A Nuzividu-born actor had just set afoot in the Telugu film industry in 1946. A promising on-stage stint earned him a lead role in Varudhini , to be helmed by his distant relative and director Ramanandam. Dasari Tilakam (Girija’s mom) was his female equivalent. More used to male company who essayed female roles in dramas, the female company and the on-screen intimacy left the debutant in discomfort. The arc lights felt daunting to begin with, he nearly give up his film dreams before they took off. He hung on, thanks to Ramanandam’s insistence. The aftertaste of his hard work wasn’t sweet, Varudhini tanked at the box-office. The young man went to Jamshedpur to pursue a budget-incharge stint with the Tatas, only to return to Madras in a couple of years, determined to start afresh. Samarla Venkata Ranga Rao, who would have turned 100 today, wasn’t about to give up. The rest was history.
The earliest known character actor to have enjoyed a star status in the Telugu-Tamil film industries, S V Ranga Rao in a three-decade career spanning around 200 films across five languages brought utmost credibility to the craft. His surroundings weren’t exactly supportive, the near and dear considered acting as a taboo, his wife Leelavathi would often go back to her parents as a protest to his erratic film schedules. ‘Come back only when you want to, I’ll promise you a good future,’ he told her. SVR lived up to the words after initial hiccups, roles landed at his doorstep after a firm foundation with films like Shavukaru and Patala Bhairavi .
S V Ranga Rao’s diction, towering on-screen persona, impressive quirks to his character-sketches, the ability to draw inspiration from society and literature have cemented his ‘irreplaceable’ stature over the years. Surprisingly awards eluded him, he had expressed his disappointment to many in not receiving a national honour (he won an award for Narthanasala at the Afro-Asian film fest in Jakarta). The spectators have stood by him nevertheless. A proof was the reception for the colorised version of Mayabazar at the theatres, the joy of reliving his iconic Ghatotkacha-act surely went beyond nostalgia, drawing whistles from all age-groups, throwing light on his ability to impress multiple generations.
- Thatha Manavadu
- Bangaru Papa
- Pandava Vanavasam
- Sampoorna Ramayanam
- Andaru Dongale
- Bhakta Prahlada
- Patala Bhairavi
The actor’s forte at mythology, historicals and fantasies was only matched by his counterpart N T Rama Rao, partly due to his physical appearance too. SVR was among the earliest to lend hysteria to the role of Yama in Sathi Savithri and Devanthakudu , before Kaikala Sathyanarayana took on the baton from him in the 1970s, an actor whom he considered a true heir to his on-screen prowess. In social films, SVR was identified as the staunch yet likeable family patriarch. Despite essaying similar roles in Gundamma Katha , Pandanti Kapuram , Thatha Manavadu , his distinct histrionics ensured the portrayals weren’t redundant. Some of his negative roles have earned sympathy too, like his (Duryodhana) conflict with Bhima in Pandava Vanavasam , the conversations with his alter-ego as Raavana in Sampoorna Ramayanam .
SVR wasn’t keen to direct/produce films initially, being a witness to the financial pitfalls of his actor-turned-producer counterparts. However, he went back on his word to produce Naadi Aada Janme , turned a director with Chadarangam , followed by Bandhavyalu , both films winning him Nandi awards.
The films weren’t financially fruitful but the actor learnt his lessons quickly. SVR wasn’t without his eccentricities, known to be moody on-sets, not being the one to discuss his personal life with his industry friends. When dejected, he would go incognito, spending time at his farmhouse, after which directors and producers would make a beeline to get his dates. He more than made up for the delays with his ‘single-take’ repertoire.
The gift for film actors is the immortality and the shelf-life of the medium. The digital advancements, the availability of SVR’s works online have opened several gateways of inspiration for film aspirants.
Literature-wise, not much has been done to explore the actor’s vast body of work, excepting Pasupuleti Rama Rao’s Oke Okkadu Yasaswi . Youtube and channels like ETV Cinema are doing their part to keep SVR relevant for the current generation, though more material is the need of the hour.
Actress Lakshmi was introduced with his directorial Bandhavyalu.
He wanted to launch his son into films, even shot a few portions, though the film didn’t take off for unknown reasons.
SVR was a pet-lover, owned two German-shepherds at his residence.
The actor was the initial choice to play the role of David in Nippulanti Manishi, the role was later essayed by Relangi.
The actor was a poet and also wrote short stories for a few dailies/magazines and nurtured a love for cricket, painting, hunting.
An ardent Shakespeare fan, it was Shylock’s look/characterisation from Merchant of Venice that laid basis to his sorcerer-act in Patala Bhairavi.
He was the first actor to use the word ‘dongre’ in Telugu films with his role in Jagath Jetteelu, which later become a catchword for villains ever since.