Tag Archives: Tollywood

Personalities: S.V.Ranga Rao

In the annals of Andhra cinemadom, there are certainly many actors who have attained superstardom, and many actresses who became Pan-National stars.

But perhaps no star is as synonymous with a single  dialogue and song as a certain actor is with Vivaha Bhojanambu.

From Maya Bazaar to Gundamma Katha to Bhookailas and beyond, SVR is one of those rare thespians whose admirers and fans cut across caste and class alike.

Few actors fared as well in cinematic fare as S.V.Ranga Rao, who is the next feature in our Continuing Series on Andhra Personalities. We begin our introduction with SVR’s own Introduction, because no yesteryear character could make an entrance like he could.

Background

Samarla Venkata Ranga Rao garu was born in 1918 to Lakshmi and Koteswara Rao. They hailed from Nuzvid, Krishna District in what was then the Madras Presidency.

His father was a government employee. In light of that, and irrespective of an early interest in the stage, SVR soon focused on serious studies. Interestingly, despite doing his bachelor’s in Science, he had been contacted by a relative in Madras’ budding film industry to act. After his fresher feature (Varudhini), he was bitten by the acting bug. Though he briefly had a stint at the Tata office in Jamshedpur, he soon quit and never looked back.

At the age of 31, he married a young lady by the name of Leelavathi. They would have two daughters and a son together.

Back in his professional world, the aspirations of pre-Independence India becoming post-Independence achievement would be reflected by SVR’s own career. A rather unique fact is even in his earliest days in the industry he was routinely playing Thaathaiah’s (old men). In fact, his very first feature film with NTR was NTR’s very first feature film (Palleturi Pilla), and SVR essayed a role literally titled “Thaatha”.

His filmography reads like a list of TFI’s great Golden Age hits: Paathaala Bhairavi, Missamma, Maya Bazaar, Bhookailas, Narthanasala, Sampoorna Ramayana, and even Bhakti Prahalada. Though no stranger to negative roles, SVR could humanise even the hated Hiranyakashipu with such scenes.

Little known is that S.V.Ranga Rao had two director credits (Bandhavyalu & Chadarangam)  and a few producer credits to his name. Nevertheless, though he was fated to pass away all too soon, he was destined to be remembered as one of the finest actors in Indian cinema, and especially Telugu Cinema. Frequently reprising his Telugu roles in Hindi, he even featured in original roles in Tamizh. Indeed, his last movie was in Madras’ native language, but Andhra’s Cinema Sarvabhauma would not be forgotten in his native land.

He passed away in 1974, at the relatively young age of 56. This was the same age as his method actor-character actor predecessor, CSR Anjaneyulu.

Achievements

  • Afro-Asian International Film Festival (Indonesia)
  • Nandi Award (Multiple times, for Best Actor and also Best Director)
  • Filmfare Award (South)
  • Rashtrapati Award

Though it is often standard repertoire to list a battery of awards and honours an actor has accumulated over the years, SVR is best remembered through his on-screen personae.

So captivating was his delivery, so identifiable was his style that it became almost a standard cultural practice for Telugu actors to deliver dialogues as he might, some out of jest, but others out of genuine desire for gravitas. He could appeal to tiny tot and serious cinema-goer alike.

Whether he was a grandiose gourmand of Ghatotkachic proportions (Maya Bazaar) , a genteel gentleman of the gentry (in Missamma), or a leering lech (in Narthanasala), he brought a grandeur that was instantly recognisable and enrapturing. With performances that could register with the backbenches as well as august halls of cultural stalwarts, he was the larger-than-life quality of chalanachitram itself.

Nevertheless, notable roles include the following:

Paathaala Bhairavi – His role as Nepala Mantrikudu was equal parts engaging and reviling. His devious behaviours and penchant for abhichara made him the perfect foil for the innocent protagonist. Despite being an antagonist here, this was one of the early roles that would cement SVR’s place in celluloid history.

Ghatotkacha – Without a doubt his most celebrated role, he managed to find the perfect balance between intimidating and accessible  as well as avuncular and childlike. The scene where he consumes the Vivaha Bhojanambu itself is emblematic of that plasticity of facial innocence he managed to conjure up despite playing the role of a Rakshasa. Food, it appears, brings out the child in all of us—even Ghatotkacha.

Hiranyakashipu – Quite possibly the marquee performance in a long line of titles on the marquee, SVR shone in this role of a lifetime. He was the perfect foil to the humble vinayam of Prahlada. Indeed, his diction and dialogue delivery in rapid-fire prose would be emulated for decades.

More than anything else, however, he set the standard for cinematic authenticity. This character actor truly was the authentic character for audiences and comedians alike.

Imitation as they say is the finest form of flattery. Which comedian to better capture this than the current day comedy king himself: Brahmanandam. S.V.Ranga Rao’s inspiration clearly crosses generations even to this day.

Legacy

Statue of S.V.Ranga Rao, Vijayawada

The legacy of SVR is little remembered, but oft-remarked. In an industry with many accomplished character actors (Gummadi, CSR Anjaneyulu, Rao Gopal Rao, Kota Srinivasa Rao, Tanikela Bharani, etc), Nuzvid’s naata nayaka was one character who dominated a stage filled with stars.

He could effortlessly play a secondary protagonist (Bhookailas), genteel supporting cast (Missamma) or even a villainous antagonist (Paathaala Bhairavi). While it was perhaps Maya Bazaar and its most famous song that forever cemented his celluloid immortality, movies such as Manchi Manasulu also showed his range, and everyday character too.

Theatrical drama and Comedy were the two main markers of the man many consider to be the greatest character actor of them all. This is so much so that even the Nandi award in this category is named after him. And that is perhaps the greatest tragedy. Whether it is Nedunuri Krishnamurthy in Music or S.V.Ranga Rao in acting, yet again another Andhra great was ignored at the national level, despite international recognition. How sad that an Indonesian International Film Festival could recognise him, but not his own national film fraternity.

Despite Paathaala Bhairavi being a national hit, with Viswa Naata Chakravarthi reprising his role as Nepala Mantrikudu, there was no Padma for this mahanaata. People have all the time in the world for Mughal-e-Azam, but a culturally rooted Pan-India blockbuster actor could not expect recognition from the Delhi Durbar (ironically, he himself played the same Mughal in Anaarkali). He would play many all-India figures including Raja Bhoja in the silver screen version of Mahakavi Kalidasu.

And that is also why if people like S.V.Ranga Rao did not get their due at the national level (Rashtrapati award aside), the proper path is to not point fingers at “North this and that”, but identify the real problem: cultural sellouts and the cultureless (despite their pompous airs, these overlap more often then not). Court eunuchs engage in career nara stuti for the highest bidder, so why would they recognise a great Nayaka hailing from a Dharmic culture that “Secular, Socialists” would not patronise? Or perhaps they did treat patronisingly while refusing to give real patronage to those who stood for the native Civilizational ethos.

Irrespective, the issue as in all these things lies in lack of culture. Not the culture of court eunuchs with the mere form but absence of cultural spirit, but the essential truth of the trial of life: that the great Drama of Indian Culture is in Dharma. The truly deserving dramatists are those may not always live it, but do their utmost to celebrate and propagate it, not only for the cloistered few, but for the people as a whole.

In any event, in recent years there has been a small push to get him considered for a Padma Sri, posthumously. Whether or not the effort fructifies, he remains a lotus of modern cinema as far as modern Telugus are concerned.

Whether it was his earliest days in pre-Independence India or his final ones in undivided Andhra, he remains the “Global Acting Emperor” in the eyes of Trilinga desa.

Even a scene with no dialogue could result in SVR stealing the show:

So we end as we began. To most he is remembered simply as S.V.Ranga Rao, to others as Viswa Naata Chakravarthi, but as far as we’re concerned, only one salutation is good enough for him:

Hai Hai Nayaka!

References:

  1. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0710036/
  2. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/Padma-Shri-sought-for-S.V.-Ranga-Rao/article14497248.ece
  3. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/telugu/movies/did-you-know-/SV-Ranga-Rao-was-conferred-the-best-actor-award-at-Indonesian-Film-Festival/articleshow/34794951.cms

Andhra: The Baahubali State

As if Mahakal himself had decided to suddenly anoint Andhra cinema with national (and international renown) back-to-back, we follow up our article on Phalke Award winner K.Viswanath garu with an article on the topic of the hour: Baahubali 2.

At first glance, some may groan saying “yet another Baahubali 2 review”. But this is no review.

Many may balk at this title for many reasons. They may say that Baahubali originally refers to Gomatesvara in Karnataka. Be that as it may, for the foreseeable future the name will mean the Baahubali of Amarendra and Mahendra, not of Rishabhadeva.

Others may say that Baahubali belongs to all Telugus. True, but by that token it also now belongs to all Indians. Further, the word Andhra doesn’t just refer to new Andhra Pradesh state, but also old Andhra desa, and by association, the old undivided State of Andhra Pradesh. Therefore, Telanganites need not fear. Unless you consider urdu your state language and mother tongue, and shamefully idolise turk aristocracy (like this jester) rather than native Telugus , the Andhra-Telugu-Telugu States association will remain.

Finally, many of you may ask why this title at all. After all, a dime a dozen Baahubali 2 reviews have already been written (some ripping off in part or whole our Baahubali 1 review from 2015 ). In addition, why should discussion revert to that of only Andhra and Telugus at the very moment all of India (and a good chunk of the World given box office collections) is agog in Baahubali-mania? But it is in fact this precise reason that we must talk about this now.  Long time readers would recall our article about how to Rebrand Andhra. This is the ideal point in time to rebrand our state in earnest.

From lead actors, to producers, to composers, to the man of the hour (the director himself), this was an Andhra movie. Yes, it featured talent from South India (as well as honorary South Indian, and real life Sindhi Tamannah Bhatia), yes the cinematographer Senthil did a splendid job. But this was an Andhra project from its very conception by K.V.Vijayendra Prasad (father of director S.S. Rajamouli). The composer Keeravani is also a Telugu, and even Ramya Krishna married to a Telugu. That is why it’s important to acknowledge BB2 as an Andhra production as well as a presentation of Indic culture.

This is India’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

Image result for crouching tiger hidden dragon

True, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was more poetry than popcorn. Yes, it managed to preserve an art house mystique that from the tone and mood, the saga of Sivagami clearly was not interested in. Sure, Baahubali is more Lord of the Rings than Hero. But as usual, our nitpickers and pedantic pseudo-pundits miss the point. Baahubali is the vehicle for Indian Culture that Crouching Tiger was for Chinese culture.

Like many of you, I too had many Punjabi friends growing up (and still have many), and respect their culture and admire them for their ability to keep the Punjabi brand trendy and accessible. And yet, despite the declaration of the Punjabification of India, the South has risen again. Rather than Punjabi-led (and Pak-jabi purchased) Bollywood, it is Andhra’s Tollywood that has produced a Pan-India movie with global appeal. Those of you old enough to remember Chinese hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon from 17 years ago, would remember how after a long lull since the days of Bruce Lee, the Culture of China became trendy again in the West and the rest. It was the first true introduction of mass China cinema to the American masses (By the Chinese, for the World). Baahubali 2 also managed to achieve this balance of high culture for the masses. True, CTHD was more restrained in both special effects and acting while Baahubali was more in the mould of that typical Telugu taste for the scientifically impossible.

But then again, what better represents the Indian character than that? Why did this film strike a chord even with countries featuring our mortal enemies? It’s because rather than looking down upon the masses and their taste for the physics defying, it takes them in like Amarendra took in his subjects and brings them along for his ride and reign.

Why are Telugu films so logic-defying in their heroes’ action (and Chiranjeevi’s films so age-defying in their ammudu-kummudu romances)? It’s because the average Telugu not only imagines his way to victory but emotes his way through life. Of course the coconut trees could double for catapults and trebuchets, the fan emotionally connects with the hero so much, his hero must have done that!

Satyajit Ray gave an introduction  for Indian Cinema to perfumed audiences, but Baahubali is the Brand that represents Indian culture (and Andhra’s in particular) on a grand cinematic scale. For those seeking to characterise Indian culture like this or like that, all one need do is show one clip of Devasena or Sivagami to understand how real Indian culture treats women—like Divine Shaktis. Indeed, it has a lesson on how to behave for not only Modern Girls, but also Modern Boys. It also has a lesson for future filmmakers & lyricists on writing real Romance with better Romantic dialogues than the current college cliche crop.

Ang Lee’s epic, and Ang Lee himself, have gone on to achieve a place in Global Cinema that Rajamouli’s epic, and Rajamouli himself, will soon come within grasp of. Whether it and he achieve it is contingent upon whether they not only stay true to telling our stories, but also stay true to themselves.

Nitpickers again will assert that Baahubali won’t sweep into the Oscar’s like CTHD or even get the same US Collections, but it need not. The simple fact that it placed 1st on Thursday night at the US Box office and finished a close 3rd for the weekend (and ahead of a Tom Hanks movie), only goes to show how much of a splash it made without the US mass advertising that Crouching Tiger had. Moreover, it also sheds spotlight on the irony of Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone trading in her star status for a bit part in the Fast and the Furious Franchise while fellow Kannadiga Anushka Shetty played the lead actress in an Indian movie that also finished in the US Box Office top 3. Self-respect should be non-negotiable. If you have to pick Anushka, better Shetty than Sharma.

Is Baahubali “a mania”?—perhaps. But those whining about it are obviously manic (depressives) and certainly certifiable. So rather than carp and cavil about them, brush the dirt off your shoulder and enjoy the songs instead.

Mahishmati Odyssey from Madhya Pradesh to Andhra

Why was this story about Mahishmati Samrajyam (in modern Madhya Pradesh) and Kunthala rajya (in Karnataka), a Telugu story at all? Well, one need only start with the Palnati Veera Charitra. That epic by Kavi Sarvabhauma Srinatha has not for nothing, been dubbed the Andhra Kurukshetra. The Kalachuris were an intrinsic part of this epic, and through them, the Mahishmati/Haihaya connection to Andhra even more obvious. And for the self-proclaimed history savants, there was even a Bijjala deva ruler among the Kalyani Kalachuris, and Kalachuri Gangeyadeva was one of the commanders in the expeditions of Indic kings against the Ghaznavids.  In any event, Mahishmati through the PVC has a natural place in the Andhra psyche for our own reason.

Should a remake of this movie be done? Can any actor ever feel the shoes of Naata-Nayaka NTR? Maybe, maybe not. But ultimately, the answer will hinge on aesthetics.

Aesthetics

For the paint-by-numbers pedants, criticism always devolves to a mere formula. They remind me of this scene from Dead Poets Society, writing textbooks which graphically analyse the effect of poetry.

Similarly, they ignore the obvious fact that aesthetics is not simply mere rasa. The full translation of aesthetics is rasalankara. That is, the beautiful presentation of sentiment. Baahubali succeeded at veera rasa  for the very reason Manam succeeded at vatsalya: They both had resonance. Contrary to purists asserting aesthetics is mere rasa—to simply reduce this vast concept of aesthetics to only sentiment does injustice to both Bharata muni (author of the original 8 rasas) as well as Anandavardhana and his Dhvanyaloka: Dhvani is resonance, and is considered by many to be the most important consideration for excellent literature, and by extension, excellent cinema. Rasa is generated not only by bhavas and vibhavas, but is made effective by dhvani. If something has resonance, it captures our attention and even imagination.

Like the lifeless beauty of the princess of Pataliputra, paint-by-numbers pedants are flawed in their conception of life and literature. It does not matter if on-paper rasa is easily identifiable, or even if the ancillary bhavas create the necessary rasa, the key question is whether they resonate with artist and audience alike. That is the true test of the power of Art. Why can the same person enjoy both Citizen Kane and Rocky IV? Why is it that individuals can be fans of both Toshiro Mifune and Brahmanandam? It is because these all resonate, albeit in different ways.

As for the question of Saastriya (the true definition of classicism): the issue is not whether the director of Baahubali is steeped in Dhvanyaloka or Kavya-mimamsa or Natya Sastra. The issue is the letter of the law versus the spirit of the culture. Much like the same band of murkhapanditas who believe “beef in vedas” based on questionable interpretation of sastra, paint-by-numbers pedantic pundits can’t move an inch or write a letter without the letter of law guiding them. That is the importance of studying not only the letter of the law but the spirit behind it, whether in Natya or in Dharma.

Perhaps rather than paint-by-numbers, connect-the-dots would be more their speed.

Further, merely repeating the same old themes and stories is not a true sign of creativity. What sets Rajamouli (and Vijayendra Prasad) apart, is that they took inspiration from our Itihaasa-Purana and created something new. Some of the self-same nitpicking critics have attempted to fault the Koduri clan for historical ambiguity. Others have have made comparisons to Maya Bazaar calling them both mythology. But Baahubali’s genre is historical fantasy. In contrast, Maya Bazaar is a putative presentation of Purana.

Purana after all is Divine in conception. And the Vedas themselves, as we know, are apaurusheya. This is the danger of having nastika charvakas, cacophonous casteists, and avowed atheists anoint themselves as acharyas—they refuse to acknowledge that the authors of these divine texts and canons are in fact merely recipients. Mahadev is the author, we are just his keyboards. Srisaila Sri Rajamouli on the other hand, is divinely inspired, and authored these films in honour of Mahadev.

The effects of the two films (Maya Bazaar and Baahubali) may be similar (connected with elite and mass audiences alike, created interest in our epic heritage and ancient history), but their immediate purposes are different. Further attempts to undercut Rajamouli through forced comparisons with K.Viswanath are also maladroit malevolence by malevolents. K.Viswanath gaaru was bringing high culture in the form of art cinema to the masses. There is an element of realism in his films. In contrast, Rajamouli is elevating mass cinema to the heights of high culture. Unless you honestly believe that Baahubali was flying a swan ship in the air, it’s quite clear many pedantic poseurs fail in basic analogies.

It is inapposite to seek out such juxtapositions. Baahubali is not Saahityam, as it is clearly Chalanachitram. But if it has to fit into a literary genre, it is neither Itihaasa-Purana nor Kavya. It is in fact Katha—specifically Nidarsana Katha. Like the Panchatantra it gives stories for the edification and entertainment of viewers. Was there actually a blue jackal? Did the kingdom of crows fight a war with the kingdom of owls? Did four murkhapanditas manage to return a lion to life? The point of nidarsana katha is not whether it stretches credulity (even within certain super-natural assumptions), rather, it is about educating and elevating audiences about topics relevant to life, especially life lived wisely.

Baahubali provided us with examples (the core purpose of nidarsana katha) from which to examine our own lives (Dharma vs Bandhutva, Love vs Duty, Duty vs Law) and gave us figures, most of whom were flawed, but all of whom aspired to some archetype and ended up exemplifying it.  Baahubali is neither Itihaasa-Purana nor Mahakavya nor even Kaavya for that matter—how could it be? But inapposite and inapropos comparisons are appropriate for those who live secret lives of the inappropriate.

What Andhra (and India) now needs are Brand Ambassadors who have actually proven through action  how to revive and reimagine the Samskruthi of Andhra & Bharatavarsha.

Andhra Brand  Ambassadors

Rajamouli, Prabhas, and Rana will be Brand Ambassadors for Andhra for the foreseeable future. Indeed, any neta worth his salt will absolutely deploy these great talents. Rana for his Pan-India glamour, Prabhas for his compelling screen presence and everyman likeability, and Rajamouli for his consistently proven ability to conceive grand visions and implement them on record-breaking scale. Unlike a certain phony “Hollywood-returned” actress who pretends she can’t speak Telugu, all three Tollywood talents are proud speakers of their mother tongue. Indeed, one of the reasons why this film succeeded so well is because it didn’t just feature models who were dubbed (to Tamannah’s credit she was one of the first North actresses to learn Telugu, and neighbouring state Anushka is a natural). As we discussed in the aesthetics section, this is the precise point in time when non-Telugus are taking interest in our maathru bhasha, so Telugus must properly present it. This leads to the next point:

We Are All Andhra Brand Ambassadors Now

Yes, that’s right. Time to spit out that half-chewed pesarattu, wipe your mouth, tuck in your shirt, stand up straight, and start behaving like you represent a language group with a proud cultural and imperial history. Upgrade your tastes, improve your etiquette and manners, and be excellent cultural guides to our Indian brothers and sisters now taking an interest in the Telugu states and their official language.

We have come a long way from the triumphal declarations of “the Punjabification of India”, and “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow”. Andhra’s hour is here, and it’s time we got our act together for the big show. Our Tamilian brothers, God bless ‘em, have long managed to convince every Bharatiya north of the Vindhya that only Tamizh was spoken “in Dravidian states”.  Despite the boorish CNN18 anchor’s attempt to claim Baahubali for the Land of Temples & Bharatanatyam, this is an Andhra production and must be asserted as such. But at the same time, trading insults with them and others, or mocking others making a genuine attempt to learn and respect, is not the way to represent your Telugu Thalli. So here are a few pointers on how to ditch your gabbar singh handbook on etiquette and embrace your inner Amarendra (or Devasena).

1.Be gracious, but keep your self-respect. When people take an interest in showing respect to your culture & language, show good upbringing by being respectful. No, you don’t need to fall all over yourself to return praise in unseemly hyperbole. Just return the compliment proportionately and ask them if they need any help learning the language or have questions about the culture.

2.Learn about your Culture! If you were ever wondering why we invested so much time in a site on Andhra culture, now you know why it’s useful, at least  in one scenario. Do you want to be embarrassed at your own ignorance of heritage when your friends from the North finally stop asking what the difference is between Telugu and Tamil? Take the time to read not only our blog posts but our pages,  on Culture and Science and other Topics. Learn now so you don’t look foolish later.

3.Stop being caste crabs. It’s fine to take a small measure of pride in one’s heritage, family, and jati, but come on guys, it’s starting to get ridiculous. I won’t even dignify that Telugu Whatsapp forward that was doing the rounds on twitter trying to bring down Baahubali—but give me a break. Know when to put aside your competition and to show some class by letting someone else enjoy the spotlight in representing our state. There is plenty of blame to go around on the casteism front (UC, OBC, BC, SC, and Hi-C). Show some class, and represent your state with some respectability.

Don’t complain—up your game and treat it as a challenge to show your talent, rather than bring out the worst of your boorishness. Know when to slide out of your caste identity and slide into your Andhra identity, or more importantly the even greater Indian identity, rather than waking up and going to bed with the name of your caste on your lips. Look at it as a high standard to live up to, rather than a mythos that you must prevent reality from popping.

4.Clean up your act! Yes, everyone wants to have fun, and we all need to let loose some times. Sure, you have “worked hard to get job in phoreign”, but the time has come for Andhras to start showing they are serious people. You are not a five year old anymore—so stop dressing, looking, and behaving like one. If you can’t think beyond your caste, you can’t bring up your state to greater heights. If Punjabis, and Bengalis, and Gujaratis have all succeeded to varying degrees for as long as they have, it is because they could think of the common interest.

True, there have been double-edged swords to all of these, all of which will be discussed at a later time, but it’s also important to appreciate what others have done well. Punjabis represented themselves very well and in aesthetically pleasing ways for many years. Bengalis single-handedly managed to appropriate the entire state of Odisha and its cultural heritage into their mythos. And Gujaratis garba-raas’d their way into our hearts and into the PM gaadi. Instead of looking like village rustics, all of them made it a point (to varying degrees of success) to establish themselves and their states as an upscale brand. It is time we did the same.

Instead of waxing poetic over the myriad virtues (“let me count the ways”)  of the Andhra mess dining concept, upgrade your thinking and tastes and start understanding the need to establish Andhra as an haute cuisine. If Madhur Jaffrey could find a way to market irredeemably dessicate Gujarati food as ‘haute vegetarian”, surely given our equity, there’s plenty more we can do with ours. Ditch the biryani and haleem , and bring out the best pulaos and kooras our region has to offer. Enough “vahrevah”. Time for the “ati uttam”. To create new classics, take inspiration from the old ones.

Conclusion

There has been a lot of noise on the topic of Baahubali 2, most of which masqueraded as separating the signal from the noise. Perhaps the most signal mediocrity came in the form of this article, which touched on two aspects which had not been explored to date.

Point 1 is the most obvious and laughable. This is the thesis about how Baahubali is detrimental to cinema because it embodies and promotes “feudal” values. Yet the self-same cognitive defective who compiled this pointed to Lord of the Rings (LOTR) as an example of good fantasy cinema. Our vidusaka-samalochaka apparently didn’t have the basic knowledge or logic to realize that LOTR literally had 1 movie in the Series called “Return of the King”. This is what happens with suited simulacra, whether it is from the left or the right—only foreign feudalism is to be feted, not native Kshatriyas who have their people’s interests at heart. Rai Bahadurs and Gunga Dins on the other hand have no problem doing paimenbos to the pardesi. It is why they are forever searching for connections to outside royalty to serve as courtiers to and legitimize it with asinine, vedavirodhaka theories like AIT.

The second point is more relevant to our Telugu states in particular. It underscores the general fear that anti-India types have to Telugu unity, and even the Andhra name. As we have asserted elsewhere, there should be no place for separatist sedition among the scions of the Satavahanas, yet at the same time, why the great fear for a little trans-Telugu states pride? Why has even the Andhra word (which in fact represents all Telugus, not just those from the Coast) been so vilified?

 It is because Andhra has historically been a bulwark of Dharma. From the Satavahanas to the Kakatiyas to the Musunuri Nayaks to the Reddi Rajas to even the Vijayanagara Empire and the Polygars—Andhra’s contribution from all castes to fighting foreign invasion is undeniable. What has made it all the more potent has been the general decentralised Dharma which it has practiced, which empowered not only clergy/royalty/mercantile elite, but even the lower aristocracy (gentry) and masses alike. It is this power of popular religion, which has given everyone, even the masses a stake.

 Art house high culture cinema can be cordoned off and contained—but what happens when mass cinema aspires to high culture?—that is the real danger for desh drohis. It is this paradigm that has made Andhra, Andhra culture, and Andhra cinema most potent. When even non-Telugus (North or South) have looked to united Andhra as a beacon of Indic Civilizational revival, desh drohis are doubling down on their Andhra hate—only this time the truth tumbled out. Telugu unity is the great fear, not only for neo-nizam nitwits, but breaking India brigadiers as well. Left wing movements misguide masses and exploit them while Right wing movements have contempt for them—it is only a truly decentralised Dharma paksha that causes poco-pomo popinjays to soil their pj’s. And that is why the united Andhra culture (across the Telugu states) causes such trepidation. After all you, heard the fear not from here, but out of the mouth of babes:

No movie represented the power of popular, participatory religion (rather than cloistered ritualism) than Baahubali. Only the difference between Andhra and The Chindu’s TN or Bahubali and what passes for “haute culture” in the sepoy brigades is that Bahubali doesn’t reject the priesthood, but only puts it in its proper place. While bollywood berates Brahmins and kollywood militates against them, tollywood has been at harmony with brahmins (with rare exception). Dharma destroys Dronas and Duryodhanas alike. This is the danger of casteism, whether from upper caste or lower caste.

The innocent Brahmin just trying to make his way in the world is caught between this vice of inveterate caste hatred from others or indecent eugenics obsession from within. Baahubali 1 and 2 represent a 3rd way and we see Brahmins neither sidelined nor self-aggrandising —but merely permitted to play their traditional role not only as priests but as keepers of knowledge, advisers of aristocrats, and preservers of truth.

DMK thugs see near constant power politics and neo-Dronas exploit them—it is neither foreign philosophy nor foreign-concocted Aryan Invasion Theory, but Dharma itself which is the true protection for Brahmin and non-Brahmin alike.

Dharmo rakshati rakshitaha.

That all this was conceived, promoted, and produced by a pro-Hindu, but non-brahmin community praising the virtues of another varna known as kshatriya is what made this movie and this Andhra Aikya Alochana so dangerous to the drohis of Bharata Desa. That is the power of popular religion—everyone has an active stake. That is the power of Baahubali, all castes, classes, and communities are brought along for the ride. And that is why united Andhra is the Baahubali state.

Is Baahubali a permanent characterisation? No—think of it as a temporary marketing campaign to improve Andhra’s image. Are we planning on ditching our previously planned marketing plan for AP?—No. Andhra is still the land of Satavahana Emperors, Rani Rudhrama Devi, Musunuri Nayaks, Prolaya Vema ReddiAnnamacharya, Tenali Ramakrishna, Krishna Deva Raya (yes, Kannadigas and Tulus we have a claim), Thyagaraja, Pingali Venkayya, NT Rama Rao and many, many more…

…But Baahubali is the masthead for Andhra for the foreseeable future.

So next time someone asks you which state you’re from, tell them Andhra: The Baahubali State.

Jai Mahishmati!

Jai Amaravati!

 

Personalities: K. Viswanath

K_viswanath_legend

In honour of the recent announcement for the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, our Post today is on its 2016 recipient.

While it is true that we Telugus often feel short-shrifted on the national award front, it’s also important to recognise when the central committees actually get it right. Continuing our ongoing Series on Andhra Personalities is that stalwart of Telugu Cinema, Sri K.Viswanath.

Background

Born in 1930, Kasinathuni Viswanath hails from Peddapulivarru, in Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh. His parents were Subramanyam and Saraswathamma. His father was a manager in Vahini pictures at Vijayawada (where he would study). Viswanath would later graduate from Andhra Christian College, Guntur and then follow in the family footsteps in film.

What is often not known, is that long before he was a director and writer, he was a technician. In fact, he got his start in the Sound Department on the set of his first movie: Thodi Kodallu. Nevertheless, it was a humble start to what would go on to be a prolific career, as even a short glance at his filmography would show. With 36 films to his name as director (and around 50 in other roles), his movies represent real cultured cinema.

There are no vulgar, double entendre dialogues in his films, which are pleasant, steeped in the local ethos, and with music, dance and traditional art forms. [5]

In a poetic twist, he is said to have been noted for his talent by none other than Nageswara Rao gaaru, and the rest was history. K.Viswanath made his directorial debut in 1965’s Atma-Gouravam, featuring ANR. While he established himself in the 60s and 70s (especially with Siri Siri Muvva), it was in the subsequent decades that the screen-poet of Peddapulivarru made his maximum impact. Starting from 1980’s Sankarabharanam to 1983’s Sagara Sangamam to 1986’s Swati Muthyam to 1987’s Swayam Krushi, this was the decade in which he seemingly dominated.

In the 1990s, he would also make appearance as a mainstream actor, rounding out his cinematic abilities. Subha Sankalpam featured his acting debut, reputedly at the behest of none other than Kamal Haasan, who said the role needed a venerable person before whom he could bow.

Maximum cast in his movies were Jayaprada, Chiranjeevi, and Kamal Haasan. Other actors were Bhanupriya, Venkatesh, Radhika, Vijayasanthi, and Srikanth.

He was also fluent in Tamil and did a number of movies in that language, such as Salangai Oil and Sippikul Muthu. He also made a few Hindi movies such as Eeswar and Kaamchor, although they did not rise to the same level he achieved in Telugu.

At a time when Indic and especially Telugu language and culture is on the defensive, K.Viswanath represents the importance of steeping mass culture in classical culture. After an era plagued by back-bencher blockbusters and item-dance driven nuisance flicks, the cultural quagmire of modern India requires guiding lights to return it to the glory of Maya Bazaar and Missamma. Viswanath garu demonstrates one such deepam.

A presenter of classical and traditional art, music and dance, K Viswanath has been a guiding force in the Indian film industry. As a director he has made fifty films since 1965 known for their strong content, endearing narrative, honest handling and cultural authenticity. His films on a wide range of social and human issues had great appeal to the masses. [4]

We live in an age where stars are celebrated simply for being stars and people are famous for simply being famous. With such social afflictions, is it any wonder that kitsch has captured the market while art is ailing?

Indeed, even the names of his films had an artistic or even poetic quality to them. Whether it is Aapadbandhavudu or Sruthilayalu or Siri Siri Muvva or Swaraabhishekam, his mellifluous movie titles stand in stark contrast to the crass anglicised appellations that have since dominated the industry in descending decades.

Swarabhishekam

For the arts to revive and prosper, not only kalaanidhis but veritable kalaatapasvis and tapasvinis are required. The 2016 Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner is one such.

An ardent art lover, he made a series of films based on varied themes of art, music and dance. His films empathised with courage and frailty, aspirations and convictions, perseverance and distractions, social demands and individual struggle and at the core, believed in the goodness of the human spirit. [4]

Above all, in a vulgar age which fails to understand what real culture is, this cultural exemplar give us scenes rebuking the poseurs and providing the true meaning for samskruthi and natya.

In an industry that has come to be known for its stars dominating the movie marquees, he stood for stories weaving together the talent into an integral celluloid whole.

Achievements

From Siri Siri Muvva to Sirivennala, there is an endless list of quality contributions to Andhra and indeed Indic Cinema by Kasinathuni Viswanath. But if one film stands out, it is Sankarabharanam.

From the electrifying vocals of S.P. to the iconising of Saastriya Sangeeta to the story itself, Sankarabharanam was a modern masterpiece. Of course, who could forget the contributions of composer K.V. Mahadevan. Nevertheless, it was K.Viswanath who brought them all together in one musical magnum opus. Indeed, many even assert that the movie was responsible for increasing interest in Carnatic Music among a generation of South Indians.

It is not for nothing he has been nicknamed Kalaa Tapasvi.

 Renowned filmmaker and actor Kasinadhuni Viswanath, best known for his award-winning movies in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi, has won the Dadasaheb Phalke award for the year 2016 for his outstanding contribution to the film industry. [1]

To receive the Phalke Award is a laudable and sought out distinction for any filmmaker or artiste. To date, 6 Telugus have received it, with  B. Narasimha Reddi, B. Nagi Reddi Paidi Jairaj, L.V.Prasad, Akkineni Nageswara Rao in 1990 and D.Rama Naidu in 2009  being the previous awardees.

But despite working with mass stars like Megastar Chiranjeevi and Kamal Haasan, K.Viswanath garu is a screen legend in his own right. Celebrated and known North and South of the Vindhyas, this Andhra ratna already has a long list of awards and achievements.

  • Honorary Doctorate from Potti Sriramulu Telugu University
  • Ragupathy Venkaiah Award for Lifetime Contribution to Cinema from AP
  • Recognised with 20 Nandi Awards from the State of Andhra Pradesh
  • Received 5 National Awards and 10 Filmfare Awards
  • Won the National award for Swati Mutyam. This was India’s Official entry for the 1987 Oscars Foreign Films Category.
  • Awarded the Padma Sri in 1992 for contributions to cinema

Legacy

KViswaLegacy

Viswanath garu leaves behind an outstanding body of work that would be feted in any era. If ‘Simplicity truly is the Ultimate Sophistication‘, he embodied this in films.

The stories that Shri K Viswanath told through his films were seemingly simple. They provided an uncomplicated, direct and pleasant cinematic experience to the audience. At the same time, they lend themselves to a nuanced and layered interpretation leading many to watch them again and again and come back and discover a new hitherto unseen aspect or a have deeper understanding and realization. [4]

Movies like Saptapadi show precisely the type of introspection any society requires and the balance needed between duty and human dignity. He exemplifies the type of attitude spiritual and artistic elites require: rather than distant reservation and condescending mockery, an empathetic championing of the masses and an upliftment of their plight is what is needed.

Prathi cinema ki oka sandesam undedhi. There would be a social message in virtually all his films, proving the true potential of Indian Cinema. It is not in item dance or idiot fan followings or foreign flesh shows, but in movies that marry culture with sentiment in contemporary context. This is what represents not only state but national cinema as well.

Named for the Maharashtrian Director-Producer Dadasaheb Phalke—the famous filmmaker of what’s considered India’s first Movie (Raja Harishchandra)—this National Award is coveted across Bharat’s various cinematic industries.

The award is conferred by the Government of India for outstanding contribution to the growth and development of Indian cinema. The award consists of a Swarn Kamal (Golden Lotus), a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh and a shawl. The award shall be conferred by the President of India at a function on May 3 at Vigyan Bhawan. [4]

While at 87 years old, the doyen of the pre-digital cinema era may have been made to wait all too long, it is, as they say, better late than never.

Telugu Cinema has come a long way since the cultural morass of the mid-2000s. Indeed, from Maya Bazaar (now in its 60th year) to Magadheera (and now Baahubali), it has had quite a trip ‘There and Back Again’. If there is filmmaker who embodies the triumph of Art over Kitsch and High Culture for the Masses, it is K.Viswanath garu.

From all of us at ACP, Congratulations, andi! It is a recognition long overdue.

References:

  1. http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/k-viswanath-wins-dadasaheb-phalke-award-for-2016/article18200164.ece
  2. http://movies.ndtv.com/regional/veteran-filmmaker-and-actor-kasinathuni-viswanath-conferred-dadasaheb-phalke-award-1685466
  3. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0899649/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
  4. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/kasinadhuni-vishwanath-dadasaheb-phalke-award/1/936966.html
  5. http://www.deccanchronicle.com/entertainment/tollywood/250417/legendary-kalathapasvi-viswanath-gets-dadasaheb-phalke-award-for-2016.html
  6. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/true-artists-dont-need-fame/article7455680.ece
  7. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/phalke-award-for-viswanath/article18202634.ece

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

ntr_achievement

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

ntr_movies_list

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

savithri

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