Part-II: Remembering NTR, Actor, Director, Producer

Sreenivas Paruchuri (
Mon, 20 Jan 1997 07:15:24 +0100 (MET)

(Second of a two part post recounting the early days and film career of
NT Ramarao on the first anniversary of his death - Jan 18. First part was 
posted yesterday  -- Sreenivas Paruchuri, V. Chowdary Jampala)


Portraying realism was almost an obsession with NTR right from
"palleToori pilla" (1950) where he did a bull-fight scene without 
a dupe and in that process broke his arm. Here one can give many 
examples..... Another example is is all the jewellary and ornaments 
shown in his mythologicals is out of pure (heavy) metal, as he was 
against wearing fake cardboard ones. 

NTR was also well known for his excellent dialogue delivery and voice 
modulations. It is the result of year long, hard practice on the shores 
of Marina Beach in Madras. This deep and sonorous voice helped him later 
both in films and political life.

His other asset was his appearence. Tall and lean (we are talking about 
his early days), a sharp nose, a ready smile radiating from his eyes, and 
curly hair, he was easily the most handsome lead actor of that time.  

His third film was (you will see a different order in filmography. There 
it was listed after date of release.) "maayaaraMbha", a folklore drama. It 
was around the time "the father of Telugu Talkies" H.M.Reddi offered him 
a role in his film and made him run around his office. The next role as 
a hero followed in "saMsaaram" and "shaavukaaru" (shaavukaaru was released
much ahead of the other afore mentioned three films.), both under 
L. V. Prasad's direction, which turned the tables in his favour. When 
Vijaya studios were planning something big, to produce four films under 
4 top directors: (paataaLa bhairavi - K.V.reDDi, malleeSwari - B.N.reDDi,
chandrahaaram - kamalaakara, peLLichEsi chooDu - L.V. Prasad) he argued 
and convinced them to assign the lead role in all four films to him. His 
argument was "if I am not successful in the hands of such eminent directors,
then there won't be any chance of my succeeding on this line. If I don't 
click in these films, I will give up my film career and go back to my 
village.". Only after signing that exclusive contract, he went and brought 
his wife and son to Madras. He was paid Rs 500 a month plus 5,000 rupees 
for a movie during his first year of contract with Vijaya.

paataaLa bhairavi, an unprecedented hit, was the turning point in his 
career, which brought him the recognition as folklore mass hero. NTR 
excelled as the young, innocent, fearless "tOTa raamuDu", intent on 
winning the heroine against heavy odds.  NTR now became a star.

NTR, once established as a successful actor, wanted to produce socially 
conscious films under his NAT banner, with his brother trivikrama rao
as the producer. Their first film was "picchi pullayya", followed by 
"tODu dongalu". His first two productions exposing the state of affairs 
in the society, produced with the ideals he followed, fared badly at 
box-office, but only won critical acclaims and some awards. His brother and
co-producer trivikramarao wanted to return to the native village after huge
financial losses. NTR persuaded him to have a last try. After the failure 
of his non-commercial films, he decided to make  commercial/mass films 
later, starting with the highly successful "jayasiMha" (1955). 

The first godly role, with which he was associated throughout his later 
life, came in "maayaa bazaar" as kRshNa. Prior to that, he made a brief 
appearance in the same role in ghanTasaala's own production "sontavooru" 
(1956), where, ironically,  the audience did not like him at all. A Tamil 
film, sampoorNa raamaayaNam, later dubbed in Telugu, was the first film 
in which he played Rama's role. The film that brought him instant fame for 
playing a godly role was "Sree vEnkaTESwara maahaatmyam" - made for 
11 lakhs, the film made a crore in 1960 - on twenty prints. He acted as 
kRshNa in as many as 17 films out of 42 mythologicals (until 1985). He 
also literally became the 'face' of many historical characters like 
kRshNadEva raayalu etc. 

Two salient features of his own productions were the "negative-roles" he 
played, and the (re)introduction of new, forgotten people from the 
industry. Consider that M.S.RamaRao,a talented, excellent singer, had 
a standard song in all his films; gaalipenchala narasiMharaavu, an old 
timer was brought back after 10 years and gave us a master piece: 
seetaaraama kalyaaNam; a new music director (vijaya) kRshNamoorti was 
given chance in gulEbakaavaLi katha; Ramachandra Chitalkar was brought 
in to provide music for his akbar saleem anaarkali; introducing new 
faces on the screen etc. etc.

His positive interpretation of traditionally negative roles like 
"duryOdhana", "raavaNa" and "karNa"   won him critical acclaim. In 1961,
NTR wrote an article in aandhra patrika weekly - naaku naccina paatra - 
raavaNa (reprinted in 1994 in rachana magazine, and 1995 TANA conference 
souvenir). That article gives good insight into NTR the man as well. Also,
he was n't shy to play the role of "bheeshma" (when many were against it! 
chakrapaaNi told him in his typical style, curtly, that he should not do 
that.); or as an old man and a ruffian in "raaju-pEda". (About NTR's 
role in bheeshma: The director BA Subbarao bragged to chakrapaaNi, 
'Makeup baagaa kudirindi - raamaaraavuni bheeshumDugaa evaroo gurtu 
paTTalEru.' chakrapaaNi's acid retort: 'evaroo gurtu paTTani kaaDiki 
aa vEsham raamaaraavutO vEyincaTanedukoo. nuvvE vEyaccugaa'.)

>From the very first film of his, he evolved an acting style of his own. 
He rarely fumbled for words in front of the camera as he always knew his 
dialogues thouroughly. 

Well, he is known as deeply religious and at times superstitious too! 
For e.g. prefering music director T. V. raaju ...

NTR had remarkable success as a director too: seetaaraama kaLyaaNam was 
the first film he directed, though he didn't put his name in the film 
credits.( Also, he chose to play raavaNa and cast haranath and geetaanjali 
as Rama and seetha).  Later, he directed SriKrishna paanDaveeyam, varakaTnam,
daanaveeraSoora karNa etc. 

His discipline was legendary. Until his death, he woke up very early, 
did his daily exercises, and was punctual for all his appointments. In 
his forties, he learned dance from the Kuchipudi dance maestro, vempaTi 
chinnasatyam, for his role as the dance teacher bRhannala in nartanaSaala. 
In an industry notorious for alcoholism, he kept away from it. His 
unfailing courtesy to junior stars was also a defining characteristic 
of him.

His first 290 films may have grossed a staggering Rs. 200+ crores. And in 
the first 22 years he only charged in thousands. His first film as a hero, 
palletoori pilla was a silver jubilee hit for which he was paid Rs. 1,116. 
He was paid Rs. 7,500 for maayaabazaar.  

During the latter days of his film career, he was still enormously popular 
though his acting and physical appearance changed. The earlier physical 
grace was gone and there were very few directors that could handle him. He 
became a carricature of himself. The downfall of standards in present days 
Telugu cinema is also partly attributed to him; he started a new trend of 
films with lots of racy lyrics and hip swinging dances with young heroines, 
starting in mid-70s with edurulEni manishi.

However, NTR's last film was his own production of Sreenaatha kavi 
saarvabhowma - with him, of course, playing the title role. Directed by 
baapu, the film was an artistic feast, but a commercial disaster. The 
financial loss did not faze NTR. He reportedly told baapu, "Dont worry 
baapu gaaroo, picture manam teeddaamanu_kunnaTlu vaccindi. chaalaa 
santOsham. Dabbulu raakapOtE raakapOyaayi."

As it must happen with everybody, he died last year at the age of 73. 
Telugu film fans will, however, remember him for a long time for his many 
wonderful films and protrayals. How can one forget the handsome young man 
standing on the stairs, singing 'EmananE chinnaari EmananE' in shaavukaaru,
the lovelorn sculptor in malleeSwari, the mischievous kRshNa of maayabazaar,
the doting brother in raktasambandham, the raavaNa of seetaaraamakaLyaaNam,
the bheema of paanDava vanavaasam, the rebellious young man singing 
'cEyetti jaikoTTu telugODaa' in palleTooru, the valiant warrior 
daanaveera Soora karNa, the aDavi raamuDu, the KrishnadEva raayalu... or 
even the NTR cavorting a la amithabh singing 'arerE, vEsukonnaa khaaraa 
kiLLee'. He was one of a kind.

Regards.       --- Sreenivas Paruchuri, V. Chowdary Jampala