Milestones galore in ANR’s extensive ouvre, as do lessons from his life. m. l. narasimham traverses a journey through the legendary thespian’s inspirational life

A living legend, the brightest star of the silver screen, he strode the Telugu filmdom like a colossus for over three quarters of a century. From his debut movie, Dharmapatni in the early years of the Forties to the under production Manam in which he was acting with his son and grandson, the story of Akkineni Nageswara Rao reads like a running commentary on the Telugu film industry. In his passing away on January 22, the golden era of Telugu cinema has come to an end.

Not many actors have such longevity as ANR. Starting his career in 1934 in stage plays at the age of 10, he excelled in theatre honing his skills under Excelssior Amateur Dramatic Troupe. It is now history that he made his first movie appearance in a cameo role in P. Pullaiah’s Dharmapatni (1941) and three years later played the lead role in Ghantasala Balaramaiah’s Sri Sitarama Jananam. With that film, a star is also born in Telugu tinsel world to take it to dizzying heights. ANR had acted in over 250 films since then, some of them milestones, some of them text books, while the rest enthralled and entertained.

Not only the varying characters he had portrayed in his films, but also his life is an inspirational force for the young generation actors. One should not give up hope against adversaries that a young actor may encounter during his journey, he said during the course of an interview to this paper in 1996. Agony caused by few detractors at the beginning of his career, led him to Santhome beach in Madras (now Chennai) to commit suicide. “For a moment I thought about the goal with which I came to this city. My mother sent me to this field to satisfy herself in seeing the actor in me. I must fulfil that. That changed my mind. Even today, my mother is at the back of my mind, reminding me of my responsibility of providing clean entertainment. I always told myself that I was in the focus of the people and so I must behave well. I must become an ideal for millions of people who watch me. This is what I want every one to keep in mind, every actor I mean.”

The Dada Saheb Phalke award winner never believed that star power can pull a film through. For him, the subject and the character he played were the real heroes of his films. At the height of his career during the Fifties and Sixties, he intelligently chose a variety of characters, avoiding being typecast. After playing the tragic hero to perfection in Devadasu he chose a comic role as his next in Missamma and proved that he is equally capable of carrying a comedian’s role with aplomb. In his mid-Sixties, he could convincingly carry the role of a college student in College Bullodu and while he was still in his Twenties, he played an old man, a foster father to Sivaji Ganesan in Paradesi. Such was his versatility. No wonder that thespian Dilip Kumar heaped praises on ANR’s performance in Devadasu saying it was the best among all the movies made on the subject, including his!

As part of an effort to take Telugu cinema to new dimensions, along with Adurthi Subbarao, he had produced and acted in two offbeat films, Sudigundaalu and Maro Prapancham. Had his efforts met with success, Telugu cinema would have by then given Bengali and other such cinemas a run for the awards. He had a word of advice to the young actors — that they must choose at least one film per year which would bring out their acting prowess, even if they have to forgo or sacrifice some remuneration. “They have to grow with the industry,” said the Padma Vibhushan awardee.

ANR had left a rich legacy behind. And also talented heirs. That includes not only his kith and kin but also those who worked with him, those who were inspired by him and those who benefited by his presence. Now it is for them to carry on the legacy.

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Akkineni Nageswara Rao no moreJanuary 22, 2014