Natasamrat Padma Vibhushan ANR

By T S Sudhir

``Are you Mr Nageswara Rao?” the caller at the other end enquired.

“Mr Ahmed from the Ministry of Home would like to speak to you, Sir.”
It was around 5:45 pm on January 25 and Akkineni Nageswara Rao was shooting for `Sri Rama Rajyam’ in Alwal on the outskirts of Hyderabad. ANR who is playing the role of Valmiki was at that moment, discussing the Lava-Kusa scene with director Bapu.
“The government of India has conferred on you the Padma Vibhushan. Are you willing to accept it Sir,” went the official’s voice next.
ANR admits the honour was completely unexpected and therefore the excitement was far more than in 1968, when he received the Padma Shri and 1988, when he was honoured with the Padma Bhushan or the Dada Saheb Phalke Award a couple of years later.
“I was happy. I am not a hypocrite to say I wasn’t. I called up my wife, who was obviously happy to hear the news. I told her to inform the kids and continued with my work on location. And lest the crew assume that I would take the next day off to meet those who will come to congratulate me, I told them that I will report on sets the next morning,” says ANR.
Not surprising from a man whose middle name is discipline. In his 70th years in films, ANR is as choosy about the films he agrees to do as he was when at the peak of his career.
“I don’t want to do guest roles,” says ANR sitting in his tastefully done-up room at his home in Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad. “I do not want to lose my old fans. Like your mother and your grandmother. Because today’s character aren’t characters. The talent is there but the quality of scripts isn’t up to the mark. In comparision, we had better opportunities.”
As we chat, former chief justice of the Kerala High court and former chairman of the Andhra Pradesh Human Rights Commission, B Subhashan Reddy walks in to congratulate ANR.
“I am a huge fan of his,” says Reddy. “I remember watching his `Keelugurram’ as a 10-year-old at a small theatre in Medak. I have always seen his films, first day first show and must have seen most of his 250 plus films. He is such a versatile actor.”
Do you catch any of your old classics on TV or DVD, I ask ANR.
“I don’t because I do not enjoy watching any of my films,” he replies. “My mind invariably goes back to the shooting of that particular movie, remembering each single detail. How that scene or song was shot, what discussions we had, how we differed with the director etc etc.”
ANR is doing `Sri Rama Rajyam’  after a five-year gap. His last film `Sri Ramadasu’ in 2006 saw his sharing screen space with son Nagarjuna.
“Sri Ramadasu was just nine days of work for me. But it was a vital role. ANR was noticed. That is very important.”
Will he be doing a film now with Nagarjuna and grandson Naga Chaitanya?
“My part is ready. When the filmmaker approached Nagarjuna, he told him `Ask Dad. If he accepts, we can.’ I am very strict. Like they say `Paat ki pallavi mukhyam, film ki climax mukhyam.”
ANR’s early years and difficult childhood is well-chronicled. He began acting at a young age and over a period of time, became one of the foremost actors of Telugu cinema. Moving from folklore to socials to being the romantic hero.
“When Devadasu was offered to me, I was tense because people doubted if a folklore actor can play Devdas. K L Saigal’s Devdas was a reference point and since everyone was making me feel unfit for the role, I asked if I could see it. “Why should you see it. Saigal was a singer, you are an actor”, was the retort I got. So I prepared very well for the role and after the film’s release, no one had any doubt about my ability to play such a difficult character.”
You cannot talk to ANR and not talk about N T Rama Rao, the other thespian of Telugu cinema.
“By the time, he came into films, I was already a very popular actor. His acting style was different from mine. I admire his talent but thought he was artificial in social movies. His personality and laughter was more suited for mythologicals, where he was brilliant.”
For a man his age, ANR is fit and agile. “I don’t do any yoga. The kind of dances we did for singing duets were a good enough exercise,” he jokes.
“I was my mother’s ninth child and she fed me milk till I was five years old. I always thank my mother for that as I believe it is because of that that I never get a headache.”
ANR’s fans will get to see him as Valmiki this June. In the Ramayana of his life, with a family that has 23 members, ANR’s mantra is to remain happy.
“Happiness makes me happier,” he says. It is only apt that the country has given one of its finest actors, Padma Vibhushan Akkineni Nageswara Rao one more reason to be happy at 87.

Playing Statue

By T S Sudhir
The essential rule in the game of statue is that you need to keep silent, not even twitch a muscle or flutter your eyelashes. Statue-obsessed politicians of Andhra Pradesh however, don’t know the virtue of silence and are flouting all rules of the game as they pit the statue of one dead leader against the other.
Bhala teri statue meri statue se behtar kaise?
There are 1200 Y S Rajasekhara Reddys in Andhra Pradesh now. And courtesy son Jaganmohan Reddy’s discovery of Andhra Pradesh, dad dearest is the most prominent landmark in five districts so far. And with 18 more districts to cover, Jagan would hope YSR covers as much roadspace and mindspace of the voters.
District officials have chosen to look the other way, as Jagan unveils a YSR here and a YSR there. Much to the chagrin of Chandrababu Naidu, who during his district tours, finds that the sight of bete noire YSR continues to haunt him even after he is no more.
The Telugu Desam never went on a Jagan-like overdrive to erect statues of their founder-president, N T Rama Rao. The few that came up had NTR in his trademark hero pose, which as a TDP leader once admitted to me, made them a bit uncomfortable.
Why, I asked? NTR’s left hand stretched out, he replied half in jest, was as if he was rebuking Chandrababu Naidu and company and ordering them to just keep away from him, for reducing him from a hero to a zero.
But now YSR statues are facing an inhouse threat. Telangana Congress leaders have threatened to pull down YSR statues in Telangana region, if Jagan supporters heckle them. This after `YSR fans’ got into a skirmish with self-styled loyalist number 1 of the Gandhi parivaar, V Hanumantha Rao in Mahbubnagar this Saturday.
Talking of Telangana, you cannot ignore BJP’s rediscovered love for the region. The party doesn’t tire of reminding everyone that way back in 1998, at Kakinada, it had promised `one vote, two states’. Then, of course the marriage of convenience with Chandrababu Naidu took place and the BJP had to sacrifice its `love’ for Telangana to be with `anti-Telangana’ Naidu.
Now since last year, the BJP has been demanding that a statue of Komaram Bheem be erected in Hyderabad. Komaram Bheem was a tribal revolutionary from Adilabad who fought against the Nizam in the early 20th century.
The hurdle is that the Hyderabad Municipal Corporation has not been forthcoming in permitting any new statue in the city. So some of the more radical Telangana votaries are threatening to pull down any one of the existing 32 statues on Tank Bund, abutting Husainsagar lake and instal Bheem’s statue instead. Given the saffron brigade’s expertise in pulling down structures, this threat cannot be taken lightly.
TRS MLA and K Chandrasekhar Rao’s US-returned son, K T Rama Rao, demands “a level-playing field”.
“During the Telangana agitation last December, a number of statues and busts of Potti Sriramulu, the leader who played an important role in the creation of Andhra Pradesh, were defaced and damaged by pro-Telangana activists. But when unified Andhra activisits searched in their region to locate a statue of a Telangana leader to take revenge, they could not find any. If Komaram Bheem’s statue is not installed in Hyderabad, we will target the statues of Andhra region politicians like Kasu Brahmananda Reddy,” says Rama Rao.
It is not a nice thing to do but one ended up doing a survey of the domicile status of the 32 men and women of eminence on Tank Bund. Seven of them belonged to Telangana region.
People like Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Sri Ramadasu, Alluri Sitaramaraju, Sir Arthur Cotton and Rani Rudramma Devi would have never imagined that one day, long after they are gone, they too could be subjected to the quota raj.

Naidu censors Varma

By Uma Sudhir

Filmmaker Ramgopal Varma has been forced to censor his latest release under pressure from the Telugu Desam. Violent protests by supporters who believe TDP founder N T Rama Rao has been misrepresented in the film, led to the cut.

TDP leaders say NTR has been portrayed in bad taste in the film. Varma gives a lame reply, saying there is no NTR in the film and the character’s name is Shivaji Rao.


(video of the story aired on NDTV)

Will you heed Ramu’s warning?

By T S Sudhir

“In this film, there are no songs, no comedy, no family functions, no great clothes, no good locations, no exotic sets. All elements which conventional, commercial, formula films have, they are not there. After that if you want to see it, it is your call.”

Any other person doing such shoddy marketing for a film would have been guillotined. But then this is Ramgopal Varma aka Ramuji aka RGV. And when it is RGV, there are no rules. And if there are, they are meant to be flouted.

However, usually, in Varma’s kingdom, also called `Factory’, the mercurial producer-director makes his own rules.
Like he did when he did not get the rights to use the title `Sholay‘. RGV went ahead and named it `Ramgopal Varma ki Aag’. Indeed when it comes to being streetsmart, RGV is more Gopal than Ram.
Again with `Rakht Charitra‘. This will be the first Hindi and Telugu film to be released in two parts. The first part on 22nd October and the second on 19th November. RGV says that is because “the sheer drama and content the story possesses, is so incredibly rich and of such high magnitude that it is not possible to do justice to it in a film which is lesser than 4 to 5 hours.”
`Rakht Charitra‘, like many of Ramu’s earlier films, is a biographical movie, based on the rivalry between Paritala Ravi, a gangster politician from Andhra Pradesh’s Rayalaseema region and Suri, who had sworn revenge against him. Ravi, who was made a minister by N T Rama Rao, was killed in January 2005, allegedly by Suri’s men.
As the name suggests, it is a violent tale of revenge, with the film posters quoting the Mahabharata : “Revenge is the purest emotion.” My friend Madhavan Narayanan wonders if that is Ramu’s way of telling that he is going to inflict some on the audience.
Madhavan is not alone to harbour such fears. Especially after Ramu’s train of superflops like `Rann’, `Darling’, `Naach‘ and `RGV ki Aag’.

I sometimes wonder if there are a Ram aur Shyam within RGV. Because when you hear Ramu speak with such eloquence on cinema, you would wonder why this brilliant student of the art form lapses into periods when he fails in virtually every subject. Almost as if his films have been `fixed’.

That Ramu is extremely intelligent and sharp, is visible in films like `Shiva’, `Satya’ and `Company‘. Even a `Rangeela‘. A certain honesty of purpose can be seen in the trademark Varma camerawork that captured a range of emotions and moods.
But his 20-20 like penchant for producing a film almost every other month cost his creativity dear. Yes he did make a `Sarkaar’ but that was like a once-in-a-blue moon ODI half century. An out-of-form Varma was more in the news for his silly tweet and blog battles with the likes of Karan Johar. And of course, the tour of the Taj post 26/11 with the Deshmukhs, chief minister dad and actor son.
Given Ramu’s penchant to make films on real people and real events, it was assumed he was doing a recce for his next venture. Varma overnight turned into a hate figure, with TV news channels circling him in slow-mo, almost as if he had plotted the carnage with Kasav and gang. No wonder RGV calls the media “the biggest factionists”.
`Rakht Charitra’ gives Ramu 13 hours in three languages to redeem himself. In fact, in many ways, life has come full circle for this celebrated filmmaker. Ramu, a Hyderabad and Vijayawada boy, started his career with Telugu films in 1989. He returns to his janmabhoomi to spin a story of betrayal and revenge.
For the sake of his fans, one hopes Ramu is in top form in `Rakht Charitra’. It wouldn’t look nice if they meted out the same treatment they did to `Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag‘, which since 2007 has remained the sole benchmark for any rank bad film.
If `Rakht Charitra‘ turns out to be a bloody red dud, betrayal and revenge would acquire new meanings then.
Alternately, Shatrughan Sinha, who plays NTR in the film, will have to say “Ramu, Khaamosh”.