Recently, the film industry bid goodbye to Anjali Devi. In her production Mahakavi Kshetrayya, which starred Akkineni Nageswara Rao, I had a role and featured in a song with him. That was when I first met him; I was hardly 15. After that, I went on to do other smaller roles, like that of a secretary and so on, until I finally became a heroine. In our time, which is early 1980s, including Jayapradha and Sridevi, I was able to star in many films with him.
In fact, the both of us starred as hero and heroine in more than 27 movies. Yet, he never made me feel like he was superior. One of the few actors from Tollywood to have received the Padma Vibhushan, he was a disciplined man who was always trying to learn more. I remember when we were shooting once, he told me that he never left the sets while I was shooting. He noticed my dialogue delivery and found it different, that it had a different timing and wanted to see for himself how I did it. That just showed that despite being a man of experience, he was curious to see other methods and was willing to learn; it never occurred to him that I was his junior, nor did he have those airs. An extremely jovial man, he had the ability to make anybody feel comfortable in his presence.
He would make it a point to put us at ease, and this wasn’t just with fellow actors and actresses; he was the same with anybody. One of his most admirable qualities was that he respected people, irrespective of who they were. That is something the younger generation of actors need to learn. Some of them just look at you and don’t know how to respect you.
They also need to learn from him about how an actor must sustain himself in the industry. It isn’t just three or four hits that create a star; being able to survive for as long as he did in the industry is what a superstar is. He was a director’s hero, like NTR, and never demanded, forced or petrified anyone. He would think many times before making a suggestion. That was the kind of endearing man he was.
I shared a very good relationship with him. He would always go out of his way to appreciate me and always made me feel special. When I got into politics, he was concerned and asked me why I was doing it. Even recently, a few months ago, he brought it up. But the one memory that stands out was one from a few years ago. He had gone to Italy on some work and visited the Vatican. Though an atheist, when he was at a souvenir store, he saw a studded cross with a crucified Jesus and bought it for me. I was really thrilled as it was unexpected. (As told to Express)