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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

Biopic Season - NTR: Kathanayakudu : The Birth Of A Hero

In the first of a two-part biopic on actor-politician NTR, director Krish Jagarlamudi recreates the screen god’s charisma. His handling of NTR’s political career remains to be seen

regional-movies Updated: Jan 12, 2019 19:09 IST
S Venkat Narayan
S Venkat Narayan
Hindustan Times
NTR’s son Balakrishna plays his father in the biopic NTR: Kathanayakudu. NTR played godly roles in 42 mythological films in all; Krishna was his favourite character.
NTR’s son Balakrishna plays his father in the biopic NTR: Kathanayakudu. NTR played godly roles in 42 mythological films in all; Krishna was his favourite character.
         

Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR, 1923-96) was a rare phenomenon in cinema and politics not just in India, but possibly the world, too. The son of a Telugu farmer, he dominated cinema and politics like none other during his life time. In a 44-year (1949-1993) career in films, he made some 302 films, and every second one was a box office hit.

He also produced and directed films, and knew every aspect of film-making. He never took more than six weeks to complete a film. And, at the height of his popularity, he completed 15 films in 12 months in 1964!

Shortly before turning 60, NTR entered politics to restore the Telugus’ “atma gauravam” (self-respect), formedthe Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in March 1982. He stormed into power just nine months later (January, 1983) by defeating Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party in its fortress Andhra Pradesh (AP), and gatecrashed into record books.

He ruled the undivided state for seven years over three terms (1983-95), galvanised non-Congress parties, helped form the National Front that governed India during 1989-90. In August 1984, when ousted by a scheming associate while he was undergoing surgery in the US, NTR came back, fought like a wounded lion, galvanised public opinion, and forced Mrs Gandhi to restore him to office. He died a sad man in January 1996 four months after being toppled by his own son-in-law Nara Chandrababu Naidu.

Making a biopic on him is a challenge. Director Krish Jagarlamudi makes a sincere effort to recreate NTR’s fascinating tale on the celluloid in NTR: Kathanayakudu (Hero in Telugu). Krish has already directed six hits in Telugu and one in Tamil, and his Hindi film Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi releases on January 25.

NTR’s son Balakrishna, himself a star of 100 films, plays his father’s role, possibly the only instance in cinematic history of a son enacting his father’s role. Nearing his 60th birthday, Balakrishna looks like a stunning carbon copy of his father, and carries off the role remarkably well in the last three-fourths of the film. But he is less than convincing in the first quarter, which deals with young NTR’s struggling days in Vijayawada and Madras.

Krish tells NTR’s story from his wife Basavatarakam’s viewpoint: A docile, devoted and loving wife who supports all her husband’s decisions, and is happy to hand over her precious jewellery to him when he leaves for an alien city in search of his luck and destiny. Vidya Balan plays her role with impressive charm and restraint.

NTR had acted with 50 heroines. Several prominent and upcoming actresses such as Rakul Preet Singh, Hansika Motwani, Nithya Menen, Shriya Saran and Payal Rajput appear in cameo roles as NTR’s heroines Savitri, Sowcar Janaki, Krishna Kumari, Sridevi, G Varalakshmi and S Varalakshmi. Rana Daggubati, Prakash Raj, Sachin Khedekar and Nasser are among others who make fleeting appearances as directors and politicians who played a role in NTR’s life.

Balakrishna is not the only star-son appearing in this film. Sumanth, grandson of NTR’s equally famous and charismatic contemporary Akkineni Nageswara Rao (ANR), plays his grandfather’s role in a cameo. One of NTR’s grandsons, Kalyan Ram, is there too.

Krish picks crucial scenes from some of the memorable films that made NTR a superstar, such as Patala Bhairavi (1951), Pelli Chesi Choodu (1952), Maaya Bazaar (1957), Gundamma Katha (1962), Narthanasala (1963), and Daana Veera Sura Karna (1977). He recreates them to tell the story of how they got made and ended up as landmarks in NTR’s career.

NTR is best remembered by his fans for playing Lord Krishna. Interestingly, producers resisted NTR playing Lord Krishna’s role for the first time in Maaya Bazaar, but reluctantly agreed only when its director threatened to quit. When NTR arrives made up as Krishna for his first shot, dazed studio hands greet him by breaking coconuts and touching his feet. Thereafter, producers never said no.

NTR’s son Balakrishna plays his father in the biopic NTR: Kathanayakudu. NTR played godly roles in 42 mythological films in all; Krishna was his favourite character. (Right) NTR in the 1957 film Maaya Bazaar, in which he played Krishna for the first time.
NTR’s son Balakrishna plays his father in the biopic NTR: Kathanayakudu. NTR played godly roles in 42 mythological films in all; Krishna was his favourite character. (Right) NTR in the 1957 film Maaya Bazaar, in which he played Krishna for the first time.

NTR played godly roles in 42 mythological films in all; Krishna was his favourite character. He essayed that role in 17 films! He soon became a cult figure, and his home in Madras was on the must-see list of visitors! His fans had photographs of NTR dressed up as Lord Krishna framed and displayed in their drawing rooms!

Kathanayakudu is the first part of a two-part film. It deals with NTR’s life as a film star. Cinematographer Gnana Shekar VS tries to recreate the NTR magic. MM Keeravani has composed pleasing music and sings the title song, too. The film ends with NTR announcing the formation of TDP, and builds up expectations for the second part. Titled Mahanayakudu (Great Leader), it will be about his life in politics, and will release on February 7.

Reports indicate that the two-part film’s satellite and digital rights have already fetched over ₹100 crore. Revenues from ticket-buying audiences from India and abroad are likely to fetch another ₹100 crore. NTR was a legend in his lifetime. After death too, he appears destined to make a mark.

S Venkat Narayan is a senior journalist, and has authored NTR’s biography

First Published: Jan 12, 2019 19:08 IST

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