Akkineni Nageswara Rao (20 September 1923 – 22 January 2014) was an Indian film actor and producer, known for his works predominantly in Telugu cinema. He was starred in various film genres during his 75-year acting career. Rao acted in over 255 films, spanning Telugu, Tamil and Hindi languages and became one of the most prominent figures in the history of Telugu cinema.
He was one of the instrumental figures along with D. V. S. Raju in shifting Telugu Cinema industry from Madras, Tamil Nadu to Hyderabad in 1974. With an aim to provide infrastructural support to the film industry in Hyderabad, he built a film studio, Annapurna Studios, in 1975. He founded a film and media school, Annapurna International School of Film and Media within Annapurna Studios in 2011.
Nageswara Rao received four state Nandi Awards, and five Filmfare Awards South. Rao is a recipient of the National Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the highest honorary award for cinematic achievements in India. He was honored with the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award, for his contribution towards Indian cinema.
In 1941, at the age of 17, Nageswara Rao made his debut in the Telugu film, Dharmapatni, in which he played the role of the protagonist’s friend. ANR, as he’s referred to, was discovered by chance at the Vijayawada railway station by the film producer, Ghantasala Balaramaiah, and was offered the lead role of Lord Rama in his upcoming movie Seeta Rama Jananam.
Before that, he predominantly acted in theatre, many times donning female roles since women weren’t allowed on stage at that time. He acted in over 255 films, spanning the Telugu, Tamil and Hindi languages and became one of the most prominent figures in the history of Telugu cinema. A majority of his films were both commercial and critical successes.
Among other things, Rao is credited for influencing Telugu film producers and creating a base for Telugu films in Hyderabad. The Telugu film industry, in its early days, was based out of Madras (now Chennai) in Tamil Nadu. The new state of Andhra Pradesh was carved out from the Madras Presidency on 1 November 1956 and several leaders opined that in order to create a separate identity for the Telugu film industry, it had to be based out of Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh.
ANR was one of the first actors of that period who insisted on moving the Telugu film center from Chennai to Hyderabad. He established his own 28 acre production studio/house, named Annapurna Studios after his wife, in the heart of Hyderabad to facilitate this.
Despite being an atheist, Rao acted in various movies with strong religious themes such as Vipranarayana,Tukaram, Sriramadasu, Sriramarajyam etc.
Rao played a variety of roles ranging from a charming prince to a frustrated alcoholic lover, from a valiant soldier to a holy saint, and from a college student to a composed government official. He excelled in mythological roles too as Abhimanyu in Maya Bazaar, as Lord Vishnu in Chenchu Lakshmi; as Narada in Bhookailash; and Arjuna in Sri Krishnarjuna Yuddham.
In rural oriented films like Balaraju, Rojulu Maraayi, and Namminabantu, he attained the status of Telugu cinema’s first superstar. Surprisingly in comedy films too like Missamma, Chakrapani, and Preminchi Choodu, he made a striking mark. ANR is fondly called the “Tragedy King” of Telugu cinema, through his milestone performances in romantic dramas such as Laila Majnu, Anarkali, Batasari, Devadasu,Prem Nagar, Premabhishekam, and Meghasandesham.
The film Premabhishekam directed by Dasari Narayana Rao is one of the biggest hits in Tollywood. It had a 533-day run in Hyderabad City, the highest run in a city for any Telugu movie. Premabhishekam is the only Telugu film to have run for more than 365 days continuously.
Nageswara Rao was the first to don a double role in Telugu films, and even played nine roles in the film Navarathri. ANR’s portrayal of an alcoholic jilted lover in Devadasu erected an everlasting monument to Sarath Chandra’s famous Bengali character. Although that role was reprised by many in later years in several different languages.
A majority of ANR’s social films like Samsaram, Bratuku Teruvu, Aradhana, Donga Ramudu, Dr. Chakravarthi, Ardhaangi, Mangalya Balam, Illarikam, Shantinivasam, Velugu Needalu, Dasara Bullodu, Bharya Bhartalu, Dharmadata, Batasari, and College Bullodu were commercially successful films. Sitaramayyagari Manavaralu was released in 1991, exactly 50 years after his debut, and was a major success at the box office, despite the influx of newer and younger stars.
A feature that won Nageswara Rao acclaim from critics and art lovers was that he enacted the roles of literary and cultural icons of different regions in India, thereby making them instruments of national integration – as the great Sanskrit poet, Mahakavi Kalidas of Ujjain; as the celebrated musician saint, Bhakta Jayadeva of Odisha; as the temple sculptor, Amarasilpi Jakkanna of Karnataka; as the devotee saint, Vipranarayana of Tamil Nadu; and as the singer Bhakta Tukaram. Manam is the last film of Akkineni Nageswara Rao, where he shared screen space with his son, Nagarjuna, and grandsons, Naga Chaitanya & Akhil.
Akkineni Nageswara Rao died on 22 January 2014 in Hyderabad at age 90. He is Glamorous Hero of the Century in South India.
Dr. ANR had announced on 19 October 2013 that he was diagnosed with colon cancer. In a strong and brave voice, he had asked his fans, friends and relatives to give him strength so he could live for a 100 years. He cheerfully remarked that he wished to live for over 96 years and surpass the record set by his mother.
Dr. ANR had undergone surgery in October 2013 and received chemotherapy thereafter. The cancer treatment had weakened him and the recuperation process was very slow due to his age. Though physically weak, he remained mentally sharp and even dubbed for his film Manam, two weeks after his surgery. He attended the foundation day celebrations of Annapurna Studios on January 14, 2014.
His sudden demise a week later had shocked the Film Industry. Since his cancer diagnosis was public knowledge, it was assumed that he had died of cancer. But in reality, ANR had died in his sleep at 1:30am (22 January 2014) due to a heart attack. ANR is known to have a cardiac history and had undergone major cardiac operations in 1974 and 1988 respectively.He was immediately shifted to Care Hospitals but efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
He was cremated on Thursday afternoon, 23 January 2014, at Annapurna Studios with full police honours amid a 21-gun salute. Thousands of fans, friends and relatives gathered on the sprawling campus to pay their last respects to the departed soul. His death was mourned by fans and film personalities from across the country.
Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan had said, “Another great iconic legend of cinema passes away this morning: Nageshwar Rao, of Telugu cinema, a most affable considerate human! He leaves behind an incredible legacy”. Tamil veteran actor Kamal Haasan had said, “As a star, Dr.ANR has seen three generations. Till the moment he left us, in my eyes, he was a star. We’ve now lost a star. The sky will be bereft of the brightest star I have known who spoke Telugu, Hindi and Tamil”.
In his condolence message, Pranab Mukherjee, President of India had said, “An acclaimed Telugu film actor, producer and writer, Shri Nageswara Rao shall always be remembered for his memorable films. His singular contribution to Indian cinema was recognized through a number of awards. In his death, the film industry has lost a creative personality whose contribution to Telugu cinema remains unparalleled”