Doyen of Telugu Cinema – ANR
No need to mention or enumerate the accolades to one of the most accomplished actors in Telugu Cinema, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, popularly called ANR. He is the personification of perseverance and hard work. He had to compete with a more charismatic and well endowed person and actor like N.T.Ramana Rao, popular by name NTR and many times he came out winner in spite of the imposing personality of NTR. This in his own terms. It is not possible to just talk about many or all of his accomplishments in a small article like this but I would like to write about a couple of his characters in two of his movies and the contrast of them and how he excelled in both of them. The movies are Missamma and Krishanrjuna Yudham! He acted in scores of social dramas as a romantic hero and is known mostly for them but I want to highlight a couple of his other acting proficiencies.
Missamma(1954) – is arguably the only comedy which to date entwines the story and the funny situations, without making them look out of place! In my opinion there isn’t any story like that yet in Telugu movies. In fact the genre of Romantic Comedy in Telugu was if not invented by this, was perfected by this movie. We can write pages and pages about this movie but the focus is now about ANR’s role. Every character in that exudes the comedic nature and ANR as a self-appointed detective in this movie is hilarious. His role in this is a supporting actor but it shows how committed he is to acting as he does full justice to his character in this movie. He fits into this so well, it is unimaginable to picture anyone else in that without him. Imagine that, ANR having gone to school only upto 4th grade in real life, could understand and act so well into the character of detective Raju whose futile attempts to solve the mystery of finding his aunt’s daughter who gets lost when she was 4 years old. Raju had to presume he is the lead and center of the story, as every comedian so thinks. He tries to portray himself as one very accomplished gentleman in the household of SVR (S.V. Ranga Rao another eminent actor), a kind of Jamindar who is a village elder and tries to run a school. When he introduces himself as not only a well qualified person but also a detective, SVR just brushes him as ‘defective’, we should look at the face of ANR as Raju the detective as he cringes. It’s hilarious beyond words. In fact he cringes in so many scenes in this movie it doesn’t look out of place at all.
He grows increasingly jealous of the natural excellence of NTR and Savitri in the roles as teachers of the school because they curry favors of SVR’s character and his wife in the movie so easily. Also he thinks he is the natural choice of the SVR household as their son-in-law for their second daughter depicted by Jamuna. But when Devaiaah, actted by Relangi a well known comedian, who comes as assistant to NTR and Savitri, puts a doubt in him that NTR might be eyeing to be the son-in-law of SVR for his second daughter, Raju grows so jealous he tries to steer her to go to Savitri to learn music, unsuccessfully. He even feigns to be a student of Mary to learn music so he can replace NTR teaching his would be and in the process make an ass of himself. The inept and inane look the character of Raju demands was acted on so well by ANR, I don’t think any of the present day or yesteryear’s actors can do justice to such a role. Relangi, another great comedy actor of yesteryears, complements his character in his own way but everyone knows Relangi as a comedy actor already. But ANR acting as the funny detective (defective :0) has added a brilliance to this most acclaimed comedy. As the story progresses he had to extract more information about the seemingly elusive nature of relationship between Savithri and NTR’s characters as they pretend to be married couple to get the jobs at the school. He tries to extract the truth about their relationship from Relangi, but had to shell out lot of money for Relangi is the smart greedy bastard who makes money out of any situation.
The movie is made at a time where exposing women was still a delicate issue and the one strong evidence to know Savitri’s character is indeed the lost elder daughter of SVR and his wife is that there is birth mark sightly above her right toe, but it is increasingly difficult to see that for as astute a ‘detective’ as Raju because it is rare that women show even the feet, and Savitri’s character is one of very dignified and self-respecting one. And Raju’s herculean task to find this out was one of the climactic scenes that make the movie end in a very enrapturing way! ANR’s action in this is exemplary!
In spite of his standing in the industry by that time as one of leading actors, he did what the director LV Prasad expected him to be fitted in as and that is the greatness of him. To fit into the character as the director expects him to. Hats off to his action in this movie.
Krishnarjuna Yuddham(1962) – This is a part of story from Hindu Mythology, Mahabharatha. The episode from that epic story called ‘Gayopakhayanam’ (literally means an episode about Gaya) is about a Gandharva (The equivalent of an Elf in Lord of the Rings) called Gaya. Gandharvas have these planes which can fly in the sky and while going on one of them Gaya accidentally spits into the hands of Lord Krishna who was offering his prayer to the Sun, on a river bank on Earth, as was the custom those days that many people just offer their obeisance to prime energy source of earth. Sri Krishna gets really angry at this and takes oath that whoever did this will be killed by his Sudarsana Chakra (the circular saw which flies like a guided missile and beheads). Even though this is a small episode, it is well embellished by other small episodes like Kandava Dahanam (the burning of Kandava forest for helping the god of fire to overcome his decease) and marriage of Arjuna with Subhadra, lord Krishna’s sister. The movie has all ingredients of action movie cum romantic comedy. ANR in this movie exemplified the role of Arjuna. His action in this movie is an example that he can act as action hero and can be as good as NTR. And he succeeds in it! For NTR as a mythology character is always very imposing, be it if he plays as Krishna, Arjuna, Duryodhana, Ravana, Rama, Karna or Bhishma! But in this movie ANR as Arjuna is no less charismatic and no less impressive!!
In terms of height and personality ANR is definitely smaller than NTR, but by sheer will and discipline ANR in this movie matches NTR in acting with him. He even looks more muscular and where there are scenes where he had to fight Krishna, he is no less intimidating. Even when he is with other characters like Karna, Duryodhana who are acted by actors like Satyanarayanam Mukkamala who have bigger frames of bodies, ANR in this movie rules it by his superior acting to show all navarasas (the nine types of moods in acting enunciated in hindu performing arts that are joy or laughter, fear, heroism, love, compassion, sense of wonder, anger, disgust and being at peace) in this movie. Krishna is not only a friend and eventually a brother-in-law to Arjuna but also his savior and guru many a times. So when Gaya who was condemned to death by Krishna comes to Arjuna and seeks his protection, unbeknownst that Krishna was after Gaya to kill him, Arjuna gives his word that he will protect him. But later he comes to know who was after Gaya and he kind of undergoes a mental tussle to chose between his loyalty to Krishna and his word which he considers his dharma (righteous reason) as a King to protect. ANR in action as Arjuna to come to terms with this conflict is exemplary. He had to show his consternation of the thought of going to fight with Krishna, for he knows he is one of God’s incarnations and at the same time be heroic. When Krishna chides him of how inferior he is he had to show the anger too.
Earlier at the beginning of the movie when Krishna helps to get Arjuna married to Subhadra, Krishna’s sister, he had to come in the guise of a Yeti (a kind of sage famous those days in hindu scriptures) and in the process had to act as if he is advising the King Balarama who is elder brother of Krishna and Subhadra in the same matter! In this context ANR had to show his wonder at Krishna’s help and his peaceful countenance as sage. When he has to get to Subhadra he has to exhibit his loving feelings and display his heroism when he had to go to war with Krishna. He had to show his compassion when he had to give his word to Gaya to protect him and had to show disgust and anger when the duo of Dhuryodhana and Karna come to offer help as a ploy to throw a wedge between Arjuna and Krishna. ANR does full justice all the navarasas in this movie and one should say hats off to his perfect action in this movie. Again the focus here is not about the movie, but most of the cast in the movie acted well in the direction of epic director K.V.Reddy.
Even though ANR is known mostly for his social dramas (he acted in countless romantic comedies, notable among them Dasara Bullodu, Athmeeyulu and tragedies like Devadasu, Prema Nagar etc,) I wanted highlight that he was just not for social dramas. He is an all round actor. He acted mostly in the protagonist roles but not as a villain in any. His role as Chanakya in Chanakya Chandragupta may count as one but not an outright villain! His legacy as the Doyen of Telugu Movie is sealed.