Akkineni Nageswara Rao (20 September 1923 – 22 January 2014), widely known as ANR, was an Indian film actor and producer, known for his works predominantly in Telugu cinema. He was starred in a variety of roles in his seventy five year career, while becoming one of the most prominent figures in the history of Telugu cinema. He was one of the instrumental figures in moving the Telugu Cinema industry from Madras to Hyderabad in the early 60s alongside D. V. S. Raju.He founded Annapurna Studios in the year 1975 to provide infrastructural support to the new film industry in Hyderabad. He later started the Annapurna International School of Film and Media within Annapurna Studios in 2011.
Nageswara Rao received four state Nandi Awards, and five Filmfare Awards South. He is a recipient of the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the highest honorary award for achievement in Indian cinema. He was also 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.Subsequently, ANR was noticed by chance at the Vijayawada railway station by film producer, Ghantasala Balaramaiah, who cast him as Lord Rama in his movie Seeta Rama Jananam.Before that, ANR predominantly acted in theatre, many times donning female roles since women weren’t allowed on stage at that time. From those humble beginnings, he went onto star in over 255 films, spanning Telugu, Tamil and Hindi languages.A majority of his films were both commercial and critical successes.
ANR played a variety of roles spanning various genres. His noted mythological roles include Abhimanyu in Maya Bazaar, Lord Vishnu in Chenchu Lakshmi; Narada in Bhookailash; and Arjuna in Sri Krishnarjuna Yuddham. Many of his popular films early in his career were rural oriented dramas. They included Balaraju, Rojulu Maraayi, and Namminabantu. Not wanting to be type cast, he excelled in comedy with films such as Missamma, Chakrapani, Preminchi Choodu, and College Bullodu Akkineni is probably most noted for his performances in tragic romantic dramas such as Laila Majnu, Anarkali (1955 film), Batasari, Devadasu, Prem Nagar (1971 film), Premabhishekam (1981 film), and Meghasandesham. Akkineni’s prominent socially oriented films include Samsaram, Bratuku Teruvu, Aradhana, Donga Ramudu, Dr. Chakravarthi, Ardhaangi, Mangalya Balam, Illarikam, Shantinivasam, Velugu Needalu, Dasara Bullodu, Bharya Bhartalu, Dharmadata, Batasari, and Sitaramayyagari Manavaralu His prominent historical roles were often cross cultural—the Sanskrit poet Mahakavi Kalidasu of Ujjain; the musician saint, Bhakta Jayadeva of Odisha, the temple sculptor Amarasilpi Jakkanna of Karnataka; the Tamil saint Vipranarayana of Tamil Nadu; and the Marathi Bhakta Tukaram. Playing roles such as these, he garnered acclaim from other Indian states beyond just his native Andhra Pradesh. Despite being an atheist, ANR acted in various movies with strong religious themes such as Vipranarayana,Bhakta Tukaram, Sriramadasu, and Sriramarajyam.Manam was Akkineni’s final film and it included his son, Akkineni Nagarjuna, and grandsons, Naga Chaitanya Akkineni and Akhil Akkineni.
On 19 October 2013 Rao announced that he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He continued shooting for his final film Manam, two weeks after a major laproscopic surgery, surprising many. He had often said that he wished to act till his death, and Manam proved that. His last public appearance was befittingly at the foundation day celebrations of Annapurna Studios on 14 January 2014. A week later, Akkineni passed away on 22 January 2014. He was cremated on 23 January 2014, at Annapurna Studios with full state honours amid a 21-gun salute. Thousands were present to pay their last respects.
Apart from being a movie star, ANR was a prolific writer. Most of his books were autobiographical works, the most famous of which are Nenu Na Jeevitham, the memoirs of his first visit to the USA, Nenu Choosina America, and a poetic rendition of his personal thoughts, A Aalu.
ANR was very active in social service. Pointing toward the sky, he once famously said, “If there’s a presence there, I’m sure he’ll want us to perform our earthly duties well and be a good human being rather than blindly worship him”.
He set up the Akkineni Janmabhoomi trust in order to foster development in his home town, Ramapuram. He strove hard to realise it under the Janmabhoomi programme during the TDP regime. He was instrumental in the construction of the Akkineni Varadhi (Akkineni bridge, named after him), which improved his village’s economy by facilitating easy connectivity. In Ramapuram, even safe drinking water was something which was unheard of until Akkineni contributed to the construction of a water filteration plant.
He instituted the Akkineni International Foundation in 2005 to honour those who contributed to the Film Industry.The Annapurna International School of Film and Media, founded by his family in 2011, was set up as a non-profit entity. Rao was generous towards educational institutions since the beginning of his career. Even though he didn’t have the opportunity to go to school, he understood the importance of education. He created scholarships in various state universities such as GITAM University(Vizag).He was the Chief Donor and President of the College at Gudivada, which was subsequently named after him as Akkineni Nageswara Rao College. Apart from being a Life Member of the Senate of Andhra University, he was also Adviser to its Department of Dramatics and Theatre Arts. He instituted Gold Medals for students who excelled in Acting and Direction. In 2012, he instituted the Akkineni Annapurna Educational Trust in memory of his wife Annapurna.