Born to the late Anandi and Sadanand Nagarkatte, hails from coastal Karnataka, where he had his early education under the aegis of Anand Ashram in South Canara and Chitrapur math in North Canara. Sent to Bombay for onward education and got involved with amateur theatre activities for 8 years. Got a break in Kannada film titled "Sankalpa" in 1971 with the help from late Shri G. V. Iyer and Shri Girish Karnad, the renowned playwright.
In Bombay Satyadev Dubey guided him to Shyam Benegal for his first hindi film "Ankur" (1974). In that decade under Benegal's direction varied roles came in his way in films like "Nishant" (1975), "Bhumika" (1977), "Manthan" (1976), "Kondra (1977)" and "Kaliyug" (1981)
He has acted in films under the direction of noted film makers like M S Sathyu, Girish Karnad, Vikas Desai. Also acted in noted serials and films in Hindi based on the works of the novelist late Shri R. K. Narayan, Produced by T. S. Narasimhan under the direction of his younger brother, the late Shri Shankar Nag.
He has acted in over 175 Kannada films under various directors, veterans as well as budding debutants, not to mention some landmark films in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi. He has won the Karnataka State Best Actor Award on four occasions, besides others like `Film fare Awards' etc.
An active participant in the Janatha Party Political experiment ever since the 70s, he was nominated a member of the Karnataka Legislative Council (1988-1994), was elected a Member of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly (1994-1999) and was a minister of State, attached to the Chief Minister (1996-1999).