The legendary actor wanted to do his bit to enhance the standards of Telugu cinema
Last Updated: 06.35 AM, May 28, 2023
NTR is a name synonymous to Telugu pride across the globe. A BA economics student, the Nimmakuru-born actor was a theatre enthusiast who quit a stable government job to try his hand in cinema and left for Madras. While several offers like Mana Desam, Palleturi Pilla came his way initially, the uncertainties of showbiz in his early years nearly convinced him to give up his passion.
If not for a certain BA Subba Rao who stopped him from boarding the train at Madras, Telugu cinema would’ve missed witnessing the glory of its most-gifted child. NTR, who would’ve turned 100 today, tasted success as an actor, director, producer and a politician, defying norms and cemented his position in the hearts of Telugu crowds.
While his credentials as an actor, politician barely need any introduction, he took to film production in a hope to challenge himself as a performer with unique roles and make sensible cinema as an alternative to mainstream, commercial fares. In 1952, NTR had attended the International Film Festival of India at Madras along with his colleagues from the industry and was moved by the variety of films screened.
NTR was particularly impressed by the Italian film Bicycle Thieves by Vittorio De Sica. The film struck a chord with NTR - it almost felt personal and probably reminded him of some of his early struggles. It motivated him to pave the way for alternative cinema in Telugu where compelling stories could be told with a dash of realism sans commercial compromises.
The actor began earning decent paycheques for his films by then but he wanted to give back to the industry in some form. NTR established a production house where could tell the kind of stories he believed in. It would be a financially risky proposition. That’s how National Arts— his home banner - was born, named after his theatre group back in his college.
His brother Trivikrama Rao and his friend Pundarikakshaiah were handed production responsibilities in the banner. However, his aims didn’t translate into box office successes initially. Both of his productions - Pichi Pullayya and Thodu Dongalu - failed at the box office despite critical acclaim. NTR played a village simpleton in Pichi Pullaiah and a bespectacled evil old man in Thodu Dongalu, who helps the owner of a ricemill earn money by exploiting workers.
Despite his noble intentions, the failures taught him an important lesson - Telugu film spectators seek entertainment in a film and want to be transported to a make believe world when they buy a ticket. He was forced to mend his ways later, tasted his first success as a producer with the folklore tale Jayasimha, a film that introduced Waheeda Rehman to Telugu cinema as a leading lady.
NTR tasted several successes as a producer later - Sri Krishna Pandaveeyam, Seetharama Kalyanam, Daana Veera Soora Karna, Panduranga Mahatyam, Gulebakavali Katha. Apart from Waheeda Rehman, NTR launched many prominent artists through his banner: Geethanjali, Saroja Devi, Vijaya Nirmala, Jr Samudrala, writer and lyricist C Narayana Reddy, Kondaveeti Venkata Kavi and cinematographer Ravikanth Nagaich, to name a few.