Spread over 71 years, his vivid cinema graph has been an incredible journey traversing through the silent era, talkies, Eastman colour, colour and digital ages. Be it romance, social cinema, mythology, comedy or family dramas, he’s done them all. He was the first actor to become a superstar in Telugu and the first to be known as a dancing star. Megastar-turned-politician Chiranjeevi attributes his own dancing skills to being inspired by Akkineni’s “step dances”. Till then, Telugu film heroes would hang around a tree, glancing languidly at the heroine as she danced away. ANR, as Akkineni is popularly known, was one of the first to break into step, start dancing with his co-stars (he first shook a leg in Iddaru Mitrulu).
From a young age, Akkineni was active in street plays and dramas, playing female characters, the pay sometimes being a plate of idli-sambar (sambar unlimited). Since there was no electricity in those days, stage actors would shell out 10 paise each for petromax lanterns. When the actor was 20 and walking bare-footed along the railway platform in Vijayawada, filmmaker Ghantasala Balaramaiah, who was peering out from his first class compartment, spotted him. “He called out from the window and asked, ‘Young boy, what do you do?’ I told him I play female leads on stage. He asked me if I would act in a film and I said yes.” And on such a small coincidence rests an incredible film journey. “It was May 8, 1944...I went to Madras and began shooting for Seetharama Jananam.”
The young actor was paid Rs 1,250 for the movie. “I would call my father’s career a start-up company in a hostile environment. In the ’40s, there was no professionalism. Acting was a big taboo, it was as bad as being a sex worker. The best part about my father was that he was extremely disciplined. He still is...” says Akkineni’s son and superstar Nagarjuna. So disciplined that he brought up Nagarjuna with a “miserly” strictness. “Nagarjuna would often ask my wife (Annapoorna) why he couldn’t go to school in a car. But I wanted him to understand how it feels to miss a bus and wait on the footpath for another,” says Akkineni.
It was this rootedness that saved him when N.T. Rama Rao burst on the scene in 1948 with Mana Desam. NTR was nearly six feet tall, had a booming voice and chiselled features. “Everyone said my career was finished. But what NTR actually did was help me grow by giving me competition. A walkover would have been boring. I began to choose my roles with greater care and focus more.” Akkineni acted in 14 films alongside NTR. “We were great friends though completely different in nature. We got along well while our fans fought,” Akkineni smiles.
An atheist, Akkineni says directors always had doubts on whether he could play Lord Rama or Krishna with the same conviction as NTR. “I’d tell them that acting was make-believe. It’s either done well or done badly. While I may not believe in Rama, I believe in Valmiki, who created Rama to make mankind believe in the goodness of God,” he says.
Akkineni went on to do over 250 films as the lead. Nagarjuna remembers cycling from their home near Hyderabad Public School to Sarathi Studios where his father was shooting. “My favourite film of Dad’s is Maya Bazar. I also like Mooga Manasulu which deals with reincarnation. The love story between a lady zamindar and a boatman was way ahead of its time. I also like Adrushtavantulu which showcased James Bond-like gadgets. I don’t like his movies from the 1970s-80s which were pretty B-grade,” he says.
Today, while ANR is the only actor in the world to be acting at the age of 90, the third generation of Akkinenis are knocking in tinsel town. Nagarjuna, at 50, is still known as ‘yuva samrat’ and plays the swashbuckling hero as do grandsons Naga Chaitanya, Sushanth and Sumanth. Now, Akkineni is starring along with Nagarjuna and Naga Chaitanya in Manam, set to be released in January, 2014 (the film is rumoured to be based on Back to the Future). “I am a selfish actor. I don’t make concessions when I am sharing screen space with my son or grandson. That’s how they ought to be too,” says Akkineni of the on-screen competition in the family. And the secret to his longevity? “Laugh out loud at least once a day and always be a romantic”.
Akkineni did over 250 films as the lead
Parivartana, 1954 A family drama, it pits ANR against then Telugu superstar NTR
Mugguru Maratilu, 1946 A musical, it ran for straight 100 days and made ANR a star.
Balaraju, 1948 A mythological, it’s ANR’s first silver jubilee hit with Varalakshmi.
Maya Bazar, 1957 Another mythological, ANR plays Abhimanyu to NTR’s Krishna.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Nice article on ANR, enjoyed it ... except that ...Thaagithe maruvagalanu ... bit is a prelude (saki) to the famous song Manasu Gathi Inthe by Manasu Kavi Acharya Athreya and is from the movie Prem Nagar ... Not Devdas(u).
Greetings ANR ! We Wish and Pray that You Complete a Century, at least ! You are a self-declared Atheist--something remarkableand admirable in a public figure these days !!
Frankly, I am an ardent fan of NTR. But I admire you for the great classics of Telugu films you had acted in, such as Devadas, Vipranarayana, Navaratri, Baatasari, Rojulumarai, Premabhishekam Donga Ramudu , Moogamanasulu etc to mention only a few. You are a Class actor while NTR was a Mass actor. For decades U2 remained as the Two Eyes of the Telugu Film Industry. We are happy you are still with us. But we miss NTR a great deal If only NTR were alive and active in politics now, the dynamics of the state politics would have been totally different. Alas ! He is no more ...May his soul rest in Peace !!
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