In first person: Akkineni Nageswara Rao

The long journey from Gudivada

Print edition : October 18, 2013

Akkineni Nageswara Rao. Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam

Akkineni Nageswara Rao in "Mayalokam".

100 years of Indian Cinema

I GUESS I am probably one of those few people who really took the plunge into performing arts in order to get out of poverty. It goes without saying that I was passionate about acting, be it on stage initially or later before the cameras.

As the ninth child born to parents and with no sisters, in a family of farmers and with none in the world of films, I stepped on to the stage when I was nine years old. I essayed the role of Chandramathi in Harishchandra. That was the beginning of a long innings of donning the greasepaint. I was actually 25 years old when I first acted in Donga Ramudu in 1936.

Starting from Sri Sita Rama Jananam in 1944, until Sita Ramula Kalyanam Choothamu Rarandi in 1998, I have over 100 a films that ran for 100 days, and the list, people say, is seemingly endless. If you ask me, I can’t remember them all in the chronological order, but it only goes to show that I am so deeply entrenched in cinema that other details do not stick to memory.

While cinema is life to me, there are so many facets of real life that have had a deep influence on me. Take, for example, how people were scared of giving their daughters in marriage to me, just because I was one of those very few those days who had taken to films for a living. On one hand, I was happy at the applause my films received—that was “reel” life—and, on the other hand, I was faced with a complete contrast in “real” life.

People thought I was a Tamil when I went to Jaffna once. There was this intense desire to be proficient enough in English from the early years as an actor. Thanks to friends like B.N. Reddy, who wanted me to get a dictionary, I motivated myself enough. So much so that a 120-day trip to the United States and other countries turned out to be a success, with people applauding my communication skill in English.

And then my life in Chennai, on Bazullah Road, can never be forgotten, considering that my neighbours included C. Rajagopalachari, K. Kamaraj, MGR and Neelam Sanjiva Reddy. I owe a bit of my life to all of them and cherish the relationship I had with them.

As for the contribution of the Telugu film industry to Indian cinema, there is nothing more I can say that has not been said by others. Remember all those beauties, natural actresses from south India who were highly successful in the north, in the Hindi film industry? People may have been very friendly and may have patronised actresses from the south, but look at it from the other side: would they have made it big if they didn’t have what it takes to make it to the top—a judicious combination of beauty, glamour and acting skills?

And then Ram Aur Shyam, Jeene Ki Raah, Hamraaz, Devadas, Nishkruthi and Agni Pariksha, just to name a few. Every movie lover knows the south connection in those hit films. If you cannot consider these as proof of our contribution to national cinema, what else can be?

As told to Suresh Krishnamoorthy