The 91-year-old romantic hero acted till the very end

For Akkineni Nageswara Rao, or ANR as he is popularly known, movies were his life, first and last. The veteran, who died early on Wednesday, dominated, alongside N. T. Rama Rao, the Telugu cinema through the 1960s and the 1970s. For half a century, ANR and NTR (N. T. Rama Rao), were like the two eyes of the Telugu film industry, or Tollywood.

Born on September 20, 1923, ANR knew well his strengths and weaknesses. Of fragile physique, he knew macho roles were not for him; he remained the romantic hero.

His memorable portrayal of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s tragic hero Devdas won him nation-wide acclaim. Film experts rate his performance the best among the various versions of Devdas. ANR’s was a fairy-tale like rise in the industry. With no godfather and with a modest education, he scaled several peaks with grit and discipline. Trained under such great directors as K. V. Reddy, B. N. Reddy, Gudavalli Ramabrahmam and Ghantasala Balaramaiah, he gave his best in every role. Being very selective in the roles he played, he acted in just about 250 films.

He starred in several blockbusters that avid movie-goers never tire of watching, including Mayabazaar, Gundamma Katha, Dasara Bullodu, Tenali Ramakrishna, Missamma, Mahakavi Kalidas, Vipranarayana, Balaraju, Suvarnasundari, Moogamanasulu, Premnagar, Meghasandesam and Seetaramayyagaari Manavaraalu. Most of them had ANR in the leading role Mayabazaar, Missamma and Gundamma Kathafeatured NTR also.

ANR’s acting career, which began in 1941, continued till the very end. He had just finished shooting for the film Manam (We) co-starring his son, Nagarjuna, and grandson, Naga Chaitanya.

Recently diagnosed with cancer of the intestine, the gritty thespian made a public announcement that he was determined to defeat it. ANR received several top honours, including Dada Saheb Phalke Award, Raghupati Venkaiah Award and Padma Vibhushan. Unlike NTR, ANR never attempted to direct movies though produced several.

He was one of the first film personalities to build a film studio (Annapoorna Studios) in Hyderabad in 1976. This helped the Telugu film industry take roots in Andhra Pradesh, forcing actors and technicians to shift base to Hyderabad from Chennai.

kurmanath.kanchi@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on January 22, 2014)
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