema".[80]

The 1987 film Pushpaka Vimana featured retrospectively in the Shanghai International Film Festival and Whistling Woods Film Festival.[81][82]

The 1999 film Upendra was screened at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival in Japan in 2001.[83] The 1999 movie Deveeri was selected for 18 international film festivals[84] including the 44th London International Film Festival and the Cairo International Film Festival.[85]

The 2000 movie Munnudi was screened at Palm Springs International Film Festival (2002).[86] The 2002 movie Atithi was screened at Cairo International Film Festival.[87] The 2002 movie Dweepa was screened at the Moscow International Film Festival.[88] The 2004 movie Hasina was screened at Berlin's Asia Pacific Film Festival. The 2004 movie Bimba was selected for the Bangkok International Film Festival.[84] The 2006 movie Thutturi won the Best Audience Award at the 9th Dhaka International Film Festival.[89] and won the Earth Vision Award of 2005-06 at the 15th Tokyo Global Environmental Film Festival.[90] The 2006 movie Naayi Neralu was screened at six international film festivals including International Film Festival Rotterdam, Bangkok International Film Festival, Palm Springs International Film Festival , Osian's Film Festival and the Karachi International Film Festival. The 2006 movie Care of Footpath was selected for the Kids for Kids Film Festival at Cyprus and the 2006 film Cyanide was selected for the London Film Festival.[91]

The 2010 movie Kanasemba Kudureyaneri won the NETPAC Award at the Asiatica Film Mediale (Italy) (2010).[92] The 2011 film Koormavatara was screened in 17 film festivals and won acclaims at the film festivals of Bangkok, New York and Vancouver.[93] The 2012 movie Edegarike was selected for Mumbai Women's International Film Festival (2013).[94] The 2013 movie Lucia premiered at the London Indian Film Festival on 20 July 2013.[95][96] It won the Best Film Audience Choice award at the festival.[97] It was also screened at the Zurich Film Festival.[98] The 2015 movie Thithi won accolades at multiple international film festivals including the 68th Locarno International Film Festival[99] and the 19th Shanghai International Film Festival.[100] The 2016 movie Railway Children won the Ecumenical Jury Award (special mention) at Zlín Film Festival.[101][102] The 2016 film Bombeyaata won three awards at seven International Film Festivals.[103] Hombanna (2017) won four awards at Five Continents International Film Festival, Venezuela[104] and was also selected for screening at the 2017 Miami Independent Film Festival.[105] The 2018 movie Nathicharami and Balekempa were screened at the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival.[106] Balekempa also won the FIPRESCI Award at the 47th International Film Festival Rotterdam.[107] The 2019 movie Arishadvarga also premiered at the London Indian Film Festival[108][109] followed by the Asian Premiere at the Singapore South Asian International Film Festival[110] and the North American Premiere at the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival.[111] The 2019 movie Manaroopa won 10 awards at various international film festivals including the Best Thriller Film at Out of the Can International Film Festival at England,[112] Best Experimental Film at the Cafe Irani Chaii International Film Festival [113] and was officially selected for the Miami Independent Film Festival in the United States and the Istanbul Film Awards in Turkey.[114]

In the post - pandemic era, Kannada cinema started making waves across the world in several international film festivals. Pinki Elli? was screened at around 50 International Film Festivals including the Prague International Film Festival and the Hainan International Film Festival.[115] It opened the Busan International Film Festival and was screened at Hong Kong International Film Festival. It won three awards at the New York Indian Film Festival.[116] It also won the Best Film award at the Asian Film Festival Barcelona 2021.[117] Amruthamathi was screened at ten international film festivals including Boston Film Festival , Atlanta Film Festival , Austria Film Festival and won multiple awards.[118][119] Abhilash Shetty's Koli Taal premiered at the 21st New York Indian Film Festival.[120][121] It was then screened at various film festivals including the 18th Indian Film Festival of Stuttgart [122] and the 12th Indian Film Festival of Melbourne. Neeli Hakki was selected for multiple international Film festivals including the New York Indian Film Festival. Pinni (2020) was selected in the competition category at the New York Indian Film Festival.[123] Daari Yaavudayya Vaikunthakke ? won a total of 94 awards [124] including multiple awards at Rajasthan Film Festival [125] and other international film festivals like Sundance Film Festival,[126] Barcelona, Nawada,[127] 7 Colours International Film Festival[128] and Golden Sparrow International Film Festival.[129] Illiralaare Allige Hogalaare won the Director's Vision Award at the 18th Indian Film Festival of Stuggart.[130] It was earlier screened at the Dhaka International Film Festival[131] and had won an award at the Rome Film Festival.[132] It also won award at the Spain International Film Festival in Madrid.[133] Baraguru Ramachandrappa's Mooka Nayaka won the Best Picture of the Decade Award by competing with movies from different languages around the globe.[134] Jeevnane Nataka Samy (2021) was screened at Miami International Film Festival.[135] Avalakki Pavalakki won five awards in various categories at Uravatti International Film Festival, Indo Global International Film Festival, American Golden Pictures International Film Festival, Oniros Film Festival and the Sweden Film Festival.[136] Rudri won multiple awards at Oniros Film Festival,[137] Tagore International Film Festival[138] and the Vindhya International Film Festival.[139] Naanu Ladies had its world premier at the 16th Tasveer South Asian Film Festival in Seattle.[140] It went on to win the Best Narrative Feature Award at the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival.[141]

Pedro had its world premiere in the New Currents Section at the 26th edition of the Busan International Film Festival.[142] and was shortlisted for the Directors Fortnight Cannes 2020.[143] It went on to win the Best Director Award in the Crouching Tigers competition section at the Pingyao International Film Festival in Shanxi, China.[144] It was also the joint winner of the Montgolfiere D'Argent Award at the Festival Des 3 Continents, France.[145] It was also screened at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles(IFFLA)[146] and at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.[147]Dollu was screened at the Dhaka International Film Festival.[148] It was shortlisted for screening at 72nd Berlinale's European Film Market and the Dallas ft worth South Asian Film Festival (virtual).[149] It was also screened at the Caleidoscope Indian Film Festival Boston where it won the Best Indian Film award.[150] It also won the Best Kannada Movie award at Innovative International Film Festival.[151] Namma Magu received recognition from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).[152]

Taledanda (2022) was selected for London International Film Festival.[153] Koli Esru was selected for screening at New York Indian Film Festival (2022).[154] Shivamma was selected for Marche du Film (2022) - the business counterpart of the Cannes Film Festival.[155][156] It was also screened at the 27th Busan International Film Festival[157] where it won the New Currents Award given to first or second feature film of a new Asian director.[158][159] It also won the Young Jury Award at the 44th edition of the Three Continents Festival.[160] It was also selected for screening at the US and Australian film festivals in 2023.[161] Man Of The Match (2022), produced by Puneeth Rajkumar, was selected for screening at the 14th New York City Independent Film Festival in the foreign film category.[162] In 2022, Shuddhi (2017) and Bell Bottom (2019) premiered at the Indian Film Week in Japan.[163] Vagachi Pani was selected for the co-production market at the film festival in Busan.[164] Thayi Kastur Gandhi was screened at LA Film Festival[165] and it won the Best Editor award at the Dallas International Film Festival.[166] Hadinelentu was screened at the Jiseok section of the Busan International Film Festival (2022).[167]

1888 was screened at several International film festivals across the world.[168] The 2012 movie Edegarike was screened at the Indo-French International Film Festival in 2023.[169] Kantara, Koli Esru and Hadinelentu were nominated in various categories at the 14th edition of Indian Film Festival of Melbourne(IFFM) - 2023.[170] Devara Kanasu was screened at around 30 film festivals,[171] including an entry to participate in the panel screening and final selection of the Cannes Film Festival.[172] Brahma Kamala won several awards and accolades at various film festivals including the Eediplay International Film Festival in France, Wonderland International Film Festival in Sydney, Old Monk International Film Festival in Nepal and the Indo-Singapore Film Festival.[173] Shivamma won the Grand Prix Award at the 17th Andrei Tarkovsky Zerkalo International Film Festival, Ivanovo (2023).[174] Hadinelentu and Koli Esru won awards at the Ottawa Indian Film Festival Awards 2023.[175] Koli Esru also premiered at the Indo-German Film Week.[176] Naanu Kusuma won award at the Gange Sur Garonne International Film Festival (2023) in France.[177] Chinnara Chandra was selected for Ahmedabad International Children Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival.[178][179] Kantara won the Special Jury Award, also known as the Silver Peacock Award - at the 54th International Film Festival of India (2023)[180] - making it the first Kannada movie to win that award.[181] Mrityorma won four awards at the 6th Moonwhite Films International Film Festival.[182] Timmana Mottegalu was screened at the 29th Kolkata International Film Festival.[183] Tharini was selected for screening at the Rajasthan International Film Festival.[184]

National recognition


Dadasaheb Phalke Awardees

Year Recipient Note(s)
1995 Rajkumar Actor

National Film Award for Best Feature Film

Year Film Director Producer
1970 Samskara Pattabhirama Reddy Pattabhirama Reddy
1975 Chomana Dudi B. V. Karanth Praja Films
1977 Ghatashraddha Girish Kasaravalli Sadanand Suvarna
1986 Tabarana Kathe Girish Kasaravalli Girish Kasaravalli
1997 Thaayi Saheba Girish Kasaravalli Jayamala
2001 Dweepa Girish Kasaravalli Soundarya

National Film Award for Best Popular Film

Year Film Director Producer
1987 Pushpaka Vimana Singeetam Srinivasa Rao Shringar Nagaraj

State Recognition

Karnataka Chalanachitra Kalavidara Sangha in Chamrajapet

State film festivals

Other awards

Film schools

The first government institute in India to start technical courses related to films was established in 1941 named as occupational institute then called the Sri Jayachamarajendra (S J) Polytechnic in Bangalore. In September 1996, two specialised courses, Cinematography and Sound & Television were separated and the Government Film and Television Institute was started at Hesaraghatta, under the World Bank Assisted Project for Technician Development in India.[201]

See also


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