Born in an era where the nation was cringing under the British rule, from a time where inland letters were the only medium for communication for a common man to a time where a facebook status and a twitter update raises a roar, he has seen it all. He is a person who has seen, learnt ,experienced life for almost 9 decades. If an act needed a difference between dramatics and melodramatics, there would be no better person than Akkineni Nageswara Rao for an apt description. Entering the film industry with no Godfather behind him, he had uplifted his penchant for art through a career that holds no bar with any. Today we see him celebrate his 87th birthday without much fanfare or ado at his residence complementing well with his undeniable guileless lifestyle.
A passenger who was earning his living through a few plays, carrying his luggage while accommodating himself in a first class compartment was traced by Ghantasala Balaramiah, a reverred filmmaker of that juncture in Telugu cinema. The former was just planning to make a film titled Seeta Rama Jananam where he was hunting for suitable candidates who could enact the roles of Ram and Laxman. The passenger was once at shock when the former gave him a casual glance and asked him to play the lead in the same. The decision meant that he had to bid adieu to stage arts at once. A direction emerged all of a sudden in a diffused path for the passenger whom by now you would have guessed it to be ANR. As we know, rest is history.
Acting, as legends say is more about reacting to the situation rather than enacting the character. The spontaneity neither can be trained nor taught. ANR is someone who believes that one must imprint his/her uniqueness in a role to ensure an emotional connect with the spectator. Becoming a darling of the masses through the adaptation of Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel in Devadasu alongside Savithri, he built a career that forged in multiple genres as years progressed. The actor’s acid test began when NTR stormed the scene with all the charisma surrounding him. He still stood firm to his ground and in fact understood his limitations and began picking roles that wouldn’t give a reason for an unbiased film lover to compare between the two. In fact both created parallel paths for themselves such that both needn’t had to overlap with each other in their own domain. However it remains a fact that no industry has ever seen a combination of two contemporary stars act together such as these two. They had paired up in 15 films in diverse arenas which till date is a record for any industry.
If it was the 1950’s dominated by mythology and folk lore tales such as Mayabazar, Missamma, Appu Chesi Pappu Koodu that enabled him a solid foundation, it’s definitely the 60’s that bound him with the family audiences more than ever. He invested all his fruits in setting up Annapurna Studios that was a principal move in making some of the most memorable films ever crafted in Telugu cinema. Films however commercial have a small token of responsibility in ensuring a social message. His films such as Sudigundalu, Maro Prapancham despite bombing at the box office earned him commendable respect from the audiences and the critics alike. The 1960’s marvelled him to deliver exquisite performances in works such as Mooga Manasulu, Gundamma Katha, Doctor Chakravarthy and the classical Krishnarjuna Yuddham. Surviving the storms from many quarters, he had completed a magnificent couple of decades that he could be proud about.
1970’s was a period of change. While Hindi films saw Amitabh Bachchan making his footsteps in the industry in that period, the Telugu industry witnessed the same phase through Sobhan Babu, Krishna and Chandramohan. So, it turned out to be a critical chapter in the careers of NTR and ANR. Both of them had developed their own fan bases with their films but they needed to prove their versatility yet again. ANR assessed his strengths smartly and proceeded with films that were populist yet socialistic in their narration. Dasara Bullodu, Prem Nagar, Andala Ramudu and Secretary were the ones that helped him polish his coveted status in his home industry. The consistency in his projects definitely wasn’t the same during this juncture as the actor had to consume a lot of time in experimenting with his choices leaving him with less commercial success on hand. The 1980’s began with a bang for the star with the likes of Premabhishekam turning out to be a massive commercial success. Megha Sandesam which narrated the melancholic life of a writer bagged 4 national awards ringing a note to the wagging tongues which had questioned ANR’s adaptability with the changing times. One must however confess, this was indeed the time where his feasibility as a solo star took a heavy beating. However, the actor tuned himself accordingly being a part of soul clinching efforts such as Sitharamaih Gari Manavaralu and Suthradharulu. On the whole he has acted with actresses such as Savitri, Krishnakumari, Jayasudha, Sridevi, Anjali Devi, Bhanumathi, Jamuna, Shavukaru Janaki and acheived equal acclaim when paired with each of these powerhouse performers. From an L.V.Prasad to Bapu, A Dasari to K. Vishwanath, he’s worked with astute directors giving his career a diverse dimension in every phase. His next project will see him portray the role of Valmiki in Bapu’s magnum opus with Balakrishna and Nayanatara, Sri Rama Rajyam.
Besides his film journey, the actor can be considered lucky to have survived this long. In the early 70’s, the actor had to undergo an open heart surgery which left him only a few years to live. A medical miracle has seen him live with the same exuberance till date. It’s still a mystery to many laudable doctors to witness such an event. Probably life borrowed a thing or two from his ventures and injected them into actuality. The actor labels his wife as his living inspiration. He’s seen and conquered many pitfalls in a swinging career spanning 6 decades in the film industry alone. He’s seen his son, grandson continue his famous legacy with élan. He hasn’t allowed their life to suffer under a shadow of a super star. Nagarjuna had to climb an RTC bus each day to reach his college everyday. Not a day went by , where he had skipped this routine. He attributes difficulties as his best teacher in his 87 years spent on the earth. He wanted his off springs to learn from the same. What more does one require from a life that has seen every emotion with such intricate depth? One needn’t be a film lover to appreciate ANR, one just can be a human to be inspired.
Written by : Srivathsan - Check his blog here