On Friday evening, we received a call stating Akkineni Nageswara Rao would address a press conference at Annapurna Studios on the sets of Manam in the presence of his family members. The reason for the press conference weren’t mentioned. So it was amidst speculations that the media gathered at the Studio on Saturday morning,
The Akkineni family members were in attendance. Nagarjuna, Amala, Naga Chaitanya Sumanth, Supriya, Sushant and his mother Susheela were present but moved away from the foyer, allowing the cameras to focus only on ANR.
When the Dada Saheb Phalke awardee announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer, it was like watching a movie from the yesteryears and several moments of absolute stillness followed before the message sank into the assembled journalists.
The veteran actor, dressed in the costumes he is sporting for Manam, opened his address recounting his early days as an actor, his struggles, his rise to the top, the awards and recognitions conferred on him and how the Annapurna Studios today ran like a well-oiled machin and thanked his well wishers for showering him with greetings and blessings when he turned 90.
Making it clear that this would be one press conference where he would not like to entertain any questions on the matter, ANR said “I don’t want your sympathy but am banking on the strength that I derive from all your wishes. Leave me alone.”
He said his friend and oncologist Nori Dattatreyudu had confirmed the diagnosis recently. In a monologue that lasted about 25 minutes, he recalled his seven decades and about 280 films as an actor from his debut ‘Dharmapathini’ directed by P. Pullaiah in 1941 first and in the lead with ‘Sri Sitarama Jananamu’ directed by Ghantasala Balaramaiah in 1944.
“My mother Punnamma lived till 96 years of age and till now that was my benchmark. But now if people love me, bless me and cooperate with me, I will live till a 100 years. While I appreciate your concern and the telephone calls and personal enquiries I am getting, I thought the best way of looking at life is with a smile,” the ‘Dasara Bullodu’ declared, with nary a trace of emotion in his voice..
Medical tests for pain in his abdomen earlier this year had been diagnosed as early stage of cancer. Without getting into specifics, ANR stated that he had consulted specialists in the city and abroad and learnt that the proliferation of cancerous cells was slow in the elderly. “In cinema of yesteryears, we have dramatised cancer and associated it with death. However, that is not the case today,” he said.
On the decision to go public about his condition, he said as soon as a few people got wind of him visiting doctors, there were phone calls and visits enquiring, even if discreetly, about his health. “People enquired out of concern. But I don’t want to be reminded of it. I’ve lived my life to the fullest and will continue to do so. I want heartfelt wishes but not sympathy. I suffered a heart attack 25 years ago,” he pointed out.
Further, ANR stated he would continue to act choosing roles that befit him and appealed that well wishers respect his privacy. “A lot of people wished that I should live beyond 100 years. With cheer, I hope to do so,” he smiled.
He is currently working on ‘Manam’ that has three generations of the Akkineni family in the star cast - Nageswara Rao, Nagarjuna and Nagachaitanya. When asked, Nagarjuna said 60 per cent of the film was canned. Shortly after the press conference, the thespian sauntered into the sets of ‘Manam’ as the others prepared for the shooting.
Later Nageswara Rao’s star-son, Akkineni Nagarjuna and his older brother Venkat said about a week ago, ANR had called all the younger women and told them that he did not wish to see concern-filled, sullen faces any more. “We respect his wish to see happiness around him,” said his star grand-son Nagachaitanya.