Anant Nag was born on 4 September 1948 to Anandi and Sadanand Nagarkatte in the Chowpatty suburb of Bombay (now Mumbai), in the erstwhile Bombay Province (now a part of Maharashtra State) of the Dominion of India. Born into a Konkani-speaking family, his family settled in Shirali, a village near Bhatkal in Uttara Kannada of Karnataka State. He had an elder sister, Shyamala, and a younger brother, Shankar.
Anant had his early education under the aegis of Ananda Ashrama in Dakshina Kannada district and Chitrapur Math in Uttara Kannada district of the erstwhile Mysore State (now Karnataka). After class 7, he was sent to Bombay (now Mumbai) for further education where he studied till class 11. This was when he was drawn towards the theatre movement of Bombay and he was selected to act in Konkani, Kannada and Marathi-language plays which he did until he turned 22.
Once in Bombay, thanks to his good looks, he was suggested by theatre personalities Prabhakar Mudur and Venkatrao Talageri to participate in theatrical plays. His first role came in a play when he played the role of a Hindu monk, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, that proved to be a success among the audiences. He then played a role in a play based on the life of sage Gautama Buddha. Following these, he played important roles in plays in Konkani and Kannada languages, the latter mostly with directors K. K. Suvarna and Girish Karnad. In Karnad's play Yayati, Nag played the role of Pururava. He also played major roles in Hindi language plays of Amol Palekar and Satyadev Dubey's socially and politically relevant plays. Around this time, in the early 1970s, he received two film offers, in P. V. Nanjaraja Urs' Kannada film, Sankalpa; and Shyam Benegal's Hindi film, Ankur.
Following a theatre career in Bombay, Nag made his film debut with Sankalpa a 1973 Kannada film. Shyam Benegal introduced him into Hindi cinema in his 1973 film Ankur. Anant Nag acted in many of Shyam Benegal's movies after that. Although he is well known for his mainstream Kannada films, Nag is also active in alternative Indian cinema.
His entry into Kannada films was through legendary G. V. Iyer's Hamsageethe. It is one of the most critically acclaimed of his movies and is about trysts of a learner whose greatest search is finding the right Guru.
Nag and fellow popular actress Lakshmi are a hit-pair in Kannada movies. They acted together in more than 25 films. Most of the films based on T. R. Subba Rao's novels and some of them directed by Dorai-Bhagavan. Right from late 70's, Chandanada Gombe, Naa Ninna Bidaalare (1979), Benkiya Bale, Ibbani Karagitu, Makkaliralavva Mane Thumba, Mududida Taavare Aralitu, Amma and other movies turned out as blockbuster hits that made Anant Nag and Lakshmi household names in Karnataka. Both the actors have signed a new film together in 2013 called "Gulmohar" directed by Devanuru Chandra that has already started shooting.
Beginning with New-Wave artistic movies in early 70's, Ananth Nag branched into commercial cinema.
Comedy in Narada Vijaya, Suspense in Kuduremukha, Action in Minchina Ota showed his comfort in different genres. He also dabbled in television during this period. Starting with Jhenkaara in 1994 where he acted as father to hero Kumar Bangarappa, He started accepting character roles. In the 90s, he experimented with negative roles (Shanti Kranti).
He held his own with matinee idol Rajkumar in the movie Kamana Billu. Bhakta Prahlada, in which Rajkumar played Hiranya Kashyapu and Ananthnag as Narada muni was a big success.
His comedy-streak was showcased in Ganeshana Maduve, Gauri Ganesha, Udbava, Undoohoda Konduhoda, Beladingala Baale, Hasyaratna Ramakrishna, Yarigu Helbedi, dairya lakshmi. Ananth Nag is a first-choice not just to old-crop directors but also young directors like Yogaraj Bhat inMungaru Male, Gaalipata, NagaShekar in Aramane, Pawan Wodeyar in Googly (film). Dinesh Babu
Eredane maduve has been a surprise hit where he acted in a lead role with Suhasini Maniratnam.
Nag acted in Anahat. Marathi film director Amol Palekar found Nag's sensitive depiction of the king's dilemmas to have greatly enhanced the multifaceted complexities of the film.
In 1979, Nag was shooting for Narada Vijaya while Gayatri was shooting for Auto Raja with Shankar Nag in Chamundeshwari studios. With time, cupid struck and love blossomed between them. They married on 9 April 1987. They have a daughter, Aditi.
Staying in Mumbai, in the heady days of Socialism, Anant Nag was a strong supporter of the reformist movement. He identified himself with the Janatha Party and was the star-campaigner for Janatha Party in 1983, 1985 and 1989 elections. He won from Malleshwaram constituency in 1994 and served as a Minister for BDA in the J. H. Patel's cabinet. Much before he also contested from Uttara Kannada Lok Sabha constituency in 1983 against veteran writer K. Shivarama Karanth. His tenure was uneventful, with him being criticised for not catering the infrastructure needs of Bangalore.
When Ramakrishna Hegde, supposedly his mentor was expelled from Janatha Dal, he stayed within Janatha Dal, leading to speculations of divide between the two.
In 2004, he contested a very fierce assembly election from Janata Dal (Secular) where he was pitched against the then Chief minister of Karnataka, S. M. Krishna from Indian National Congress, alongside fellow actor Mukhyamantri Chandru from Bharatiya Janata Party in the Chamrajpet constituency in Bangalore. However, S.M. Krishna won the election.