“A man of many parts - a learned and deeply religious person, a very fine and powerful actor who swayed millions of people, a forceful orator and above all, a man of the masses.”
~ Narasimha Rao quoted in Obituary: N T Rama Rao, in The Independent Newspaper, 19January 1996.
N T Rama Rao, or Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, or better known as NTR, is one of the best known personalities of Andhra Pradesh. Born on 28 May 1923, his accomplishments in his 72 years of life, range from acting to running the state government. Along with 33 years of a career in films, NTR served his state as a Chief Minister three times. He was praised for his many populist and socialist decisions. He was also an actor who was literally worshiped by people, especially since he was renowned for his roles as a God.
NTR hailed from an ordinary farming family from Nimmakuru, a tiny village in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. His parents, mother Laxmaiah and father Venkataramamma gave him up for adoption to his mother’s brother, Ramaiah and his wife, as they were childless. NTR started his education from home with the help of a tutor, and later continued his studies in the village school till the 5th standard, since a school for further education was not available in the village. Thereafter, his adoptive parents shifted to Vijaywada so that their son could get a proper education. NTR studied further, first in a municipal school till matriculation, and then in the SRR & CVR Government College to pursue his Intermediate course. It was in college that he caught the acting bug, while playing the female character in a stage play named Rachamalluni Dautyam. This was also the first time he won a prize for his acting. He went on to do a number of stage plays in college and kept winning prizes for them.
Owing to his marriage at the age of 20, NTR temporarily lost interest in his studies, which resulted in his failing the Intermediate examination twice. Later, NTR got admission into the B.A. program in the Andhra Christian College, in Guntur. During his under graduation, he continued with his passion for acting by starting a drama club, named National Art Theater. After college, he qualified the Madras Service Commission examination for a sub-registrar’s position. But while working here, he was disillusioned by the corrupt nature of the people in the job. He resigned after three weeks.
NTR’s acting career could have begun in college, if he would have chosen to accept the offers he got. He however, first completed his studies and then started giving screen tests. The first role he received was small, in L V Prasad’s Mana Desam. With ambitions of becoming the main hero of a film, NTR initially declined the offer. However, after he accepted a hero’s role in B A Subba Rao’s Palleturi Pilla, who approached him after seeing his photo with L V Prasad, he went back and accepted the small role in Mana Desam as well. Thus, began NTR’s celebrated career in films. His entire acting repertoire consisted of a total of 292 films, of which “274 were in Telugu, 15 in Tamil and three in Hindi.”
The films that brought NTR name, fame, and a ‘devoted following’ were those where he played the character of Lord Rama or Lord Krishna or other heroic Gods, and mythological characters. The first of the many blockbuster hits he gave playing a God was P Pullaiah’s Sri Venkateswara Mahatyam in 1960, where he played the character of the deity presiding in the Tirupati temple. This created a major buzz, following which devotees of Tirupati, in fact, started visiting him in Madras after their trip to the temple!
NTR’s film career spans across almost 33 years, during which he not only acted, he also directed, produced and screen-wrote some of them. A number of his movies garnered prestigious film awards like Filmfare and National Awards. Highlights of his movie career are as follows:
The first ever best actor award he received was for B A Subba Rao’s Raju Peda in 1954.
Other award winning films included Tenali Ramakrishna (1956), Bhagya Rekha (1957), Seetharama Kalyanam (1961), Mahamantri Timmarusu (1962), Lava Kusha and Nartanasala (1963), Palnati Yudham (1966), Varakatnam (1968), and Badi Panthulu (1972).
Being a method actor, NTR liked doing stunts himself. This also caused accidents. For the movie Nartanasala, he learned Kuchipudi and Rudra Natyam under Dr. Vempati Satyam for his dancer character.
Apart from portraying Gods, he played ‘Robin Hood-esque’ roles in which he was the savior among the poor.
His acting-cum-directorial ventures started in 1966, with Shri Krishna Pandaviyam. Others included Varakatnam (1968), Daana Veera Soora Karna (1977), and Shrimad Vira tVeerabrahmendra Swami Charitra (1984).
His screen-writing projects were Bidaai in 1974 and Daana Veera Soora Karna in 1977.
NTR’s last movie was Srinatha Kavi Sarvabhowmudu in 1993.
NTR's political career started in 1982, when he realized that his state needed a non-Congress Party representation. He formed a new regional party, named Telugu Desham Party (TDP) to serve those living in the rural areas and under poverty. Just a year later, he received a resounding victory in the assembly elections and he took the responsibility of chief minister-ship. His years as a Chief Minister was tumultuous, to say the least. Despite opposition and disturbance inside the party, NTR was able to fulfill a number of promises he made to the people of Andhra.
Some of NTR’s significant achievements as the Chief Minister included, passing the law which gave equal rights to daughters for inheritance of ancestral property, introducing Engineering, Agricultural, and Medical Common Entrance Test (EAMCET) to prevent donation in colleges, providing the poor who were earning below Rs.500/- rice at a subsidized rate of Rs. 2/-, providing other subsidies like for electricity, railways, medical care and housing, and computerizing ticketing for Tirupati temple visits to encourage tourism to the temple.
NTR's stint as Chief Minister lasted almost three terms (Jan 1983 to Aug 1984, Sep 1984 to Dec 1989, and Dec 1994 to Sep 1995), until the time he was ousted by his own son-in-law, N Chandrababu Naidu, in a "silent coup." After a few tries to return, he left political life. His Chief Minister years are remembered fondly by the people, and he is called "the messiah of the masses."
NTR breathed his last on 18 January 1996, and is survived by his second wife, Lakshmi Parvathi and “six sons and four daughters from his marriage.”
Also on this day:
1883 – Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Indian revolutionary who created the term Hindutva, writer of The Indian War of Independence, and politician, was born
2010 – Train collision in West Bengal, that killed 141 passengers