By S Janakiram
Hyderabad, Jan 22: Legendary thespian Akkineni Nageswara Rao, who strode the Telugu film world like a colossus in the 60s and 70s and had a stature on par with N T Rama Rao, was instrumental in bringing Telugu film industry to Hyderabad.
Nageswara Rao, popularly known as ANR among his fans, died early today at the age of 91 after losing his battle with cancer.
Born in a humble agrarian family in Krishna district of coastal Andhra Pradesh in 1924, he had a brush with theatre at a tender age before making his debut in early 1940s with the film ‘Dharmapatni’, in which he enacted the role of a woman. A stalwart in his own right, he went on to act in around 250 films, including some in Tamil and Hindi, in a career spanning seven decades and was the recipient of several coveted awards including the Dada Saheb Phalke Award.
Nageswara Rao, a contemporary of towering south Indian heroes like M G Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan, had gained the stature equal to that of N T Rama Rao in Telugu film industry.
While N T Rama Rao was popular with the mass audience, Nageswara Rao made a name for himself by playing a variety of roles, which were liked by the educated middle-classes, besides doing mythological and folk films. He started off with playing female roles on stage and in films in the earlier stage of his career as women were not allowed to act in those days.
Nageswara Rao had played a key role in the Telugu film industry shifting its base from Chennai to Hyderabad.
A strict disciplinarian in real life, Nageswara Rao earned kudos for his poignant portrayal of an alcoholic and jilted lover in films like ‘Devdas’, ‘Prem Nagar’ and ‘Premabhishekam’.
He immortalised the character of ‘Devdas’ in the Telugu film based on the novel of acclaimed Bengali author Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya. Nageswara Rao convinced several producers to come and join him in producing movies in Hyderabad. A son of the soil, he insisted that all his grandchildren should be fluent in mother tongue Telugu and told them to work on their diction to be successful as actors.
His career graph scaled new highs as he enacted mythological roles with lan like Narada in ‘Bhookailas’, Abhimanyu in ‘Maya Bazaar’ , Lord Vishnu in ‘Chenchulakshmi’ and Arjuna in ‘Krishna Arjuna Yuddham’. His performances as a devotee and saintly personality in films like ‘Vipranarayana’, ‘Bhakta Tukaram’, ‘Bhakta Jayadeva’ and ‘Mahakavi Kalidas’ also brought him laurels. His lively and comic roles in ‘Illarikam’, ‘Preminchi Choodu’, ‘Missamma’, ‘Gundamma Katha’ and ‘Chakrapani’ were a big hit with the audience.
Nageswara Rao’s own production ‘Sudigundalu’, which sends out a message to youth against committing suicides, received critical acclaim and won several awards.
A man best known for his a zest for life and a positive outlook, he had often said that he would act in films as long as his health permitted and lived up to his commitment.
He danced to youthful songs in films like ‘College Bullodu’ even at the advanced age of 70 and played the role of Maharshi Valmiki in mythological film ‘Srirama Rajyam’ in as late as 2011. He recently acted in a yet-to-be released film ‘Manam’ (Us) which had three generations of his family himself, younger son Nagarjuna and grandson Naga Chaitanya.
He was known for his strong will power and led a full and happy life though he underwent cardiac treatment many years ago. After being diagnosed with cancer last year, he threw a surprise by calling a press conference to announce the disease and appealed to the fans to take it in their stride.
“It (his death) is actually a celebration of life,” one mourner commented as the Telugu film industry bade adieu to its fatherly figure, whose demise signals the end of an era. PTI