Gummadi Venkateswara Rao, was an integral part of Telugu cinema across generations.
“I lost yet another friend from the industry… I'm lonely today,” is how veteran actor Akkineni Nageswara Rao reacted to the passing of his friend and co-star of many a film. “Gummadi is younger than me and all the actors who have come to the industry after me are no more,” says a remorseful ANR.
To most Telugu film fans, specially on the eve of the release of Mayabazar in its colour avatar, the passing of Gummadi Venkateswara Rao, 83, who played the role of Balarama in the movie, came as a shock. One could recall with nostalgia, the affable and dignified character of Balarama portrayed by him in the film. “Balarama is an easy prey to ‘Mukha Stuti,” and that'll make it easy for us to make him agree to the marriage of his daughter Sasirekha with my son Laksmana Kumara,” says a scheming Duryodhana in the movie, knowing well Balarama's weakness. Though Gummadi portrayed this universal human trait brilliantly in the film, as a person, off screen, he was one of the few straight-forward and righteous persons in the industry, vouches ANR. “These qualities in him brought me closer to him. I call him my ‘Atmabandhu'. He criticised vulgarity in films quite vociferously. Even I was subdued in expressing my views but he never hesitated to call a spade a spade,” says ANR who had met Gummadi four days before his death and ironically both actors took a count of the surviving actors from the cast of Mayabazar. “On that day we were four. Me, Gummadi, Mikkilineni (who played Karna) and Sita (who played Sasirekha's maid). Now Gummadi's gone…”.
Gummadi Venkateswara Rao started his career in 1950 and acted in nearly 500 movies spanning three generations. He never played a hero's role in films but to call him a ‘character artiste' would be undermining the powerful roles or his ability to be an integral part of the film by his sheer presence and powerful performance. He played father and elder brother to ANR and NTR who were both older to him. “I don't think he ever regretted not being a hero. His strength was his voice and dialogue delivery. His style of speaking in a softer but firm tone made him best suited for the roles he played. I always envied his voice. It was a big irony that I was always a hero with not so good voice and Gummadi with such good voice was never a hero,” adds ANR.
Often referred as ‘Ashok Kumar of south' for his innumerable character roles, Gummadi brought dignity and sophistication to his performances. His gentle smile and impeccable dressing — be it in a suave three-piece suit or a spotless dhoti-kurta — Gummadi will remain etched fondly in our memories.