Akkineni Nageswara Rao (20 September 1924 – 22 January 2014), widely known as ANR, was an Indian film actor and producer, known for his work predominantly in Telugu cinema. He starred in many landmark films in his seventy five-year career, becoming one of the most prominent figures in the history of Indian cinema. He is considered one of the greatest and most successful actors of Indian cinema. He was one of the instrumental figures in moving the Telugu cinema industry from Madras to Hyderabad in the early 1960s. He established Annapurna Studios in 1975 to provide infrastructural support to the Telugu film industry in Hyderabad. He later started the Annapurna International School of Film and Media within Annapurna Studios in 2011.
ANR is known for his path-breaking work in biographical films; He essayed the Tamil saint Thondaradippodi Alvar in the 1954 film Vipra Narayana; Tenali Rama in the 1956 film Tenali Ramakrishna, which received the All India Certificate of Merit for Best Feature Film; Kalidas (the Sanskrit poet of Ujjain) in the 1960 film Mahakavi Kalidasu; the 12th Century Sanskrit poet Jayadeva of Odisha in the 1961 film Bhakta Jayadeva; the Kannada sculptor Amarashilpi Jakanachari in the 1964 film Amara Shilpi Jakkanna; the Marathi saint Tukaram in the 1971 film Bhakta Tukaram; Kabir in the 2006 film Sri Ramadasu; Valmiki in the 2009 film Sri Rama Rajyam. Similarly, Rao played many famous mythological figures such as Lord Vishnu in Chenchu Lakshmi; Narada in Bhookailas and Arjuna in Sri Krishnarjuna Yuddhamu.
ANR is also remembered for his performances in romantic dramas Laila Majnu (1949), Devadasu (1953), Anarkali (1955), Batasari (1961), Mooga Manasulu (1964), Prem Nagar (1971), Premabhishekam (1981) and Meghasandesham (1982), which was featured at the 9th International Film Festival of India, the 1983 Cannes Film Festival and the Moscow film festival. ANR also starred in the blockbusters Ardhangi (1955), Donga Ramudu (1955), Mangalya Balam (1958), Gundamma Katha (1962), Doctor Chakravarty (1964), Dharma Daata (1970) and Dussehra Bullodu (1971). ANR received seven state Nandi Awards, and five Filmfare Awards South. He is a recipient of the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the highest Indian award in the field of cinema. He was also honoured with the Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian award, for his contribution to the film industry. Manam (2014) was the last film of ANR, who died on 22 January 2014 during the film's production phase. The film was a "befitting swansong", as he always famously said that he wanted to die acting. The film was screened at the 45th International Film Festival of India in the Homage to ANR section on 29 November 2014.
Akkineni Nageswara Rao was born into a lower middle class family on 20th September 1924 in Ramapuram, Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh. He was the youngest of five brothers. His parents Akkineni Venkatratnam and Akkineni Punnamma, were from the farming community. His formal education was limited to primary schooling due to his parents' poor economic condition.
From the paddy fields, he strode into the field of fine arts through theatre at the age of 10. He became a famous stage actor, specialising in playing female characters, since women at that time were mostly prohibited from acting. His most noted roles were in some of the famous dramas of the day: Harishchandra, Kanakatara, Vipranarayana, Telugu Talli, Aasajyoti and Satyanveshanam. The turning point of his career came when Ghantasala Balaramaiah, a prominent film producer at that time, discovered him by chance at the Vijayawada railway station. He was cast in the lead role of Rama in Seeta Rama Jananam. This was after his debut in a supporting role in the film Dharmapatni.
From very humble beginnings, he went on to star in over 255 films, spanning the Telugu, Tamil and Hindi languages. A majority of his films were both commercial and critical successes. His turning point in cinema came in 1955 when he essayed the doomed alcoholic lover in Devadasu. To avoid being typecast, he shifted paths by doing a surprising comic turn in Missamma.
Akkineni Nageswara Rao played a range of characters that very few matched. His movie, Premabhishekam is one of the biggest hits ever in Tollywood, with an amazing 533 days run in Hyderabad. It is still the highest theatrical run in a city for any Telugu movie.
He was the first to play multiple roles (Nine in all) in the Telugu film Navarathri. ANR's portrayal of an alcoholic lover in Devadasu, remains his signature role. Although Devadasu has been made in several languages by many others (in Hindi with Dilip Kumar, and later with Shah Rukh Khan), critics unanimously are of the opinion that ANR's portrayal is by far the best. Even Dilip Kumar once famously remarked that ANR's performance outshone even his own.
Though he did the roles of mythological divine figures such as Rama, Krishna and many others, he was famously an agnostic.
He is fondly called Natasamrat by his fans. Some of his many commercially successful films are Maya Bazaar, Samsaram, Bratuku Theruvu, Aradhana, Donga Ramudu, Dr. Chakravarthi, Ardhaangi, Mangalya Balam, Illarikam, Shantinivasam, Velugu Needalu, Dasara Bullodu, Bharya Bhartalu, Dharmadata, Batasari and College Bullodu. Sitaramayyagari Manavaralu was released in 1991, almost 50 years after his debut, and was a huge success at the box office, despite the influx of younger stars.
On 19 October 2013, ANR was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He continued shooting for his final film Manam, two weeks after a major laparoscopic surgery, which some doctors feared he wouldn't survive. 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. Akkineni died a week later, 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 an avid writer. Most of his books were autobiographical works, the most famous of which are Nenu Na Jeevitham, the memories of his first visit to the USA, Nenu Choosina America, and a poetic rendition of his personal thoughts, A Aa lu - Akkineni Alochanalu. Manasuloni Maata is another of his famous books.
ANR married Annapurna Kollipara on February 18, 1949. He said several times that he was indebted to her and her family for accepting the match, and that was the main reason why he named most of his enterprises after her. They had 5 children together and 11 grandchildren, most of whom are actively involved in films and in his entrepreneurships.
ANR was very active in social service. Pointing to 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 have it realised under the Janmabhoomi programme during the TDP regime. He was instrumental in the construction of the Akkineni Varadhi (a 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's contribution towards the construction of a water filtration 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. ANR was generous towards educational institutions since the beginning of his career. Even though he didn't have the opportunity to fully complete his schooling, he understood the importance of education. He created scholarships at GITAM University (Vizag). He was the Chief Donor and President of the College at Gudivada, which was subsequently named Akkineni Nageswara Rao College after him. Apart from being a Life member of the board of the 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.
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