Tag Archives: Tollywood

Personalities: NTR

ntr

Those of you following us on twitter may have been reading our recent tweets on Self-Respect. It is a word that is often used by rowdies for all the wrong movements. But self-respect is something greater than self-glorification. Self-respect is fundamentally about respecting yourself by respecting others. After all, a gentleman behaves properly around ladies (no matter what their character), not because of what it says about them, but because of what it says about him.

One such gentleman was celebrated for not only the characters he portrayed on screen, but the character he showed on the political stage. In fact, our very own Chandra Mohan garu wrote on the topic and the man here. Though we will build upon this theme, we will focus more on the biographical, cinematic, and political aspects of his place in history.

Few men in their lives (and after) can be recalled by the masses with simple initials: NTR is one such man.

While Sri Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao garu may have passed away 2 decades ago, his life and legacy, in cinema and in politics, touches every Telugu to this day.

If any actor ever put the mythos in a mythic career, it was the man who defined it and defined “Mythology” in the minds of the Telugus. That is why he is the topic of today’s installment in our Continuing Series on Andhra Personalities.

Background

Born in the village of Nimmakuru, Krishna District, on May 28, 1923, NTR hailed from an agricultural family of modest economic background.His parents were Venkataramamma and Laxmaiah. Due to the customs of the time, he was adopted by his childless paternal uncle Ramaiah and his wife. After completing class 5, young Rama Rao had to matriculate in Vijayawada to complete primary, and secondary studies. He later enrolled in SRR and CVR colleges. In a twist of fate, his first play was written by the head of the Telugu Department at his College, Kavi Samrat Viswanatha Satyanarayana. The drama was a progressive piece on women’s issues in Rachamalluni Dautyam. In those days, society was very conservative and ladies did not act in plays. The famously masculine ‘man of the masses’ was made to play (reluctantly) the heroine’s role…an experience which would later come in handy in Narthanasala, no doubt!

Nevertheless, the consummate thespian, NTR played the role to perfection and won first prize. This gave him the taste for theatre, which he would later bring to the silver screen.

From his early days of youth itself, he was a breadwinner for the kutumbam, selling milk on his bicycle to help the household make ends meet.

At the age of 20, he married Basava Tarakam. However, he had yet to complete his studies, and thus, had a difficult time succeeding in his examinations, given this new responsibility as a householder. He finally succeeded in passing out of Andhra Christian College in Guntur, with a Bachelor of Arts, in 1945. He also founded the National Art Theatre, a drama group. He later met the famed director L.V.Prasad. This chance meeting was a taste of things to come, and would play a pivotal role in his career.

In the mean time, however, the demands of supporting a family meant that he had to take up a job.  He passed the Madras Service Commission examination and was given a job as sub-registrar. This minor post was not to his liking, and he was stunned upon seeing the open bribery taking place.

Nevertheless, he had cultivated a booming baritone signing voice, and was blessed with good looks and broad shoulders. Deciding to chase his destiny, he quit his job and resolved to make a career in films.

From his first part, a walk-on as a police officer in Mana Desam (1949), for which he was paid 500 rupees (today about pounds 10 sterling), he became one of the cinema-crazed state’s best-known idols. [4]

A mere three weeks into his job, his photo was picked out of L.V.Prasad’s album by B.A.Subba Rao, for the hero’s role in Palleturi Pilla. This would launch the most legendary of all Telugu film careers.

ntr-headshot

The list of films ,of course, is endless. While Palleturi Pilla was itself a super hit, due in no small part to NTR’s refusal to have a stunt-double for his bull-fighting scene (he was hospitalised after being thrown by it), it was Paathala Bhairavi that would launch him into the stratosphere. So successful was this blockbuster, that it would later be made in other languages.

But, it was Maya Bazaar, of course, that would seal this screen legend’s place in Cinema-dom. Virtually living in the role of Sri Krishna, NTR’s acting here would set a trend of divine performances (pun intended) that would forever mark his place on the psyche of the Telugus. So scintillating was he in these pauranic roles, and so synonymous with these puranic stories, that many village and towns folk would touch his feet in divine association, in a way only seen since for actors of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan and B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat. Such is the power of Cinema—something NTR would leverage for his second career, in his second innings.

Fittingly, and indeed, very politically, his last movie before entering politics in 1982 was Bobbili Puli. It would serve as the ideal segue and launch pad for him into politics. The film released on his Sashtipoorthi (completion of 60 years), with the Telugu Desam Party, the party he founded, marking its formal entry into politics on the same day. He grandly seized power in a landslide election victory in 1983. Though ousted in a coup the following year, he returned quickly with an even greater mandate.

Closer to home, NTR ultimately had six sons and four daughters from his marriage. The most famous of his progeny is of course, the silver screen star Balakrishna (set to appear soon as Gautamiputra Satakarni). However, the son who would have the most impact on him politically would be the one by marriage, who took over the leadership of the Telugu Desam Party. As is notoriously recounted elsewhere, there were family dissensions in the last few years of Rama Rao garu’s life. His first wife passed away in 1984. He remarried, and this time, it was to his erstwhile political biographer, Lakshmi Parvati in the early 1990s. Family politics being what they are, the grown children did not take kindly to the political changes that accompanied the personal changes. Together with NTR’s son Harikrishna, Nara Chandra Babu Naidu took over the leadership effectively in a takeover bid, and would go on to carve out a notable legacy as CM of old & new Andhra Pradesh state.

Without judgment of either side, this turn of events (whether warranted or otherwise) had a traumatic effect on NTR, who felt betrayed. True to his indomitable spirit, he planned a comeback, but Mahakaal had other plans. The celebrated Movie star, State Political leader, and National Political figure had his final innings. He passed away on January 18, 1996, at the age of 72. A lifelong practitioner of yoga, he credited it for his longevity and energy.

Achievements

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The manifold achievements of this man of the masses, have faded with the passage of time. Perhaps it is time we remind the younger generation of why NTR’s name carries so much pull to this day, on both sides of the Polavaram.

His cinematic achievements are obvious, and indeed will be discussed in greater detail later in the Post. If they could be summed up in a phrase, however, it was performing High Culture for the masses. It was theatre on the silver screen that was accessible to educated and illiterate and young and old alike. Indeed, in the early phases of old AP, where there was some mistrust among the three regions of Andhra (Kosta, Rayalaseema, and Telangana), whatever differences cropped up due to history, evaporated when this screen legend appeared as the divine and historical personalities revered by all Telugus alike.

But he was a trend-setter not only in Cinema, but also in politics. The first Rath Yatra was done not by LKA, but by NTR. His ‘Chaitanya Ratham’ would conduct a yatra throughout the state, even finding him a place in the records books, marking 75,000 kms in less than a year.

When he first hit the road with it in 1982, soon after founding the party, the vehicle was an object of ridicule by the Congress. But criss-crossing the length and breadth of the State on the ‘chariot of awakening,’ with the theme song of Telugu self-respect on his lips, he was able to rouse the masses and defeat the ruling Congress. The election was a landmark in the country’s political history, as NTR stormed to power within nine months of founding his party defeating a century-old party.[6]

By the time the elections had come around, this modern Chariot and this modern Andhradesadeeswara managed to rouse popular rebellion against these modern sultans of Delhi. Rather than paeans to the decadent Nehru-Gandhi Netas of Congress, in its place sounded, Maa Telugu Thalli, throughout the state.

For months, the ‘Chaitanya Ratham’ trundled along the lush green paddy fields of coastal Andhra Pradesh, the dry landscape of Rayalaseema and Telangana and through the busy thoroughfares of the towns. “[6]

For those who thought NTR managed to merely “coast” to victory on the back of his celebrity, they clearly missed the lessons on political groundwork he gave them, free of charge. It was this campaign, this ratha yatra that garnered him the popular support and credibility to gain power. It demonstrated, as some recent film stars-turned-politician can attest, that his election was no fluke. But his political achievements go beyond political innovation. Here is a quick recap for readers:

  • In all, he acted in 292 films in a career spanning 33 years between 1949 and 1982. Of these, 274 are in Telugu, 15 in Tamil and three in Hindi.” [3]
  • Awarded the Padma Shri in1968. 3 National Film awards. 1 Nandi Award
  • Was instrumental in shifting the Telugu Film Industry from Madras to Hyderabad. This along with his life-long devotion to his mother tongue helped restore the distinct identity of the Andhras.
  • Pushed for decentralisation of governance through Mandal elections. Began restoring traditional Telugu-Sanskrit terms from colonial Nizam-Persian terms.
  • Took on and crushed the fundamentalists in Old City Hyderabad, making this Capital of Telugus from the Days of Golkonda, safe for all citizens.
  • Introduced mid-day meal programme for children of impoverished families. Later copied in 7 other states.
  • He reserved more university places and expanded primary education for Women.
  • Implemented the Telugu Ganga Project in Rayalaseema, together with support of Sathya Sai Baba, quenched the water thirst in the region.
  • Ended the oppressive Patel-Patwari system of the Nizam era in Telangana
  • After Starring, Directing, and Producing films, also began Screenwriting films. Notably wrote Samrat Ashoka in 1992
  • Adorned the Tankbund with great figures from Telugu History.

What happened to those statues he gave us, today?

Legacy

ntr_josh

The illustrious legacy of NTR remains concrete to most, but nevertheless, controversial to many. A beloved personality, so widely revered by villages and urbanites alike, necessitates historical understanding, objectively.

With any popularly honoured figure, so synonymous with a modern culture, it becomes as important to understand the man beyond the hagiographies and diatribes alike. Political opponents refuse to compliment him and political fanboys…well…commit suicide over him (as one did when he passed away).

Nevertheless, the legacy of NTR to the Telugu land is hard to gainsay. Economically sound or not, his 2 rs/kg rice programme saved thousands upon thousands from starvation. Questions of nepotism aside, he forged a coherent countervailing influence to the corrupt Congress. Snide remarks of parochialism aside, his Telugu atma-gauravam campaign restored self-respect for Telugus at a time when it had reached a low point. Nothing was more emblematic of the sea-change in the Telugu Restoration he initiated in the capital of the Telugus, by enforcing through Law Enforcement, the implementation and protection of Official Telugu signboards in Hyderabad from urdu-language fanatics. Golkonda of the Kakatiya era was the capital of Krishna-Godavari Samskruthi, not the geographically non-native Ganga-jamuni “tehzeeb“.

Above all however, both on screen and off, he reminded Andhras that they were not mere colonised people of the British Raj, but the inheritors of the Empire of Krishna Deva Raya. No man more poignantly and poetically demonstrated the relationship between Art & History, Cinema & Politics. Let us do a retrospective of his roles.

Cinematic

Unlike the self-promoting but culturally barbarous “bollywood” (of modern middle eastern orientation), the Telugu Film Industry has promoted real native Bharatiya Samskruthi in all its glory. This tradition reached its noontide under Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao. While the period that followed his golden years in the Golden Age of Telugu cinema was not altogether free of caste critiques of closed doors, the quality of films in his era did not suffer, as it did in later periods. The films of NTR were High Culture for the Masses. They demonstrated that it was possible to create meaningful and mature films for even illiterate audiences . If we had Gidugu Ramamurthy garu for Literature, we had Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao garu for Cinema. False dichotomies of stilted inaccessible vs crass cruditude were no longer required. The full spectrum from granthikam to mandalikam to janapadam, could be enjoyed, only if presented with taste and aesthetics. This mantle, after a long hiatus, has been taken up again by director S.S.Rajamouli.

These matters not withstanding, having taken a look at the man behind the films, let us take a look at the movie mogul in his films.

Paathaala Bhairavi

It’s of course difficult to pinpoint a single scene, a single movie, or a single set of movies as definitive of the body of work an artiste has contributed to the body saamskruthik, but there are a few standouts not only for cultural purposes but for career purposes as well. The first such movie is the popular Paathala Bhairavi. Arguably the first blockbuster in a long and illustrious career, this was NTR’s first true contribution to the long list of cultural significant films he produced.

A romantic hero, a lover, and a fighter, the character he played was in truth, the Telugu every man. This 1951 hit made waves not only in both Telugu states (unification would be a long 5 years later…) . What was praiseworthy about it was how it was based off the native Burrakatha tradition of Telugudom. But if any one scene truly embodies the subtleties that are often missed in the grandeur of Taraka Rama Rao Senior, it is this.

Maya Bazaar

For all the incipient greatness of Paathaala Bhairavi, it was Maya Bazaar that forever etched NTR in the hearts of Telugus. Appearing in the first of what would eventually be 17 appearances as Lord Krishna, it was this cinematic Rayudu’s most popular role.

The execrable modern attempts to create almost an androgrynous Krishna would be firmly rebuked with a single screening of the “Ranchod” portrayed by Rama Rao. Indeed, NTR’s Kannayya gave us the statesman and strategic thinker, rather than than the traditional young flute-player or philosophic Gita-giver. It was a serious Krishna, that nevertheless, lost none of the provocative charm and coy uplifting inspiration.

One would make juxtaposition with the much later, and nationally-recognised Nitish Bharadwaj, but my Telugu credentials would stand impeached, so NTR it is…

Missamma

Arguably one of his most sensitive roles, it also showed that, in contrast to the decidedly modern “eve-teasing” and general street harassment of women courtesy Bollywood, lotharios of a different era had a more genteel and courteous approach to women, even when being playful.

In contrast to this era of narcissism and solipsism as strategy for social success, NTR’s character here showed how restrained charm, and manly sensitiveness, along with boyish playfulness, go a longer way for would-be Kamadeva’s even in our era. Indeed, his character found himself the object of affection of not only Missamma herself, but Jamuna’s character as well!

This scene nevertheless captures his unique ability to project a confident yet approachable and self-aware masculinity on screen. It was not loud and brash, but cultured and self-mastered.

Narthanasala

narthanasala

Last but not least, it was this movie, more than any other, that showed us NTR the acting professional, rather than merely NTR the star. His full depth and range was seen in this production. His turn in the role of Brihannala (Arjuna’s identity during the Pandavas’ agyatavasam) was genre-defining. This was all the more so given the fact that he learned dance from none other than the eminence grise of Kuchipudi himself, Sri Vempati Chinna Satyam garu.

Of course, there are many, many more movies that could be pored over, and indeed, will be. Nevertheless, here are a few other standouts.

Other Notable Filmography

Bhookailas

Tenali Rama Krishna

Mahamantri Timmarasu

Srinadha Kavi Sarvabhouma

Sampoorna Ramayanam

Gundamma Katha

Sri Venkateshwara Mahatmyam

Bobbili Puli

Full Filmography

Political

With three terms as Chief Ministers Rama Rao garu had as long-lasting a legacy in politics as he did in films. Each time he would be voted out of office, he would return to power with landslide victories. Indeed, in his final days, he had hoped to do the same, but Destiny decided otherwise.

From breaking the oppressive Patel-Patwari system of the Nizam to giving a firm rebuke to the Gandhi dynasty and its Congi cronies, NTR is synonymous with one thing: Self-Respect. But his was not a crass “self-respect” that singled out a single caste or a set of “settlers” for slander, it was a self-respect that brought people together rather than divide them up. Did he cater to his base?—sure, like any sharp politician does. The question is, did his actions and policies benefit the state as a whole?

True Atma-gauram lies not in “licking the ones who kick and kicking the ones who lick”, but giving a black eye to those who push you around and protecting those who can’t protect themselves. That is the difference between a poodle and a purusha. The ethos of Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao reminded us precisely of that Nara-tattvam and that Telugu Atma-Gauravam and that Andhra Abhimanam. One can be a good local citizen, a good state citizen, a good national citizen, and a good cultural denizen. NTR represented all four.

He firmly stood up to the presiding national leader who over-stepped his bounds, to show Telugus could not be pushed around. It did not matter what the caste was of T.Anjaiah whom Rajiv Gandhi insulted, what mattered was his mother tongue. The only jati that mattered here was the Andhra jati.

He crushed the fundamentalists from Old City Hyderabad, and helped reassert the place of Golkonda as an old capital of the Telugus. This is true atma-gauram. This ended the communal riots during Ganesh Nimmajan.  And yet from the days of NTR and CBN (who finally tamed them), here is the state of the new state today.

He, significantly, chaired the National Front, a left-leaning alliance, that served as a counterweight to Congress. At the height of his popularity, NTR was thus deemed Prime Ministerial material, and had luck ultimately favoured, he may have succeeded—such were the shadows he cast in those days. Nevertheless, the opportunity did not fructify, and instead, true to his legacy, he promoted the candidacy of the first South Indian and first Telugu Prime Minister, Sri Pamulaparthi Venkata Narasimha Rao garu. Though the relations between PVNR and NTR would ebb-and-flow, there was a common bond of Teluguthanam, that, whatever their differences, united them. Rama Rao garu even refused to field an opponent against the future PM, for the Lok Sabha seat.

As such, perhaps the most telling description of all came from his sometimes political rival, and a man he himself nevertheless supported.

The prime minister, Narasimha Rao, described him as “a man of many parts – a learned and deeply religious person, a very fine and powerful actor who swayed millions of people, a forceful orator and above all, a man of the masses.”[4]

But for all of Telugudom, NTR was more than just “a very fine and powerful actor“, but a reel and real-life superstar who not only defined Andhra Cinema, but became synonymous with the Divine Stories it once told. To this day, he set a cultural standard that Telugu film is only again beginning to rediscover in both depth and grandeur. The statues still being constructed of him, confirm this story.

While his administration was not free of caste-conflict, notably two key episodes standing out (Vangaveeti Ranga and the Violence at Karamchedu), to blame NTR directly would be as unfair as blaming PVNR for the Babri Riots. Politics is complicated, and whatever role caste plays in it today, it only emphasises the need for us to focus more on Rajdharma than just Rajniti. Political leaders are also products of their time, and such matters are better left for historians to research more deeply.

For the purposes of Andhra Cultural Portal, however, the cultural contribution of this man is what stands out the most.

Cultural

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The cultural impact of Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao cannot be minimised. This is for the simple fact that he was the thespian who brought High Culture to the Masses. Rather than looking down upon the mamidi manishi, and churning out mindless drivel for box office collections, he told us stories that defined the genre: Maya Bazaar, Missamma, Paathaala Bhairavi, Narthanasala, Bhookailas, the list goes on and on for films that not only gave us entertaining stories, but that lifted our spirits and intellects.

Even religion was dealt with a tasteful manner, not with the blaring of instruments, but with the touching of the soul. It was this deft weaving of the nava rasa and dhvani that gave never-ending resonance to his political message. Populist though he was, there was a dharma to his dharna.

Many may of course point to various corruption charges. But even the great PVNR was not immune to these allegations, and politics in India has in recent centuries, truly been a grimy business. What’s more, as one can see with a certain political party in the State of Delhi, and even outside the country, more often than not, accusers often have grimier hands that the accused.

Others of course bring focus to NTR’s second wife and her political involvement in his waning days, others may point out to gossip of numerous love affairs. But men of power have always had powerful appetites, and have been hurt by them in the process. Whether the rumours of the silent coup on the inside are as true as the overt rebellion from his family on the outside, is a matter for historians to resolve. But if one criticism can be made of NTR, it’s that he, like other politicians from Bhishma to L.K.Advani, should make succession plans and retire at the right age.

Along with this cultural legacy, was a familial one. Family matters aside, his name carries on today with not only his sons, but his Grandson and namesake NTR junior, and even the son of first Chief Minister of new Telangana state. Such is the stamp of “Taraka Rama Rao”, literally.

And to return to matters full circle, while one should aspire to the legacy of Ram, the question ultimately is what good was done for the people, state, and  culture.

NTR’s achievements, both political and cultural speak for themselves. Above all, however, the measure of a man is not whether he alternates between tyrant and sycophant. A real leader doesn’t beat up on the weak while slinking away before the strong. He stands up to the strong and defends the weak, as he did during Indira Gandhis regime. That is true self-respect. Ahankar and Ego take pride in flattery, braggadocio, and bullying. Real leaders show us the real meaning of atma-gauram. Not complaining about settlers who are your language brothers, but recognising the perils posed by persian-language promoting videshi colonists. Not emotionally combusting at slights and provocations, or last minute last stands, but harnessing man power and organising people power for the common good, consistently. That is real atma-gauram.

It was NTR who showed how to be a good regional leader and a good national leader. It was NTR who showed the real meaning of class: aristrocracy not of distant royalty, but of an accessible and courteous and cultured gentry. To neither take for granted our state and mother tongue, but to also not neglect the national interest. It was NTR who reminded Telugus of Self-Respect.

It was NTR who showed us the power of unity and the importance of Telugu Thanam.

Johar Anna garu.

References:

  1. http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-telugu-desam-party-turns-29-nt-rama-rao-remembered-1364859
  2. http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2002/12/09/stories/2002120901160200.htm
  3. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/telugu/movies/news/NTR-is-the-greatest-Indian-actor/articleshow/18860418.cms
  4. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-n-t-rama-rao-1324748.html
  5. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/01/19/world/n-t-rama-rao-72-is-dead-star-status-infused-his-politics.html?_r=0
  6. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/article309419.ece
  7. http://www.thehindu.com/2004/03/09/stories/2004030913280300.htm
  8. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/Cabinet-recommends-rice-sambar-for-mid-day-meal/articleshow/23508751.cms?referral=PM
  9. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004417/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

Personalities: Savithri

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From Mahanari Savitri over at ICP, we go to Mahanati Savithri here at ACP.  After a long hiatus from phillims, we return to the Cinema star who started it all.

A legendary woman in her own right who needs no introduction to the Telugu people, our next Personality in our Continuing Series is the original doyenne of Telugu Cinema. She stood astride the southern film industries like a female colossus, and remains to this day, our most universally beloved actress. It may be hard to imagine a time before Sridevi in the cinema of the South, but the original Missamma was the Amma to all actresses since.

Background

Known by many names and given many titles, Savithri  Kommareddy was born Nissankararao, Savithri in the Andhra region of the erstwhile Madras Presidency, in 1936. Her natal place was Chiravurru, Guntur District. She lost her father, Guravayya, at the tender age of 6 months, causing her mother, Subhadramma, to take her and her elder sister Maruti to live with their aunt. She thenceforth grew up in Vijayawada.

Early on, she demonstrated a talent for dance, and her uncle enrolled her in classical dance and music classes.She was instructed by Guru Sishtla, Purnayya Sastry. After only a year, she excelled under his guidance, and he recognised and praised her talent.

It took less than a year under his tutelage for Savithri to become a skilled dancer.  Almost all the dances she learned involved the stories from the Puranas. [6]

At age 11, she joined a theatre troupe (Arunodaya Natya Mandali) and performed all across the coastal region. After this, her family decided to take her to Chennai (then Madras), to try to make her a star. It was said that Savithri’s favourite actor was Akkineni, Nageswara Rao, and she tried to catch glimpses of him. Although initially cast alongside him for the film Samsaaram (1950), the role later went to Lakshmi Kanthamma. As fate would have it, Savithri would later star as his love interest in the all-time classic Maya Bazaar.

Nevertheless, Savithri proceeded with her career and was cast as a vamp in the movie Roopvati, and then danced in the movie Paathaala Bhairavi. It was 1952, however, that proved to be a banner year for her. She consecutively featured in Sankranthi, Palleturi Pilla (her first as the lead heroine), and Devadasu. She also was cast in a Hindi movie Bahut Din Hue and a Tamizh film Manampol Mangalyam. Originally Bhanumati was cast in Missamma, but due to differences with the producer, she left, and Savithri was cast in the title role. It would prove to be a career-defining, and indeed, industry defining part for her.

Savithri was also making an impact in Kollywood. Beyond the Tamizh version of Missamma, she was also seen in Kanyasulkam and many other movies. It was on the set of Missiamma, however, that the closeness between her and Gemini Ganesan was noticed. The entire South would eventually be blindsided when it found out Savithri secretly married Ganesan in 1952 itself. That year was a banner one in more ways than one. Interestingly, there is an anecdote wherein GG came across a star-struck Savithri. He is said to have recommended her in 1948, when she visited Gemini Studios with her mother. Ganesan apparently wrote on her picture that she was promising, if given an opportunity.

If 1952 was a banner year, 1956  was a roller coaster. She starred in numerous films (‘Appu Chesi Pappu Koodu’, ‘Mangalya Balam’, ‘Bhale Ammayilu’, ‘Thodi Kodallu’, ‘Gundamma Katha’)and received many awards. But she and the already much-married, many-fathering Gemini Ganesan finally went public about their marriage. She would give birth to a daughter that year as well. She would later have their son.

1957 represented the highwater mark, with the industry-defining Maya Bazaar. It was a movie that was Epic in every sense of the word, and would truly cement Savithri’s star on the proverbial walk of fame. From girlish glee, to feminine cleverness, to moonstruck loveliness, Savithri shone in this role like the chandamama in the song Lahiri Lahiri.

After 1963’s Narthanasala, Savithri went on to other roles. She was still making films throughout the 70s (especially in Tamizh), but began producing and directing as well. One of her movies took 5 years to produce, and is attributed to causing later monetary issues.

Despite her glistening career, fame, and fortune, Savithri died at the young age of 46. The long-suffering woman of Gundamma Katha had decided she had suffered Gemini Ganesan’s affairs long enough and walked out of the marriage. A generous person by her nature, she was defrauded by the many sycophants and parasites who had set up court around her. These same folk would abandon her later in life when she was in financial troubles.

Her biographical accounts make reference to how she drowned her sorrows in drink. Whether it was a disease or not that claimed her life at the young age of 46, it was clear that she really died of a broken heart in 1981. She had married the wrong man, trusted the wrong people, and lived out the remainder of her life in Bangalorean loneliness.

With a life-story fit for a screenplay tragedy, Savithri nevertheless set the benchmark for all actresses since. Despite her comparatively shorter life, what she achieved in cinema has yet to be exceeded, nor is likely to be. She was the first true female super-star, but more importantly, she was a truly theatre-trained talent who brought her myriad talents to the screen. As she was in her childhood drama troupe so she was in peak of life, the crowd-puller and centre of attention.

But a life such as hers should be celebrated rather than mourned. What were her achievements in reel life and real life?

Achievements

From Maya Bazaar, to Missamma, to Gundamma Katha and beyond, the impact of Savithri on the silver screen in Andhra Golden age of cinema is hard to minimise. She was the original grande dame of Telugu Cinema.

She brought a subtlety, a delicacy, and lovability, and a gravitas which is rare to detect in actors of any era (let alone this one). She remains the benchmark against which all serious actresses weigh their performances. Sridevi remains the quintessential complete actress, but Savithri is the naati who brought true Nataka in its highest form, to mass cinema.

Despite the celebrated greatness of Maya Bazaar, Savithri will forever be remembered for her title role as Missamma.

Savitri was a multi-faceted genius. She was not only an actress, but also a director, producer and writer [5]

Missamma was the role that defined her career, and in many ways, her life.  She was the cultured girl in a post-Independence India, who still managed to be modern…on her own terms. She managed to demonstrate that empowerment means more than slick youtube videos or prurient and shrill protests. Rather, true empowerment was strong will, and living a meaningful life.

From starring roles at an early age to gender-empowering parts at the height of stardom, Savithri was a pioneer in Telugu Cinema. This Guntur girl managed to achieve fame in a number of industries beyond her native Andhra, and was cast in Tamizh, Hindi, Malayalam, and Kannada cinema as well. She had completed her conquest of the South and had made forays in the North.

Credited with 253 films. At one point she was making a film a month!

Savithri made such an impression on the minds of film-makers, that this actress who dominated the 50s and 60s was still appearing in films (posthumously) in the mid-80s!

She received numerous awards over the course of her illustrious career. From Filmfare to Rashtrapati to Nandi, she was no stranger to the coveted accolades of her profession.

But as is the case with so many of the luminaries of Andhra, from Balamurali Krishna to Vempati Chinna Satyam to P.Suseela, “Had she been born in other States, she would have earned much more name than what she had gained“. [5]

Rather than doing nothing and blaming people for the state of their culture, perhaps its time this state’s  public take responsibility and start investing in institutions that promote culture and promote cultural icons like Savithri who became veritable institutions.

Legacy

Nata Siromani, Kalaimamani and Nadigayar Thilakam, Mahanati Savitri has to her credit several Filmfare awards, Rashtrapati award for ‘Chivaraku Migiledi’ and a permanent place in the hearts of people.

Savithri was the original lady screen legend of the Telugu Film Industry. She cast a wide shadow over the South, and appropriately, was the natural choice to even play her Missamma role in Tamizh. gundammakatha

Gundamma Katha was another film that was a milestone. Irrespective of the original quiet nature of her character, Savithri is practically enjoying this scene below, and the crass cat-fight that ensues. Indeed, we see how her character, Lakshmi, has become an assertive (rather than a passive or aggressive) woman, who remains cultured, but capable of defending herself and others.

Almost as interesting as the variegated roles she played on screen, was Savithri’s life off-screen. She has been the subject of many books: ‘Mahanati Savitri Venditera Samragni by Pallavi, ‘A Legendary Actress Mahanati Savitri’ by VR Murthy and  ‘Savitri Jeevita Charitra’ by GVG. The latest is ‘Venditera Vishadaraagaalu’ by Pasupuleti, Ramarao.

Pop culture has itself been no stranger to celebrating the life and legacy of Mahanati Savithri. In fact, there has been recent news that a silver screen biopic is slated for production, starring Nithya Menon.

There is even a Mahanati Savitri Sahitya, Samskrutika Kalapeetham Sankshema Sangham that celebrates her life and commemorates her occasions. Her daughter is seen here, paying tribute to her mother’s life.

She is like sandalwood that spreads fragrance all around; she is like a piece of camphor that fearlessly glows in the darkness of night – said Jnanpith Awardee, eminent writer Ravuri Bharadwaj.[2]

She had the grace of the all-enduring Indian woman, but with the cool and quietly burning Shakti of a Rani, that could burn hot when required. Perhaps no role better embodied her range than Gundamma Katha, where she did precisely that. The Bharatiya Naari, like Savithri, is not someone to be take for granted!

Truly, with the career and contribution of Mahanati Savithri, nidra leychindi mahilaa lokam.

References:

  1. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0767800/
  2. http://www.thehansindia.com/posts/index/2013-12-22/Drama-in-real-life-80115
  3. http://www.cinejosh.com/news/3/36972/differences-between-savitri-and-sridevi.html
  4. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Vijayawada/mahanati-savitri-remembered/article8033877.ece
  5. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/glowing-tributes-paid-to-legendary-actor-savitri/article6730098.ece
  6. http://www.savithri.info

Gautamiputra Film & Video

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By now, most of you know about the fantastic new film by Krish on Gautamiputra Satakarni. Starring Balayya himself, and set to release in 2017, it promises to be an outstanding follow up to our current stretch of Telugu Historical & Fantasy Blockbusters.

While Magadheera was first to the mark, it is Baahubali that inaugurated the current run, with a solid follow up in Rudhramadevi. Of course, Kanche too is in the same league, though it was more modern history and less sandals & swords.

But Gautamiputra Satakarni promises all that and so much more. Without a doubt, the greatest ruler among the Ancient Andhras, he was an Emperor par Excellence, Defender of Dharma, and destroyer of the Sakas (Scythians) and Pahlavas (Parthians). With his rule stretching as far East as Pataliputra and well into Rajasthan in the North, he was the greatest Indian ruler of his era.

And yet, there has been so little written or filmed about him…til now. It may be a long wait for the NBK blockbuster, but an NRI and proud Andhraite has painstakingly put together a lovely movie based on the popular history behind the Satavahanas.

The talented Bhavani Chowdhary gaaru has filmed and edited a nice video summarising the Satavahana king for the mamidi manishi. 

source: http://bhavanichowdhary33.blogspot.com

Here is the inspiration behind it in her own words:

Video is made to catch attention of many lay readers (as a blogger I know how difficult is that ) thanks to the curiosity due to NBK film. It was painful to see many scoops, teasers, versions around but none with historical facts. Wondering and failing to fit this in a blog of  less than 700 words, I attempted to do a small clip using picasa.
It consumed 4 days from story, script, cinematography, background music, editing and all…thanks to Moviemaker that made a simple blogger—a movie maker…Music and editing was THE painful part.
It was made for an all-India audience, as Gautamiputra was Emperor of 4 states at that time. I am an NRI ,but heart & soul with my Motherland.

She also recently published a slideshow based on it over at Speaking Tree. You can  read her original post and follow her on her personal blog.

Enjoy the video and let us and her know what you think below!


Disclaimer: This video represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Andhra Cultural Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Personalities: S.Janaki

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In an industry marked by unscrupulous careerists and no-holds barred competitors, S. Janaki gaaru is that rare voice of integrity.

Playback singer extraordinaire, she, along with P.Suseela garu, formed the twin pillars of female voice accompaniment from the 70s to the 90s in then united Andhra.

As such, it is only natural that our continuing Series on Andhra Personalities includes this scintillating singer:  S.Janaki.

Background

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Born April 23, 1938 in Palapatla, Andhra Pradesh (then part of the Madras Presidency), Sishtla Sreeramamurthy Janaki is a native of Guntur District. She became a singer at the tender age of 3, and has not looked back since.

She is said to have been inspired by the All India Radio programmes and was given instruction in music by Paidiswamy. She later won the AIR music prize (2nd place) and that catalysed a legendary music career. This native Guntur girl then shifted to Chennai where she became a staff artiste at AVM Studios.

Janaki gaaru’s first film was in Tamil (Vidhiyin Vilayadal)in 1957. While this was not released, the Telugu version later was and she featured in 2 songs.

In her very first year, Janaki is estimated to have sung 100 songs in six languages, which was a record of sorts in those days. [6]

Since she is a favourite of God’s Own Country, “her first Malayalam film song was ‘Irul moodukayo vaanil….’ from the film ‘Minnunnathellam Ponnalla’ (1957)”. [6] Her versatility is considered to be astonishing: aside from her command of emotional range, she has sung imitating a child, imitating a drunk, and even imitating a man. It is, therefore, not for nothing that she is considered gifted at mimicry too.

S. Janaki is also considered a talented lyricist. She has composed a number of songs in Telugu and Tamil. Even more impressive, she composed music for the Telugu film Mouna Poraatam (1988).

Aside from playback music, she has also recorded Classical Carnatic standards as well. Despite marrying and being busy with family life, she managed to continue her career and showcase her talent to Andhra, the rest of the country, and even large swathes of the world. Reputedly very spiritual, she has sung numerous Bhakti songs dedicated to Krishna and Shirdi Sai Baba.

Achievements

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S.Janaki gaaru’s achievements rarely need recitation to the rasikas of Telugu (and South Indian) filmdom. Her distinguished, decades-long career had her singing beside fellow greats such as S.P.Balasubramanyam and Yesudas, and she sang for top heroines such as Jayaprada and Sridevi. With her unique ability to convincingly emote a range of rasas, her voice is celebrated by many even today.

She was univerally feted by the 4 main South Indian Film industries for her contributions. In Kannada alone she is said to have sung 1,000 songs. Despite this volume in Kannada, and her nativity in Andhra, she is considered the “Malayali’s eternal favourite” [6], and has practically been adopted as a daughter of Kerala. Such is the story of the scintillating songstress S. Janaki.

She was also awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2013, which she famously rejected (many believe rightly so). It is no secret that South India has been neglected in national awards and patronage. While many credit Delhi centric politics, there is a more insidious reason. Under the mantle of Ganga-Yamuna Tehzeeb (in fact more of Tehzeeb and less Ganga-Yamuna), the practitioners of native arts and the native artforms themselves are neglected by a foreign looking and debauched elite that looks to the arts of India’s neighbour.

It is time that persons of sophistication and true refined taste, rasika and sahrdaya alike, make it a point to emphasise our own traditions. We have our own tastes and there is no reason to wax eloquent over parvenu traditions easily branded as all flair and little framework. Rather than praising others who borrowed our frameworks for their own tastes (self-servingly mocking ours) and agendas , it is time those of us who hold true to Bharata Muni reassert the beauty of our own tastes and assert what is in fact ours.  In her own quiet way, S.Janaki gaaru did just that, and the accomplishments of this talented singer give her the gravitas to hit just the right note.

  • Hugely popular playback singer in South India with a career stretching 50+years
  • Recorded 20,000+ songs in 17 languages ranging from Telugu and Hindi to Japanese and even German
  • Received 31 state awards and 4 National awards. 14 times in Kerala and 7 times in AP
  • Awarded Honorary Doctorate by Mysore University for her contributions to Kannada Playback Industry over 35 years
  • Was awarded Padma Bhushan, which she famously rejected

Legacy

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Hugely popular for over 50 years throughout Southern India, S. Janaki is a veritable playback industry institution. It is rare for a singer or even actor to be so universally beloved by another state. But what the Marathi “Rajnikanth” Gaekwad is to Tamil Nadu, so the Andhra Janakiamma is to Kerala. So why is she known as The Queen of Expression?

The voice which expressed deep hidden feelings of a village girl equally emoted most modern notes of urban. The Voice which expressed the pain in love expressed the sensuous notes with same ease. [1]
What’s more, in a refreshingly collaborative example, she has also sung with fellow singing legend P.Susheela gaaru a number of times. Modern day rival divas could learn from that example between two competing songstresses.  Whether accompanying other famous singers or matching musical accompaniment, the Queen of Expression was also the Doyenne of Versatility. Flute, Violin, even Nadaswaram could be effortlessly paired with her beautiful voice, over the course of a storied career. She even collaborated with peerless composer Ilaiyaraaja.

Famous for duets, she sang alongside the great gana gandharva Ghantasala gaaru. However, her most notable song pairing was with S.P.—a cross decade, cross industry collaboration that remains compelling to this day.
Young or old, layperson or classical enthusiast, Janakiamma is feted by all for her femininely formidable yet fragile voice. A true gem of our 2 states and celebrated by others, she is a must know personality for the current generation.


References:

  1. http://www.sjanaki.net/
  2. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0754169/
  3. http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/playback-singer-s-janaki-rejects-padma-bhushan/1065210/
  4. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/article1823877.ece
  5. http://zeenews.india.com/entertainment/musicindia/kannada-composers-laud-s-janaki-for-doctorate-honour_25461.html
  6. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/article2272857.ece

Manam – Familial Love in its Finest Form

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On the 2nd Anniversary of ANR’s passing, we initially thought about publishing a Personalities Post to honour this great figure of Telugu Cinema. Then we realised that the best way to remember him on this day would be the way he himself wanted to be remembered. Odd as it is to post an old birthday celebration on his vardanthi, this is the tenor we wanted to set. So rather than mourn the void Sri Akkineni Nageswara Rao gaaru left behind, we give you a celebration in celluloid with a review of his final movie: Manam.

Manam – Film on Familial Love in its Finest Form

This is a cinema—yes it is indeed very worthy of that word—that not only rewards long time viewers of Telugu films, but native of speakers of our mathru bhasha. This is not due to any sense of chauvinistic greatness, but due to that effect of commitment to culture and that impact of language: resonance of feeling.

What is the feeling in this movie, you ask? While casual observers (and ever-present haters) may dub this an ego project for the Akkineni family, the only response I have for such crabs is, “Murkh”. True, this film could be seen as an attempt at braggadaccio, but in reality, it is one of the sweetest and most touching tributes from son and grandson to their beloved paterfamilias: Akkineni Nageswara Rao. It is why we decided that the best remembrance of the Telugu Devadasu on this January the 22nd would not be to publish his Personalities Post today, but to review the film that capstoned a legendary career.

Move over K3G, there’s a new kid in town

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Art is not mere joy, my friends. It is the inspiration and the embodiment of life itself. Two movies spanning a decade and two industries spanning a nation managed to do just that. To properly place the significance of Manam (and its festive remembrance of the life and work of ANR), juxtapostion (upamana) with its Hindi counterpart is most appropriate.

**Minor Spoilers Ahead**

Kabhi Khusham Kabhi Gham may indeed retain the heavyweight champion title for Family Films, with the traditional grand song and dance, jet set prance of the wealthy North Indian family (a concept dating back to HAHK, with roots in MPK), its deft avoidance of direct tragedy, and extravagant sets, but the very Telugu Manam edges it out as Family Cinema. This is a work of pure Vatsalyam, the obvious sthayibhava. But it is bursting with this bhava in a way that is doubly resonant.

Anandavardhana is instructive here, with his famous emphasis on dhvani (resonance), and the pure power of this poetic concept is apparent. Ironically, it was not with a rupaka of classical Sanskrit nataka, but with a full length Telugu motion picture, that that great Kashmiri literary genius converted me to his school of Dhvani. Long a stickler for the Natya Sastra and Bharata Muni’s emphasis on Rasa, it was the movie Manam that finally convinced me not only of the criticality of resonance, but its centrality.

Manam is a story about filial and parental love that not only transcends generations, and time periods, but even fourth walls. With double entendres and references readily perceptible to Telugu audiences, this film makes us feel familial love not only in three dimensions and three generations, but on-screen and off. With religous name reversals and real life name reversals, it treats the quick and the quick-witted. To quote my very sentimental mother (with whom I saw this film and to whom I supplied an entire Kleenex box): “Every scene of this movie is strategically shot”. Every sequence, every glance, every reference, and yes, even every cameo (there is not only a fitting cinematic tribute to the career and life of ANR, but a K3G homage provided by the Big B himself).

Story

Manam is the movie that makes us believe in family again. This film touches on the essence of Kutumbham/Parivar, in more ways than one. It evaluates not just how it is not just tragedy that crushes the innocent happiness of the young, but the scorching acid of lust that caves in entire worlds. This is a movie about Fathers and Sons. And much like that Russian classic, manages to fill it with the love of Mothers as well.

It was able to accomplish this in a way that is not preachy, that is not incredulous, but that is all very human. The boundlessness, the ephemerality, and indeed, the fragility of love in all its ethereal qualities is on display. And yet behind this is not blind moha. We understand familial attachment and even the celebration of togetherness, but we also understand the importance of culture, values, and Dharma.

Much like that other movie that resonated with audiences across undivided Andhra (and India), Manam managed to capture the nuances of Dharmic culture. Key scenes prior to foreboding story inflection points demonstrate beliefs (mocked by the uncultured as “superstitious”) that would be as much at home in Ancient Devabhasha drama as it is in modern Telugu Cinema. What’s more, Sanskrit terms understood from Kashmir to Kanyakumari literally bubble like a rolling brook throughout Manam: Mangalam, amangalam, sakunam, kaalam, vidhi , all these terms  are unthinkingly used in Telugu, but used by speakers of Malayalam, Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali alike. This is a screenplay refulgent with those ever so crucial terms, indeed, informing critical Telugu language dialogue as well. No word, however, manages to do so more than Vidhi.

Destiny

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This movie is as much a movie about Vidhi as it is about Vatsalyam. Stories that transcend not only eras and fashions, but even incarnations cannot help but be.  But the destiny that is discussed here, is not always the one that puts a smile on our face. It is not the kind that is open and shut, or fully explored within a lifetime. Indeed, Manam is one of those movies that shows us the tragic beauty in suffering, and how that is not only very much a part of human life, but makes us complete beings.

What’s more, it is destiny that condemns us when we do not value what we have, when we do not value whom we have. When Selfishness becomes a virtue, when family takes a back seat to feral carnality, then destiny itself destroys us.

It is man’s lust that has destroyed family. It is man’s lust that has destroyed himself. And it is man’s lust that has destroyed his greatest gift: woman. While this movie ever so slightly touches on how love is poisoned by the cavalier and inconstant fancies of lust (even the suspicion of it), it does it in an ever so subtle way that does not corrupt its leitmotif or the cinematic experience of what is very much a Family Film.

Natural comparisons to KKKG are understandable. Indeed, it is Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham meets Karan Arjun. And yet, from conception to execution to sentiment, Manam is oh so very original. Expertly crafted, yet approachable and accessible to lay audiences and leading aesthetes alike, it attains through skilfull deployment of celluloid, sound, lyric, and the artistic, a veritable mastery of film craft. However, it is not the film craft of film students and film school, but family film at its finest.

With moving scenes such as the third car driving Nagarjuna-Shriya sequence (you’ll know it when you see it), the piercingly poetic nature of life is served to us, with every drop. It is also the sole, solitary manly tear I will ever publicly admit to. Haasya or Karuna, Sringara or Raudra, in all those moments, the beauty, indeed, culmination of life itself is revealed to us: Prema. It, verily, is nava rasa a la Nag (Nageswara, Nagarjuna, Naga Chaitanya).

Make no mistake, dance beats and nouveau techno-chique aside, this is very much a period film in disguise. Without excessive spoilers, we are taken on a trip spanning not only generations and time periods, but even different families and municipalities.

Full credit to writer/director Vikram K.Kumar (who in the literal Telugu and the Sanskrit wrote this rachana (composition)) for the dexterity with which this play was weaved. Exceptional effort by him and dialogue writer Harshavardhan and story development contributor Mukund Pande.

An opus of outstanding quality, the opening scenes leave us ambivalent, even uncertain. All the myriad threads seem unlikely to be tied. But though Kumar commences it as an open field with many lanes, he skilfully ensures that all the paths converge in crescendo. Though it ends in sweetness, the full range of ruchi is granted to us, representing the bouquet of life.

Above all, rarely has a movie so masterfully shown love in all its forms and all its suppleness. True this is a movie about Fathers and Sons and filial love and Amma’s Prema, but romantic love is treated ever so charmingly. It is not with the prurience of band baaja baraat or the all show but no substance of dilwale, but the very delicacy of love and tender affection that defines the foundational relationship between man and woman. Nagarjuna and Shriya managed to accomplish that with these characters, not only across time periods, but across life times. Indeed, nothing could be a finer tribute to the love ANR is said to have had for his wife Annapurna gaaru (who supported him from behind the scenes), than this cinematic production. But why attempt to say what the screenwriters themselves said better, and in more poetic terms:

Manushulu ni srushtinchina aa devudey, premanu, manusunu srustinchaardu

God created human beings, he also created Love, and the Mind.

Manishiki praananiki parimithi petta kaligina aa devudu,

Why was God, who was able to keep a limit to the duration of human life…

Manusuku a premaku parimithulu petta laakpoyyardu

Unable to keep limits on the mind and on love?

Andukey chaavu leyni prema penchey kosam, chacchipoyyina manishi ni Malli malli malli srustistuney unntardu

That is why, to further eternal love,

God keeps bringing some people back to life again, and again, and again.

Production

Cinematography in this film is truly outstanding. Tollywood has truly come a long way since the days of black and white. Crisp, digital (near HD) visuals manage to bring all the ebullience of this katha . With picturisation of such a high level, it is not only the epic film that can bowl us over, but even the everyday story of everyday characters. In fact, the rustic beauty of rural Andhra is brought before us in all its dynamic culture & splendour. Only the smile of Shriya and the swagger of Nagarjuna can match the high level of quality brought by cinematographer and director. But why describe what video itself can show.

Soundtrack

It is a movie made by fathers and sons, about fathers and sons, and yet reminds us of the very meaning of the word “mother”, with a single song. I could translate this for our non-Telugu readers, but unlike that idiotic 1 joke in 3 idiots, here we find that never have the words “lost in translation” meant so much. A Aa E Ee nerpina Amma, indeed. In fact, the closest equivalent in resonance has a different literal meaning. However, all Hindi film aficionados will not only understand the meaning of this famous line, but its resonance as well: Mere paas Maa hai.

All praise to the music director Anoop Rubens and lyricist  Chandrabose. The theme song of this movie manages, as with K3G, almost as if on cue, to extract tears from even the coldest of stones. Yet, from lyrics to melodies to sentiments, the sweetness of Telugu gives it that something extra, as we saw with that famous song from Chanti. The very phrases pierce the very soul of our being.

Cast

Perennial Telugu comedic favourites, Brahmanandam gaaru, Ali gaaru and the very late, yet sorely missed M.S. Rao gaaru, all made their requisite appearances. Like Nageswara Rao himself, they all defined a generation (or two or three) of film. As supporting cast, reel life and real life, always remember, your performance also matters, on the stage of life. Despite the onset of age, these 3 comedians all play their parts as promised.

Samantha

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Samantha effortlessly plays her role in Manam. A veteran now in the four Southern Film Industries, she’s competent to communicate the feelings of ambivalence and antipathy with gusto. She’s able to slide into a more carefree demeanor, however, when the circumstances demand. It is often said that actors enjoy playing villain roles due to the sheer fun. If that is the case, Samantha demonstrates that playing vindictive roles are not without their fun either.

But where Samantha clearly excels is in portraying the nectar-like love of a mother. It is not the romanticised mother of Shriya, but the everyday mother, the everyman’s mother. The near-cloying but yet ever so softly saccharine prema that only a mother can bring. I would attempt to describe it further, but the lyricist has excelled me in a way I cannot match (though I would argue that he has the unfair advantage of expressing it in Telugu). She brought that role (and its diametrical opposite) to life in a way only skilled actresses can.

Shriya

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Not since Madhuri Dixit in HAHK (or Sonali Bendre in Dahek ) have the words “Classical Indian Beauty” been so apropos (Urmila fans, fear not, I have a more fitting sobriquet for that transcendental sundari). Although in the early autumn of her successful career as a leading heroine, the curious case of Shriya Saran is one that reminds us of the very blackguardity of bollywood. It is only in this depraved, dubai-run dust bin of debauchery that a woman who reminds us of all that has ever captured the imagination of the Indian man, the Indian woman, in her purest form, would have been edged out for more fair&lovely archetypes, sending her down South instead. As Sridevi has long embodied, though she has it in spades, it was never mere model looks that made the Bharatiya Nari.

An industry driven by model-turned-actresses, and “actresses” who should have simply become models, needs to be reminded that it was not statuesque postures and mannequin looks that made the supreme Stree, but rather, that almost indescribable combination, that priceless formula, that timeless intoxication of: 1 part shakti, 1 part bhakti, 2 parts maternity, and 3 parts modesty, delicacy & mischievity (though I would add 4parts “attitude” to the modern variety…). At home as both the palletoori pilla and the modern MBBS, Shriya shows that, traditional or modern, the saree is the epitome of femine dress, and the Indian woman the very incarnation of feminine charm. This is no mean accomplishment as she achieves this despite being dubbed (fans of Kshana Kshanam know full well the dangers of poor dubbing, having personally suffered through Hairaan..). Her performance truly showed, having earned a nomination for National Award-Telugu, in spite of not speaking the language. But then, what judge or jury, let alone man, could help but fall prey for that face.

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Naga Chaitanya

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For any young actor, it is a formidable even intimidating task to stand before not one but two screen legends, let alone two that happen to be his progenitors. But Naga Chaitanya deserves multiple compliments for managing to do just that. Having long weathered critics, and a certain wise-cracking cranky director, this was not only a marquee movie but a milestone role for the second youngest of the Akkineni clan. He matured in this film in a way that was able to present the complexity of married life in all its greys. Even twenty-something leers he presented in a manner that wasn’t leering. He even self-depratorily makes reference to his ostensible real life behaviours vis-à-vis his grandfather. Ironically, more than his younger self, he shines the most in the role of a father, making a promising performance for him that bodes well for both him and the industry.

Nagarjuna

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A boy who just misses his parents. Despite the obviously middle-aged role that 50 something Nagarjuna gaaru plays, he succeeds in projecting precisely that very boyish quality into his character.  This is no small feat for a thespian best known for snapping bike chains to bash college rivals. But as not only audiences but critics have now come to recognise, over the course of two decades Nag has been able to show he is more than just another (insert here) Tolly or Bolly hero, but a serious actor in his own right with such cinematic accompishments as Annamayya and Rajanna. Showing both maturity, shrewdness, and aesthetic taste, he has become a superstar who rather than fighting age has effectively applied it to better his own career, and in the process, Tollywood itself.

In heartwarming fashion, Nagarjuna gaaru remembered his father, who tragically, passed away before the film was released. But as they say with life so it must have been for them with this movie: it is not the destination, but the journey that matters. However wonderful the experience must have been to shoot this movie together, releasing it on May 22nd, 2014, exactly five months after ANR’s passing, was fittingly poetic.  He himself said as much during promotion of this movie.

Nageswara Rao

Last but not at all the least, is the original Devadasu of the (Krishna) Delta. Before we discuss his legacy, let us discuss his role in the film.

If this was a movie on vatsalyam, it was also a production of vatsalyam. The filial love of Nagarjuna gaaru was apparent. Both he and his own son crafted this labour of love that not only portrayed the bond of three generations of the Akkineni family, but memorialised filial love itself and celebrated the life of one of Telugu cinema’s immortals.

ANR’s sheer range was unmatched: he played Abhimanyus with the same ease as he did alcholics. Indeed, the movie itself cheekily pokes fun at that with playful role reversals involving  “‘iskey”.  It is also tasteful in digitisation of his dancing days. Recognising how a man his age would be out of place in a discotheque, the remix number featured only the two younger Akkinenis, but celebrated the paterfamilias himself in his prime…on screen.

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In this one cinema, ANR managed to present us with the apotheosis of the Telugu Thatha. The dad’s dad that every Andhraite hopes to grow up with: Graceful and wise, occasionally crochety, but almost always soft-hearted, our screen idol gives us the grandfather we always wanted. And yet, he does this while remembering the childhood innocence of his own movie character.

The vibrance required to play leading men, but the humility to play second leads as well, he was a king, a comedian, and a romantic lead (to the ladies of his era) all in one. If NTR brought gravitas, ANR bestowed humanity. Rather than impossible immortal figures such as Lord Krishna whom mortal men could not hope to match, Nageswara Rao gaaru, more often than not, brought a vulnerability to his roles that reflected our own flawed mortality, and loved us for it. Whether it was Maya Bazaar or Appu chesi Pappu koodu he was an actor who allowed us to stand in his own shoes due to his own inner grace. Appropriately, Nava Rasa Nageswara Rao gaaru most famously played 9 roles in Navarathri.

As fans remember ANR today, rather than write a piece on him, I decided to write a piece on how he and his career and his family wished him to be remembered, and this is my remembrance: Namostute, Nageswara Rao gaaru, Namostute.

But how should we remember this movie?

If Kabhi Khushi Khabhie Gham represented the noon-tide of the Family in the Post-Liberalisation material era, Manam gives us a desperately needed restoration of the Family in an era in desperate need of it.

Karan Johar has often been asked (in some cases even harassed) about making a sequel to K3G. He has demurred frequently, and not unjustifiably. First there is the natural fear that the successor will lack the feeling of the original. Second, and more importantly, is the fact that he himself said that it was a different time and audiences have changed, and even have “maturity”. But if khwahish, pk, dhokha, and other such garden variety garbage cinema are what passes for “maturity” today, then give me “innocence” any day. Audiences have indeed changed, but not necessarily for the better. Sometimes it is not a modification that is mandatory, but a restoration. Sometimes what is needed is a Revival.

It is rare that we make direct exhortations to the members of the film industry, but Manam is a celluloid triumph that must, absolutely must, be dubbed & distributed across India. As with Baahubali, the heroes of the movie are indeed Andhras, but as it yet again features Kannada and North Indian heroines respectively (with Lucknow ladki Shriya replacing the very Sindhi Tamannah), and a plotline worthy of the National Award itself, it is utterly Indic in its spirit. Timeless values implemented in Modern context. Movies like this not only bring the central importance of Family to centre stage, but they remind us of what we are fighting for. It is movies like this that remind us of who we really are. They not only restore our faith in family, but the essence of our very humanity—truly giving us the meaning of the word, Cinema.

Side-comment on Cinema

Tasteless buffoons and characterless cretins may hee haw and guffaw at the antics of their preferred leprechaun of the day,  but the sophisticated audience, the principled prekshaka, will priortise cultured cinema over the crass. After enduring nearly a decade of disappointments and hyper-sentamentalised nonsense and some outright ridiculous childishness that stretched credulity beyond all limits, Telugu Cinema is officially back.

The truth of the matter is, despite the Kailasan heights that Baahubali scaled, despite the universal acclaim of Kanche, and despite the love of rashtra redolent in Rudhramadevi, the current crop of quality films commenced with Manam. Simultaneously universal yet cultural, sophisticated yet accessible, elite yet mass, traditional yet modern,  Manam (and the films that followed it) have finally managed to demonstrate that hit films don’t have to cater only to the lowest common denominator. Rather than turning our brains off, they should turn our intellects on without turning our hearts in. The key to the classic is not over-acting or under-expecting, but elevating audiences with timeless values and present-day charm, much like ANR himself.

ANRtimeless

Above all, however, if Telugus take one thing away from this film it should be this: in the world of politics, business, & especially family, replace the word “nenu” &”memu” with

1-manam

References:

  1. http://businessoftollywood.com/2016/01/akkineni-nageswara-rao-2nd-death-anniversary/
  2. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2926068/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1