Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pan Indian Appeal of Tragedy: Tribute to Akkineni Nageswar Rao

Akkineni Nageswar Rao passed away in the early hours of today succumbing to cancer. He is an actor whose memory will always be cherished by those who have watched his movies. ANR, as he was fondly called, along with N T Rama Rao was one of two super stars from 50 to the 70s. ANR was known for his sensitive portrayals and his tragic roles while N T R was known for his mythological roles in his initial days and for his loud roles in later days. The truth is both were equally at ease be it a comic role, mythological role, tragic role or a standard dancing hero role yet they got slotted into certain roles.

Many of the roles Nageswar Rao played had a pan Indian appeal. Ofcourse he acted mostly in Telugu films and venturing once in a while to Tamil. The image of him as a tragic hero was cemented early in his career when he did 'Devadas'. Many believe that it was the best Devadas they have seen on screen. Better than Saigal, Dilip Kumar or Krishna (who remade it again in Telugu) The music by Subbaraman was outstanding in that film. Though it was Saigal who played the first Devadas, my feeling is that Nageswar Rao gave Devdas the modern treatment and that portrayal became the archetype for such roles. 'jagame maaya' became the anthem of all disillusioned people and remains so to this day. Later S D Burman for Dilip Kumar, Ramesh Naidu for Krishna and Ismail Darbar for Shahrukh Khan gave good songs but none could reach the seminal levels of Subbaraman. Lyrics were by Samudrala.

While his portrayal of 'Devadas' was a major hit in Telugu and Tamil (he was the hero in the Tamil version as well) and was appreciated up North, 'Suvarna Sundari' took him to the Hindi audience. He was the hero in the Hindi version of this film as well. This film was an all India hit. Not sure why ANR didn't work more in Hindi movie. This song from the movie was an all India hit as well. I give the Hindi version here. Music by Adinarayana Rao and lyrics by Bharath Vyas. While ANR acted as a normal hero in this movies, it would be his tragedies which would appeal to the people across India.

One of the early movies I saw when Doordarshan started telecasting movies was 'Mooga Manasulu'. This was our first introduction to the 'tragedy king'. As kids we  did not appreciate such movies because you don't like 'weepy' movie. You would rather watch some 'action' movie. Yet the movie did make an impact both due to the acting of Nageswar Rao, Savithri and Jamuna and the music of K.V.Mahadevan. 'gowrammo nee mogudevadammo' was a major hit with the kids. The bigger hit from the movie was 'naa paata nee nota'. The concept of an illiterate person teaching an educated girl to sing found favor with everyone. This tragic movie got made in Tamil with Sivaji Ganesan and Savitri. (I have heard that Savitri produced it in Tamil. It was supposed to have been a major flop in Tamil.) The movie was made in Hindi as well as 'Milan'. Starring Sunil Dutt and Nutan it was a fairly successful film. Here is 'naa paata nee nota palaka silaka'. Lyrics by Acharya Athreya:

The Hindi equivalent song was 'sawan ka mahina pawan jare sor' bu Mukesh and Lata. Music of Lakshmikanth Pyarelal.

Another movie in which Nageswar Rao reprises the Devadas role, 'Prem Nagar', was again a bit hit in Telugu and was later copied to Tamil and Hindi. It was made as 'Vasantha Maligai' with Sivaji in the lead role in Tamil and as 'Prem Nagar' in Hindi with Rajesh Khanna playing the lead role. K V Mahadevan reused many of his Telugu tunes in Tamil while S D Burman was the music director for the Hindi film. This again proved that Nageswar Rao was very effective in portraying such 'love failure and hence I am drinking' roles. The movie has a mix of fun songs and sad songs and most of them very big hits in Telugu. The joyous 'kadaveththu kochchindhi kanne pilla', 'teta teta telugulaa' were big hits but the tragic 'manasu gati inthe' and 'evarikosam' were greater hits. The tragic songs more firmly anchoring Nageshwar Rao's image as a tragedy king. Here is 'evarikosam': 

The same tune was reused in Tamil by K.V.Mahadevan as 'yaarukkaaga' and it was a big hit in Tamil as well.

A decade after 'Prem Nagar' was made, Nageswar Rao's image as a tragic hero did not dim. 'Premabhisekam' which was released in 1981 proved that. The story was about the hero dying of cancer and trying to ensure that the heroine forgets him and leads a normal. Hence the standard 'I love another lady because you must hate me' happens. Producers once again gave a bottle in Nageswar Rao's hands and laughed their way to the bank. Starring Sridevi and Jeyasudha along with Nageswar Rao, the movie as well as the songs were huge hit during those time. The movie was later made into Tamil as 'Vaazhve Mayam' starring Kamala Hasan, Sreedevi and Sripriya. Dasari made the move again in Hindi, in which Jeetendra and Rekha starred. The movie was called 'Prem Tapasya'. The Tamil movie did well but I am not sure if the Hindi version did well. Here is a song from that movie. Since I don't want this to be a 'all sad songs' post, I am giving the more lively song here, but basically a tragic song, which was also the greater hit. Well it has Nageswar Rao singing with a glass in hand. (I personally don't like this song much though)

Dasari Narayan Rao, who made 'Premabhisekam' made another such movie, though not a tragedy. The movie was 'Meghasandesam'. The music of the movie and Nageswar Rao's portrayal of a poet in search of his muse were well appreciated and the movie bagged a handful of National Awards. The movie was not a great hit in the box office though. The movie won the 'Best Telugu Movie' National Award. Music director Ramesh Naidu, singer Yesudas and Susheela, all won National Awards. 

Here is Yesudas with the semi classical 'navarasa suma maalika'. Words by Veturi Sundararamamurthy

In later days Nageswar Rao started donning the role of family elder in Telugu movies. His 'Seetharamayya Gari Manavuralu' starring him and Meena, as his grand daughter was a major hit.

I have just looked at only handful of movies of Nageswar Rao here. These show how much he had understood the tragic hero archetype and had inspired multiple films based on that archetype and how these films went beyond the boundaries of Andhra Pradesh. Nageswar Rao has many more superb roles to his credit. Hope someone will talk about them soon.

Let this man, who gave us so many good movies and memories, rest in peace.


Anonymous said...

wonderful tribute. :)

Anonymous said...

Great tribute - Venkat

Pree said...

Suresh, What a wonderful tribute you wrote! All the things said and songs mentioned in ur blog stand at the top of the lists for ANR's best. His demise is a terrible loss even at the ripe of 90's.
Growing up watching good movies has always been synonymous to having good times with family, that way losing ANR seems like parting with something dear to us in some ways.

Spoke to my mother who had mentioned to me this afternoon about TV channels airing all his popular songs, interviews etc. There is a song called 'Nas Hrudayam lo Nidurinche Cheli' - ANR's most fav song, a song he always sang to himself/ enjoyed it forever..she had told me watching him share about it in a recent interview. May his soul rest in peace.

Great tribute-bolg!

Kamal Aakarsh Vishnubhotla said...

Nice write up, although I must say that there is a lot more that could be written.

While his performance is always talked referring to films like Devdas (enough has been written about it anyway), I personally feel that he was a good actor when it came to social/family movies. While NTR ensured that the film focussed on him (and his theatrics), ANR did not mind playing a "one of the guys in the ensemble cast". If you look at his movies in B&W, there was no geat emphasis on the graph of his story per se, but the stories revolved around multiple people. A film like Todi Kodallu or Illarikam or Bharya Bhartalu or KulaGotralu for example. Who can ever forget the communist-leaned song 'Caulo shikaarukelle', a beautiful composition with great lyrics.

Even all the films produced by Vijaya Productions (from the classic Maaya Bazaar to Gundamma Katha) had sort of ensemble cast and he didn't mind playing that 'team player'. And he played those roles pretty well. And there were some good films like Iddaru Mitrulu. He showed some wonderful comic streak in films like Missamma, Preminchi Choodu and Chakrapani (Bhanumati production). I remember watching a songless B&W film, where ANR played an old lawyer arguing the murder case of his grandson. I thought that was quite a different film, for that era and he pulled it well. Or like the role of a disillusioned aged doctor he played in an obscure film called Prana Daata. Or even his performance Seetharamayyagaari manavaraalu, which I rate as one of his best and convincing performances ever. The choices of films like these reveal that, mannerisms and commercial preferences not withstanding, he had an eye for some different 'good' roles too, though the execution of those might not have made them as classics. In that sense, I really appreciate him.

If we talk about music, apart from Devdas, his films such as Chakrapani, Vipranarayana, Tenali Ramakrishna, Jayabheri..more or less a good number of the films that came in 50s through 60s. The Vijaya films had good music anyway.

For me, his performances began to get unconvincing from colour era. I guess once the mannerisms started, the good old pleasant actor took backseat (like Kamal Haasan once said that when mimicry artists start aping an actor, it means the actor is past the expiry date). Perhaps films like Andala Ramudu (by Bapu) were exceptions in the sense that they were entertaining. Even music-wise, I am not a fan of the 70s era.. though they were hits. Megha Sandesham is an exception.

All things said, it can be said that he was the face of Ghantasala in many films, for many wonderful songs. And especially if we talk about films like Jayabheri etc, which will remain etched forever.

ANR was not just another veteran actor. He had some contributions for sure, be it via films or music. Notably, he was instrumental in moving Telugu film industry to hyderabad. And there were some good films from his own home productions, till 90s atleast

Suresh S said...

Thanks Venkat for the comment.


'Naa Hridayamlo' is ofcourse a favorite for many people. It is a lovely, though the original I think is a Bengali song. And what you say is true. ANR was like family to lot of people

Srini Punukollu said...


wonderfully written tribute, enjoyed reading it.


Srini Punukollu said...


Wonderfully written tribute, Enjoyed reading it.


Suresh S said...

For some reason my friend rads comment is not showing here. I am cutting and pasting her comment here:

"Fabulous post and I loved all the songs you picked to showcase. The hind version of the "silaka" song was popular!

Thank you, I'll be sharing this with my friends (non-bloggers)"

Suresh S said...


Thanks for the wonderful summation. My idea was not to sum up his career but rather concentrate on one aspect which had pan India appeal. I think I could have elaborated on this aspect a bit more.

What I wanted to say here was that some of the roles that ANR took up seem to have a pan Indian appeal. More than any other archetype, the lost in love drunkard image seems to have caught the imagination of both South and North Indians. Whereas comic roles or crazy roles or mythological roles and standard hero roles differed a lot between North and South.

Here there are two aspects. The role's appeal across India and the way the role is enacted. In the first case we can always say that Devadas character was probably the archetype for such roles and that was invented by Sarath Chandra. What Nageswar Rao did was that he enacted these roles with a certain degree of realism. He had a sort of vulnerability in him which made the character more realistic (Contrast his role in 'Prem Nagar' with what Sivaji did in 'Vasantha Maligai'. Even when he is sad Sivaji is majestic. Whereas when ANR is sad he is vulnerable) That is why people remember him for such roles and his acting also gave an idea to the directors /producers on how the role would appeal to people across India.

I fully agree with the other points you made. As I said I was not trying to summarize his career, which was definitely much more than the 'tragic hero' roles.His comic timing is superb and I loved his roles in both 'Gundamma Katha' and 'Missamma'

Suresh S said...

Thanks PS for the comment

Kamal Aakarsh Vishnubhotla said...


Yes. I now see your point. Actually I read your post in a hurry. I read it completely but missed the angle you were covering. Also, quite habituated to your 'tribute' posts, I thought this was another one. But it is an interesting take that you wrote - about the Pan India appeal. This aspect never occurred to me before. yes, you are completely right that these roles somehow reverberated across other states (audiences) and in that sense, ANR was unique. NTR did remakes of many Hindi films (probably ANR did too, in 70s) but it is interesting that several of ANR films were remade in other languages.