To his many fans, Akkineni Nageswara Rao was the quintessential lover boy, the dutiful husband, the man on the street whose extraordinary acting career from the 1950s through the 1980s earned him the same stature as that of other southern legends such as N T Rama Rao, Sivaji Ganesan and M G Ramachandran.
The Telugu actor, a Dadasaheb Phalke award winner who also had a Padma Vibhushan and three Filmfare awards, died in his sleep in the early hours on Wednesday (January 22) at a private hospital. He was 90 and had battled cancer for a year.
He acted in 255 Telugu and Tamil films in a career rivaled only by NTR’s. While the latter was at his best in mythological roles, film producer D Ramanaidu describes Nageswara Rao as a man who perfected the role of a happy-go-lucky street guy who won everyone’s hearts, and who was brilliant in both comic and serious roles.
“His lively, fun-filled eyes in comic roles as in Preminchi Chudu and Missamma, and profound expressions when he played a serious character as in Devadasu or Premabhishekam (where he played a cancer patient) are etched in our memories,” Ramanaidu said. “He was the last of the great actors of that generation.”
ANR, as he was popularly called, was also known as a trailblazer who didn’t mind dancing with the heroine during the years when heroes considered it taboo.
He is often described as the original Devdas for his performance as the lovestruck youth. He once told an interviewer that he used to eat lots of curd while shooting for Devadasu; that made him drowsy and helped him act drunk without actually needing to drink.
His other all-time hits included Donga Ramudu, Tenali Rama and Maya Bazaar. Due for release is Manam, directed by Vikram Kumar and featuring three generations of the Akkineni family — ANR, his son Nagarjuna and grandson Naga Chaitanya. Nagarjuna is a very popular actor, while Naga Chaitanya and two other grandsons, Akhil and Sumanth, too are stars in their own right. ANR died surrounded by his family of actors — Nagarjuna, daughter-in-law and former actress Amala, Naga Chaitanya, A Akhil, and nephew Y Sumanth. ANR’s wife Annapurna passed away in 2011.
ANR turned 90 last September 20 while shooting for Manam. Only last month, ANR called up journalists for a chat after reports that he was unwell and told them that he was healthy and looking forward to the release of the film.