For a person popularly known as the ‘Tragedy Lover’, Akkineni Nageswara Rao (ANR) lived a long and fulfilling life. One of the oldest and most respected members of the Telugu film community, his death, even though at the age of 90, has moved many. Despite struggling with cancer of the intestine, ANR, who announced his diagnosis in October last year, has been the picture of strength, grace and determination for his family and fans.
In fact, the Akkineni family were in the process of finishing their home production Manam which stars ANR, with his actor son and grandson, Nagarjuna and Naga Chaitanya. While filming was said to have been completed, dubbing for the same was in the works with a dubbing studio having been set up at home.
ANR started his career with the film Dharmpatni where he in fact played the role of a women; he was 17 at that time. But his tryst with acting started much earlier as he would frequently appear in theatre dramas, in many instances, as a woman. This was a time when females were not as welcome to perform in public spaces. From his debut in 1941, ANR went on to make as many as 250 movies over a career spanning about 70-years, his last film Manam being the 256th.
Hailing from a farming community in Krishna district, ANR was mostly uneducated in the typical sense; he dropped out of school after primary and even he called himself a ‘class three pass’. But, for people who knew the man, he perhaps displayed more world wisdom and intelligence than many of his peers. An internally motivated person, he took it upon himself to learn what he could, even getting himself coached to speak English with flair!
After being discovered from a railway station platform by producer Ghantasala Balaramaiah, ANR starred in Sita Rama Jananam, his first role as a Hindu mythological character; he would go on to don the garb of a celestial being many times over.
But it was his portrayal of Devdas that really shook things up for him. Till date, many say that his essay of the jilted lover was by far the most stellar; Dilip Kumar also apparently praised the actor to no end (Kumar had played the same character in the 1955 Hindi version).
With classic looks and a deep understanding of human histrionics, ANR was able to deliver hits like Mayabazaar, Batasari, Mahakavi Kalidasu and Prem Nagar among others. If he managed to pull off the unemployed self-declared detective in Misamma with his upto-no-good manners, his role as the spoilt son of a rich Zamindar out to teach a lesson to a tyrant of a mother-in-law in Gundamma Katha was equally charming. But ANR could flip sides just as easy and be the doomed-lover-drowning-in-a-bottle. A gentleman, a witty court subject, a blind devotee, a lovelorn man – the list is endless and does little justice to the Dada Saheb Phalke awardee, not to mention Padma Vibhushan awardee. As Tollywood lays to rest the last of its first generation and a pivotal force in setting up the industry in Hyderabad, his films will remind us yet again why his death marks the end of a generation.