Akkineni Nageswara Rao: From rags to glittering heights

Akkineni Nageswara Rao: From rags to glittering heights

From a poor farmer’s son to one of the most loved and respected actors of Indian cinema, Akkineni Nageswara Rao’s journey, which lasted over seven decades, could very well make an interesting story for a film.

ANR was born in Venkataraghavapuram in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh on September 20, 1924, in an agricultural family.

Rao, who walked barefoot in Gudivada in Krishna district in coastal Andhra as a youngster, rose to the dizzying heights of stardom and became the symbol of the Telugu film industry or “Tollywood”.

He was the last of the most popular first generation actors of Telugu cinema and was considered one of the two all-time greats, the other being N T Rama Rao (NTR), who died in 1996. While NTR was popular with the mass audience, Nageswara Rao made a name for himself by playing a variety of roles, which were liked by the educated middle-classes, besides doing mythological and folk films that appealed to the masses.

ANR’s was truly a rags-to-riches story. He started his career as an actor in theatre when he was nine. In the initial years of his career, he also played female characters. His passion for cinema was spotted by his mother. “I dropped out of school because my family couldn’t afford it. I used to help my mother at her work, but at leisure, I used to stand in front of the mirror and act,” Rao had said in an interview last year.

“My mother noticed my interest in acting and asked my brother to introduce me to the local theatre group. I can't even think of what I would have been if not an actor,” he had said.

He made his cinematic debut in 1941 Telugu film “Dharmapatni” with a brief role, and in 1944 he was picked up from the platform of Bezawada (now Vijayawada) railway station and signed on to play the lead role in Telugu drama “Sitarama Jananam”.

While Rao will be remembered for many wonderful films, his best performance was in “Batasari” and “Devadasu”.

“I still consider ‘Batasari’ as one of my finest performances. There was only one page of dialogue in the whole film and the role demanded maximum use of expressions,” he had said.
Despite strong criticism, Rao acted in “Devadasu”, only to be catapulted to the status of Tollywood’s first romantic hero. The strong criticism made him all the more eager to prove himself with the film. Later, Bollywood star Dilip Kumar, who played the love-lorn Devdas in the Hindi film of the same name, appreciated Rao.

Apart from Filmfare awards, Rao was honoured with Padma Vibushan, the second highest civilian award of the country, and Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the highest individual lifetime achievement award for films.

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