In January 1983, just over four decades ago, a Tollywood great named NT Rama Rao burst onto a totally different stage called politics in a dramatic fashion by being sworn in as the first non-congress Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh in the historic Lal Bahadur Stadium in front of an unprecedented people’s gathering.

May 28, 2023, marks the completion of the centenary year of Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, or NTR as he was well known. 

An actor par excellence, especially in mythological roles, a maverick politician and a champion of Telugu pride who took decisions at the drop of a hat, a leader who forged the National Front, and a bold man, who owned up a relationship and married Lakshmi Parvathi during his sunset years — NTR’s life has all the elements or masala of a real-life blockbuster movie.

There is no dearth of material or insight into NTR’s life, especially his great achievements during over three decades in movies and the tumultuous political innings that he played since launching the Telugu Desam Party in 1982 and storming to power in nine months in January 1983, a Guinness record. 

But there is tremendous scope to delve deeper into the ‘phenomenon’ called NTR, who held sway over people for generations.

While his larger-than-life image on the silver screen was lapped up by millions in Andhra Pradesh, his political and personal journey of life with the successes and upheavals offer opportunities for closer examination and learning.

Thespian’s centenary year

This is where, the latest book, NTR-A Political Biography, by journalist, editor and writer, Ramachandra Murthy Kondubhatla, promises to tread into and present a realistic picture of NTR — the man, the star and the politician who continues to figure in the discourse on cinema and politics in the two Telugu States, especially the residual Andhra Pradesh, more than a quarter century after his passing. 

It is also well-timed to commemorate the thespian’s centenary and just a year away from elections in his home State, which can decide the fate of the TDP led by Chandrababu Naidu forever.

NTR was a journalist’s delight. His dramatic speeches, attire, and campaign styles provided good copy and a great caricature for cartoonists. No wonder media persons have found huge substance in documenting his story. 

Starting from S Venkat Narayan, who did a fast track biography in 1984, Oke Okkadu (One and only one) by I Venkat Rao in 2000 to Kandula Ramesh’s 2021 book titled NTR-the Maverick Messiah, there have been many books on NTR.

As a PTI correspondent, who began my career in 1983, I too had a fair share of covering and interacting with NTR and see reports hitting national headlines as the TDP emerged as the nation’s opposition party after bucking the sympathy wave, post the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, which brought to power Rajiv Gandhi.

The making of NTR  

Ramachandra Murthy succeeds in meticulously capturing the nitty-gritty in the making of NTR, the politician, the plots and sub-plots that marked his career, and the various dramatis persona who influenced him through anecdotes and drawing on interviews of a wide array of people close to him. 

Where the book falls short is in throwing more light on the ‘dark drama, manipulations and scheming that tore through the TDP and the large family of NTR during August 1995, with Nara Chandrababu, most of NTR’s family and coterie on one side and Lakshmi Parvathi and an isolated NTR on the other. 

The author provides an extensive and sequential narrative in four chapters and nearly 100 pages of the comeback of NTR in December 1994 and the rapid way in which he was systematically and ruthlessly cut to size by Chandrababu Naidu in the August 1995 revolt, which finally led to the death of the TDP founder under controversial circumstances on January 18, 1996. 

Coincidentally, the first revolt against NTR that was engineered by Nadendla Bhaskara Rao, who is described as the co-pilot in the founding of the TDP, also happened in August of 1984. NTR had triumphed in that test with the entire opposition leaders in the country rallying around him in the ‘Save Democracy’ campaign.

The writer has drawn heavily not just from his own 40-plus years of covering Andhra politics but has relied on quoting and anointing text from published sources from the media and other biographies on NTR.

In the increasing genre of political biographies in India, the book definitely finds a place for its realistic presentation of NTR, who deserves to be counted among the national leaders to reckon with, post Independence and not just as a regional leader. 

(The reviewer is a senior journalist)

Check out the book on Amazon.

‘NTR-A Political Biography’ by Ramachandra Murthy Kondubhatla
Publishers: HarperCollins Publishers India.
Pages: 396.
Price: 699.