A tribute to “evergreen” ANR

September 22, 2008

 

Last week Akkineni Nageswara Rao (ANR) turned 85, an occasion to celebrate the longevity of the “evergreen hero” of Indian Cinema (Dev Anand, one of the other so called evergreen heroes, is really a caricature in the last few decades, whereas Dileep Kumar has stopped acting in films 15 years ago).

 

It is also a sad reminder that ANR is perhaps the last man standing among the golden oldies of those great Telugu movies of 1950’s and 60’s. To my knowledge, Gummadi Venkateswara Rao is the only other person who is chugging along. And, who would believe that Gummadi is 3 years younger than ANR. My father is great fan of ANR. So its natural that from a very young age I was made aware of many aspects of ANR’s films and his persona. Though I had a great liking and love for films in general and Telugu films in particular, in my younger days ANR’s films did not appeal to me as much as NTR’s or “Superstar” Krishna’s. In those years ANR’s films were also pretty formulaic (Dasari was director of most of those movies) and are not among his best.

 

In the later years when I had a chance to watch ANR’s great work in the 50’s and 60’s, I started admiring his acting prowess. It was then I started realizing the gigantic nature his achievements in the years when the Indian film industry itself was blessed with “one in a generation” actors such as NTR, MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, Rajkumar (Kannada), Prem Nazir (Malayalam), Uttam Kumar (Bengali), and Dileep Kumar (Hindi), to name a few. A case in point was his show in Devdas and Batasaari that apparently prompted the likes of Dileep Kumar, Uttam Kumar and Sivaji Ganesan to say “only ANR can better those performances”.

 

Still, it is only in the last 2-3 years that I have made acquaintance with many lesser known gems of ANR (thanks to my home theater system), when I started collecting Ghantasala’s songs in MP3 format. That exercize made me realize the sheer prolificity with which ANR delivered musical hits that had style as well as substance. There was a program in ETV-2 on September 20 (ANR’s birthday) in which the anchor recalled all major hits of ANR in chronological order. Between 1955 and 1970, ANR delivered 70+ major hits (needless to say, most of them are musical hits). Seventy-odd hits in 16 years in no mean achievement. Ask any of ANR’s contemporaries in Indian Cinema. Rajendra Kumar, considered as most successful hero in Hindi films, has 50-odd hits from 87 films. ANR acted in 140-odd films during 1946-1977 and delivered 92 hits, most of them with ANR in the kind of roles that Rajendra Kumars of this world can only dream about.

 

Even NTR, for all his talent and charisma, could not match ANR’s strike rate for most of his career (NTR’s golden patch, in terms of regular hits, began only with Adavi Ramudu).  The reasons are two-fold: 1) ANR is a great actor and was even better in choosing the right kind of production houses to work with, 2) NTR has not been so smart. ANR has always managed to be the first choice for leading production houses of that time, except Vijaya productions who had a multi-year contract with NTR. That’s why ANR is the hero in most of the films made by Bharani pictures (of Bhanumathi), Anjali Pictures (of Anjali devi), Prasad Art Pictures, Annapurna Pictures (ANR’s own production house in partnership with Dukkipati Madhusudhana Rao), Jagapathi Pictures, etc.

 

In contrast, NTR’s best was manifested only in films made by Vijaya Productions (Pathala Bharavi, Missamma, Gundamma Katha, Jagadeka Veeruni Katha, etc.) and his own productions (NAT productions) – Panduranga Mahathyam, DVS Karna, etc., or the films made by Pundareekakshaiah (his brother-in-law) such as Pandava Vanavaasam. Most of NTR’s films in 60’s and 70’s were made by new producers, and the results were disastrous. That’s why among NTR’s 320-odd films, one can not recall more than 30-odd good films (here I am not counting post-Adavi Ramudu hits that were height of gaudiness and overacting).

 

Since late 70’s, as mentioned previously, ANR’s films were more formulaic and thereafter ANR started acting in roles that befitted his age. A shrewd man he is, ANR had slowly eased himself out of films and was last seen in “Sri Ramadasu” in a small but important role of “Kabir Das”. ANR’s greatest achievement must be that he was able to hold his own position in spite of being no match for NTR in looks or physique or voice.

 

Finally, if I were to choose Top 10 of ANR’s best, the list would be:

 

1.       Devadas (need say any thing?)

2.       Moogamanasulu (ANR, Jamuna, Savitri, Godavari theeram, who is best?)

3.       Tenali Ramakrishna (I found ANR quite good looking in this film in spite of him sporting a pilaka; the movie overall is quite good any way)

4.       Vipranarayana (who says an atheist cann’t portray this role)

5.       Aradhana (ANR, Savitri, Songs, who is best?)

6.       Sudi Gundalu (a truly good off-beat movie, well ahead of its times)

7.       Dasarabullodu (ANR in a bubbly character, great songs)

8.       Prem Nagar (a wonderful depiction of  a great heart behind a Casanova life style)

9.       Premabhishekam (its not for nothing this movie was one of the biggest hits in the history of telugu films)

10.   Sitaramayyagari Manavaralu (again, ANR vies with Godavari theeram for the top spot)

 

P.S: There some better entertainers among ANR’s films (such as Iddaru Mitrulu), but the films listed above have showcased various hues of ANR’s talent.


Of Telugu Films and Andhra towns

August 2, 2008

 

I was always fascinated by history. Apart from giving insights into our heritage and the key reasons for the rise and fall of all those great empires and kings – lessons that can be applied to our benefit now – history helped my imagination run wild. In my childhood I used to try imagining the lifestyle, the dressing style and the pattern of human emotions at various points in time, going back to vedic times. For example, I tried to imagine what my great-great-grand-father was doing in mid-19th century, and what his reaction might have been to the major national and local events in his time. Of course, I could not figure out what his reaction was to, say, Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 J But the very mental exercise used to give me a high JJ

 

Given that the human civilization is changing at very fast pace in the past few decades – even India’s maiden cricket world cup triumph n 1983 is a major historical event now – history lovers like me have a lot to ponder over. The most routine study in history for most of us now is wondering at how the cities and towns are changing, more so in post-liberalization India. For example, one of the most common remarks heard in Hyderabad these days is how Kukatpally, Miyapur, Madhapur, and Gachibowli areas have developed into major residential and commercial hubs in a matter of 4-5 years. That’s what people of my generation talk about, whereas my father can’t stop wondering about how desolate the areas beyond Panjagutta (i.e. Ameerpet, Srinagar Colony, etc.) used to be even in 1980’s.

 

Carrying on in the same vein, I get nostalgic when I see movies of 1970’s and 1980’s shot in the cities/towns that I am associated with. In the past 2-3 days I watched a few Telugu movies that took me back to my memories of Vizag, Vijayawada and Amaravathi in those good old days – which is not too far, considering that I am only in mid-30’s J

 

The first movie was Rendu Jella Seetha, directed by Jandhyala in early 1980’s. It was shot almost entirely in an old bungalow on Vizag beach road. You can recognize some of the buildings on the beach road, incl. this bungalow, that have withstood the onslaught of apartment clusters on beach road. And, it makes you feel sorry for the buildings and trees, some of them 100+ years old, that have bitten dust. I get the same feeling when I watch Chantabbai or Babai-Abbai or scores of other movies that were shot at Vizag in early 1980’s, after K.Balachander popularized Vizag as a beautiful location for movie making.

 

 

The next film was Appula Apparao directed by EVV in early 1990’s. The movie was shot in Vijayawada, a city I used to visit regularly to meet my class mates from REC, Warangal. Vijayawada formed the back drop of a handful of movies in 80’s and 90’s, but was lying low since then, till it was showcased again this year in Krishna-the power of Indrakeeladri  featuring Raviteja. This movie earned accolades, of course from Vijayawada folks, for capturing some of the beautiful locales in Vijayawada. But after the repeat watch of Appula Apparao recently, I could n’t help but appreciate director EVV for showcasing many hitherto unknown – some beautiful, some weird – locations of Vijayawada.

 

 

The crown jewel for me was Sapthapadi, directed by K.Viswanath in early 1980’s. Strangely enough, I watched this film for the first time last evening. Apart from a great theme and mind-blowing songs, I was mesmerized by the way Amaravathi was depicted in this film as a quintessential coastal village. Many of the songs captured the beauties of a village such as the early morning dips in river Krishna, cows grazing in the fields, temple on a hillock, and the famous Amaralingeswara Swamy Temple and the pushkar ghat next to it. Amaravathi was featured in many other Telugu films such as Shankarabharanam, Develayam, etc., but Sapthapadi should take the cake for showcasing it so beautifully.

 

Talking of Telugu movies and Andhra cities/towns, other than Hyderabad, Tirupathi is another town that featured in many films, that showcased the Seshachalam hill range.

Picture Courtesy: travel.sunyaprajna.com/India/


Telugu comedians: what’s common to most of them?

September 30, 2005

These days I am trying a new method to start a new day in a positive way. Its not that I would otherwise start a day in a negative way – like beating up my neighbour or scolding my wife for no reason :-)

But, I felt that unless I do something about it I am starting my day in a lethargic manner- like dragging myself away from the news papers, or seriously contemplating the work at office, while sitting on the toilet seat, so on so forth. Hence, I decided that I will do one of the following in the morning while I am getting ready – put on some music (preferably soft music or old film songs), or watch the TV show “Nee Kosam” on Gemini TV where they put together a string of comedy scenes for you. I don’t know how many of you realize that having a hearty laugh is a good way to start a day, especially when the laughs are not directed at you :-)

Most of the comedy scenes these days will have actor Sunil as the focal point. I guess people of our generation enjoy him more than the most, because of a simple reason – he belongs to our generation. He is around 30 years, he smokes and boozes convincingly (off the screen too), and is full of PJs, delivered in his own “Bhimavaram” accent. BTW, is it a coincidence that most of the current comedians hail from East or West Godavari Districts?? This is true in case of the comedians I enjoy the most – Sunil (Bhimavaram), Shivaji Raja (Narsapur), MS Narayana (Bhimavaram), Ali (Rajahmundry), Brahmanandam (at least his formative years were spent in Bhimavaram, Narsapur etc.). The rest are AVS (from Tenali), Venumadhav (Nizamabad), Chitram Sreenu (Khamam??). Kubbi – can you present some insight into this phenomenon!!

BTW, dudes – if you want to make your own post on to this blog, first login to “blogger.com” and then follow the instructions in your homepage on “blogger.com”.

Today, apart from “Nee kosam”, I watched the interview of SS Rajamouli, director of “Chatrapathi” which is releasing today. This guy, director of hits like “Student No.1, Simhadri, and Sye”, is disarmingly simple in discussing about his new film. I would rate Rajamouli, along with VV Vinayak and Vijaya Bhaskar, as best of the current lot in Telugu. ‘guess RG Verma would do well to watch the movies of these directors to learn how to make movies low on hype and high on substance.

More later….


more on Verma

September 5, 2005

‘thought I would post this small e-mail conversation between me & Kubbi on verma:

Kubbi says
“yesterday I had a chance to see “SeethaRamaiah Gari Manumaralu” mainly second half. It made me very nostalgic. I thought about the movie and felt it could be one of the best Family Dramas ever made in Telugu (very few films come close to it for the variety of emotions portrayed). RamGopalVerma will do well to take a note of it before he says funny things like ‘simple family struggles do not get my attention’. “

in reply, me says:
“well said. Verma should just pause to think why family dramas leave a lasting impression with the audience than sex or revenge. Most good stories are woven around a human relationship: brother-sister, mother-son etc. If he ever tries, he will realize how difficult it is to make a good family drama. Its a different matter that even average family dramas do well, probably Verma formed his opinion after watching successful, but average family dramas.”


Ramgopal Verma – what do you make of him/ his films??

August 31, 2005

Ramgopal Verma is one of the guys who caught my attention ever since his “Shiva” that released just a few days after we joined RECW. The initial admiration wore off after watching films like “Antham”, “Govinda Govinda” etc. My feelings about him, ranging from disappointment to hatred to sheer ridicule of what he does, are directly in proportion to his demeanor exhibited through his films and his interviews. My honest assessment of Ramgopal verma as a director can be summed up as:

- A guy who tries to be different, even at the expense of dishing out sheer non-sense

- A guy who is not sure of what he wants to convey through his films. He does not do his homework well (i.e. having the entire story ready before hitting the sets). He might start off with good opening scenes, but doesn’t finish off well, and hence leaves the audience confused. Going by one of his recent interviews (reproduced down under), he takes pride in admitting that he is confused

- A guy with a knack for generating pre-release hype for his films

- A guy who takes pride in ridiculing the conventional (even the good things about being conventional, like, say, having a beginning and an ending for a story)

I have some specific issues to discuss about RGV, but for today I will leave you with the excerpts of one of his recent interviews (probably most sensible of his interviews that I came across):

Cheers
Nag

QUOTE

You come across as a modern filmmaker with a yen for making slick movies. Why haven’t you experimented with family dramas, considering they do so well?
“It’s not that I’m against family dramas, but there should be something in the subject that excites me, attracts my attention. There has to be some factor that excites me. Not just telling a simple story. There has to be some extra bit that attracts my attention, I could put my family drama in it, but not simply a family drama. Normal things between people revolt me. Husband and wife fighting, I just can’t do it; they wasting their time on simple family matters.”

One thing about your films is your plots have always been very simplistic — very A-to-B plotlines, but you take a lot more interest in the screenplay — the characters are a lot more fleshed out, it’s all about the screenplay, the dialogues and things like that. Is there a particular reason to this? Don’t you want to tell a bizarrely unique story?
I somehow don’t believe films are about stories. Films create an effect, an emotional experience that forms what you take home. In fact, looking back from the day I was watching films, I don’t remember any of the stories of the films. I just remember shots, I remember moments, I remember songs, I remember a dialogue somewhere.
Now, take the greatest Amitabh Bachchan films: I don’t remember a single story from the films. I don’t think anyone else would either. If I asked you what is the story of Amar Akbar Anthony, you won’t be able to tell me.
The emphasis on ‘story’ is basically highly exaggerated. Because I think the primary purpose of the story is to abet and make the next moment work. I’ll give you an example: Take the biggest hit of all time, Sholay. It’s about a guy who hires these two guys to take revenge on a man who massacred his family so brutally — this is the plotline of Sholay. The story demands you to hate the villain, and the audience comes out loving him. Which means the story had failed, technically, the story has not worked.
But that is the same story which gave rise to those unforgettable moments, from ‘kitne aadmi the?’ to Helen’s Mehbooba song to Dharmendra-Amitabh Bachchan’s comedy track — everything you remember from Sholay is a selection of great, but isolated moments. It’s not as if you’re emotionally connected with the script of Sholay. If you were, you wouldn’t have loved Gabbar Singh (laughs). That’s my ultimate proof of what it’s about!

So you don’t limit yourself to anything?
(Smiles) No, I don’t limit myself to anything. It should just be startling; it should be shocking. I don’t mind making a bad film, an ugly film, I just don’t want to make an okay film. I don’t mind being hated, but I hate being ignored. I want an extreme reaction. ‘Kya bakwaas film banaata hai!’ – I don’t mind that. But I don’t want them being indifferent.
Films, today, are a medium of entertainment. I don’t think it’s really so much about business and risk.

Are we ever going to see a Ram Gopal Varma Box Set on DVD or something? Because it’s such an unexplored format in terms of India, and there’s so much insight the added features could give your fans. Commentary, deleted scenes etc will enhance the film.
(Nods, smiles) That’s actually a very interesting idea. I’ll have to look into it, I don’t know who owns which rights of which of my films, but it’s worth looking at. An interesting idea indeed.
The problem is I don’t have respect for the films I make, after I’ve made them. I detach myself and get embarrassed when I watch them later. After the first copy comes out, I lose interest in the project. Then I only have an interest in the audience, and their feedback: liking it, disliking it, finding meanings I didn’t intend. I listen to these reactions. After that, if I ever catch my films on television, I change channels. I find it irritating to watch them.

Which of your films do you personally prefer over the rest?
(Smiles) I like some moments in my films. Some moments in Satya, Company, Rangeela, and even Daud. And Bhoot. Any film, whether it worked at the box office or not, I’ll have my favourite moments from it.
For me, I say directorially, Bhoot is my best film, because what is directing about? You have material, you have a script. Then you cast actors, use the medium — camera, music, sets — to enhance the effect.
Company has material, Bhoot doesn’t have material. 75 percent of the film is just two people: Ajay Devgan goes to office, comes back, Urmila Matondkar sits at home, watches television. And all that time, you’re playing with the psychology of the mind. That is what direction is all about: creating a vision about the nonexistent thing.
Company has material, it was about creating the packaging. It had very serious material, characters and relationships. Even if you tell the story of Company, it’s a proper plot – it’ll hold you.
But holding the viewer’s attention, without having a story, is what directorial capability is really all about.

What kind of films do you like to watch?
In recent times, I’ve been most captivated by the film Requiem For A Dream. I rarely watch films, and today, films don’t hold me, as my mind keeps running in different directions. I can’t concentrate. The moment the film goes a little here and there, I lose interest. Or else I start editing the film (laughs), which spoils it for me. That’s the sad part. Watching a film has become very technical.

You grew up watching movies. What were the big influences while you still devoured cinema?
I lived in the theatres. A very bizarre selection of films influenced me, actually, from Enter The Dragon, to Peter Seller’s Pink Panther series to McKenna’s Gold to Chori Mera Kaam, to Himmatwala with Sridevi and Jeetendra; to The Godfather, even Kalyug. All kinds of films.
You mentioned The Godfather. Just how much does Sarkaar owe the (Francis Ford) Coppola classic?
Let me put it this way: if The Godfather hadn’t been made, Sarkaar wouldn’t have been made. That is the truth.
The similarity of the stories is that of a powerful family who has the clout to work outside the system. The difference is The Godfather is about a criminal organisation, and Sarkaar is not a criminal. He’s a powerful political figure — there are a hundred people like that in India, maybe even a thousand. All of them will have similar stories. This identification factor makes it a strong film.
I’m sure I’ll be paying homage to a lot of incredible scenes from the film, but the basic story is not that of The Godfather.

When you say paying homage – you’ve grown up watching this eclectic collection of cinema – do you ever cinematically pay homage to them in your other films?
I do that all the time. Every film I make is actually only that. I don’t think I create anything original. I would just do it as it relates to that particular story, to that particular context. To today.

So Naach is a homage to what?
Naach actually, is my most original film. You won’t see a relationship with any film. Sarkaar you’d see that; Bhoot obviously; Rangeela also – somewhere, I mixed parts of Sound Of Music with Basu Chatterjee’s films and something interesting emerged. Naach, I think, is me at my most original — in terms of subject matter, characters, and cinematically, the way it’s shot.

UNQUOTE


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