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Such a long journey


ANR sets yet another milestone with the Akkineni International Foundation. A tête-à-tête with the doyen, on his films, philosophy and the award.

MEMORY LANE A.N.R reminisces about the past even as he talks of the future of his Akkineni International Foundation. Photos: Satish. H

He has come a long way indeed from being the adulated romantic hero of 1950s, 60s and 70s, but at 81, Akkineni Nageswara Rao remains `evergreen' in outlook, perfectly in sync with times and with his own philosophy of life.

His is a philosophy spawned by education from life, from experiences dating back to his entry into the industry at 16, from the roles he essayed and wisdom he imbibed from learned men like Malladi Ramachandra Shastri, Tapi Dharmarao, Gopichand, H.M. Reddy, Dukkipati Madhusudhana Rao to name a few.

He sure missed out on proper schooling but people who interacted with him vouch that talking to the man itself is some kind of education. Known to be a person contented with what life had to offer him, one caught Akkineni in a rare emotional mood the other day. The reason? To announce a project close to his heart.

Akkineni International Foundation is a trust floated by him four years ago to institute an award for distinguished film personalities for contribution to Indian cinema, will present the first ANR award to another evergreen wonder of Indian cinema, Dev Anand. Started with Rs.1 lakh it has grown to a self-sustaining corpus fund of Rs.1 crore and the award will become an annual affair with a purse of Rs. 3 lakhs.

The days gone by

Reflecting at the course his life had taken, ANR says, "I began my life as a zero and instituting the award is my way of paying obeisance and showing gratitude to the silver screen, my foster mother, which nurtured me as an artist and an individual." Asked why instituting an award was so important to him, the `Natasamrat' who has a Raghupati Venkayya and Dada Saheb Phalke and hundreds more bestowed upon him, says when he entered the industry there was no such tradition. The practice was started by Government in 1950s. "When I received Dada Saheb Phalke award which I never dreamt, I was overwhelmed and decided on instituting an award in an industry which made me what I am and to live on through my award."

For a man who speaks eloquently, Nageswara Rao confesses he doesn't read. What did Valmiki study to become a poet? How did Stalin and Kamraj become leaders of calibre? While schooling is the foundation, it is life and people that impart real education. For me a Vipranarayana, Dharmadata, Mooga Manasulu and the myriad portrayals and their interpretation enriched my understanding of human nature.

If Mooga Manasulu taught the sublime nature of love, a feeling beyond physical gratification, Vipranarayana exposed how material temptations could lead one astray. "Simply speaking my mother industry blessed with me with knowledge I would not have got through formal education." It is important for an individual to understand himself, his flaws and assets. When a person attains a stature, one should struggle more to retain it and the process would refine an individual, he observes. "But yes I am always thirsty to know more as knowledge is an ocean, " he muses.

ANR doesn't believe in rituals either. "I don't believe in performing annual obsequies for my late mother as I remember her every day. I don't appreciate putting lakhs of rupees in Tirupati hundi to appease `God' nor do I give a penny to an able bodied person".

His philosophy

Does he believe in god or destiny? "It is fair to think there is some force. The way I got a break when Ghantasala Balaramayya saw me on Vijayawada railway platform could be god's act or providence. His philosophy?

"Hardwork, commitment and integrity, values that never fail an individual. Every challenge spurred me to face adversity with courage." He attributes his happiness to his genes that bestowed him with good health even 32 years after he underwent heart surgery, discipline and satisfactory life.

* * *

Missing award

VINTAGE COLLECTION A.N.R with his awards.

In the corner of the vast expanse of Annapurna Studios is a spacious museum that overflows with awards and mementoes. Reminders of his work spanning six decades in tinsel town punctuated by over 250 films.

And in a respected corner of his personal museum is an empty space. Every time ANR looks at it he feels sad as his most prized possession was stolen ten years ago. The empty space was where the `panchaloha' creation that he received in 1991 from President Venkatraman for the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, stood once. He hopes he will get it back one day.

Interestingly, the thespian had asked for a replacement from the Government but he was asked to pay for it. "I did not because I didn't want to `buy' the award", Akkineni quipped, when asked why.

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