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.