100 years of NTR

The Telugu actor had a cordial relationship with Kannada artistes, directors and technicians
Last Updated : 26 May 2023, 20:45 IST

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NTR in ‘Palleturi Chinnodu’.
NTR in ‘Palleturi Chinnodu’.

Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (born May 28, 1923) popularly known by his initials NTR is the heritage of all Telugu-speaking people across the globe. NTR’s journey is both intriguing and fascinating. The man was a demigod to the people of not only undivided Andhra Pradesh but also Telugu diaspora across the globe. Born in Nimakkur village in Vijayawada in humble circumstances, NTR became a super star on the silver screen and reigning deity of millions of people.

Unlike other superstars of his time, NTR came to the film industry with little experience in professional theatre. Perhaps, he was the only major actor at that time who had a degree to his credit and discarded a government job, barely ten days after joining, to pursue his career in films.
Starting with a supporting role in ‘Manadesam’ (1949) NTR’s rise on the silver screen was meteoric. He soon excelled in mythological and social films. He played the role of Krishna to perfection in ‘Maya Bazar’ released in 1957 and soon became a demigod to the masses. He endeared himself as a saviour in swashbuckler films. Within a decade he became popular playing the hero in 60 films.

As an actor he was adored not only by the Telugu people but all cinema fans of south India. His school of acting influenced young and upcoming actors of all languages in south India. He also shared screen presence with some of the thespians of Tamil films but never acted in Malayalam and Kannada. However, his influence in Karnataka was unparalleled. Release of his films in the towns of border districts of Hyderabad Karnataka right from Raichur to Kolar was celebrated with fanfare. He had a considerable fan following in Karnataka.

Apart from fan following, he had cordial relationships with Kannada artistes, directors and technicians. During the 1950s and 60s Chennai (then Madras), was the major centre of film production and both the actors used to frequent studios regularly.

By the time Rajkumar made his debut in 1954, NTR was already a popular star. He always greeted Rajkumar with warmth and affectionately called him ‘Naa thammuda’ (my younger brother).

Those days many production units such as Vijaya productions, AVM and Jupiter pictures used to produce bilingual films simultaneously, much before the advent of pan Indian films. In such cases Rajkumar was regularly offered the role in Kannada versions played by NTR in Telugu. Films like ‘Bhoo Kailasa’, ‘Satya Harishchandra’, ‘Valmiki’, ‘Gali Gopura’ (Gaali Medalu-1962), ‘Veera Kesari’ (Bandipotu-1963) were some experiments.

After watching Kannada versions, NTR publicly acknowledged Rajkumar’s performances. NTR unequivocally appreciated the role of Harishchandra played by Rajkumar as one the great performances he has seen. However, Rajkumar always acknowledged NTR as a great actor who inspired him to excel his performances in mythological roles. Their bond grew beyond their profession and NTR and Rajkumar often visited their families.

While participating in the promotion of NTR: Kathanayakudu, a biopic of NTR, actor Puneeth Rajkumar recollected how fortunate he was to play on the lap of the great NTR. He also explained that while visiting a studio in Chennai when the young Puneeth wanted to have a race car used in shooting for himself, he was surprised to see one waiting at his home, apparently sent as a gift by NTR.

NTR often showed interest in Rajkumar’s films and performances. After watching the triple role of Rajkumar in ‘Kula Gowrava’ (1961) he expressed his intention to reprise the role in Telugu. His younger brother N Trivikrama Rao produced the film and the result was ‘Kula Gowravam’ (1963).

Likewise, Rajkumar nursed an ambition to play the role of Rama played by NTR in Lava Kusha (1963), the first colour film in Telugu. With much fanfare, shooting began in Hyderabad but was shelved in initial stages. The dream of Rajkumar remained unfulfilled.

Very few NTR starrers are remade in Kannada. In such cases Rajkumar was the natural choice to reprise the roles of NTR in the original. Thus, Rajkumar enacted the roles of NTR in the films ‘Maduve Maadi Nodu’ (Pelli Chesi Choodu), ‘Malli Maduve’ (Santhosham) and ‘Bala Bandhana’ (Aatma Bandhuvu).

NTR’s rise in politics was phenomenal. He joined politics at the age of 60, within nine months took on Indira Gandhi in the elections, and became successful in ending the Congress rule for the first time in the State.

He had strong connections with Karnataka politicians, particularly Ramakrishna Hegde and Devegowda. Karnataka leaders also played an important role to re-establish NTR to the chief minister chair when Nadendla Bhaskar Rao staged a coup and became the chief minister, when NTR was in the US for medical reasons.

NTR was the architect of the coalition Government and played a pivotal role as the Chairman of National Front to unify the opposition parties in the country. He was a front runner for the PM post after the Lok Sabha Elections in 1996 but did not survive to stake the claim, eventually it went to H D Devegowda.

The biographers of ‘NTR– A Biography’, K Chandrahas and K Lakshmi Narayana feel that the story of NTR can never be complete without B Vittalacharya, a Kannadiga who played an important role in popularising NTR through his films. Vithalacharya was an exhibitor of films in Arasikere along with D Shankar Singh. They launched a production banner, ‘Mahtma Pictures’ during late 1940s and churned out films on shoestring budgets to help the struggling Kannada industry. In 1963 he made a bilingual film (Kannada and Telugu), his last film in Kannada and strangely decided to remain with the Telugu industry.

He then went on to direct 13 folklore films with NTR, starting with ‘Bandipotu’ (1963) followed in quick succession by ‘Aggi Pidugu’ (1964), ‘Mangamma Sapatham’ (1965), ‘Aggibarata’ (1966), ‘Pidugu Ramudu’ (1966), ‘Gopaludu Bhoopaludu’ (1967), among others. Most of these films were made on a small budget and became blockbusters.

His last film with NTR was ‘Palleturi Chinnodu’ (1973), a social movie. The audiences were used to Vittalacharya’s folklore genre dishing out a delectable fare of magic, kings and sword fights were never disappointed with his films.

They loved NTR in various disguises, tricking and ultimately thrashing or killing the villain. They were delighted when NTR sang romantic songs with the heroine, hugging her tightly.

The image of NTR as a good Samaritan, one who pursued the evil villains relentlessly and finally taught them a lesson, found resonance with the audience and soon, this image became stronger and stronger and gave NTR a persona which lingered on in the popular perception.

Published 26 May 2023, 19:50 IST

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