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Tuesday, 3 July 2018

SV Ranga Rao: First Indian actor to receive an international award

Samarla Venkata Ranga Rao, popularly known as S.V.R., was an actor, producer and director known for his works in Telugu and Tamil films. He garnered various state, National and International honours over a career spanning 28 years. He is one of the finest method actors in the history of world cinema. He is fondly called as ‘Vishwa Nata Chakravarthi’ and permanently etched his name in the history of Indian cinema.

SV Ranga Rao in Mayabazar

Samarla Venkata Ranga Rao (S. V. Ranga Rao) was born on 3rd July, 1918, to Koteswara Rao and Lakshmi at Nuzvidu town in Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh. His mother, Lakshmi Narassayamma, was a staunch devotee of Lord Venkateshwara, and named the boy after him. His father sent him to Madras presidency for schooling where he completed his schooling at Hindu college. He had an immense interest in stage acting since very young age. He completed B.Sc. and got a job Fire Service in the cadre of an officer. His mind was preoccupied with the thoughts of stage-plays and film acting. He was ambitious to do M.Sc. and to take part in dramas and films. During that time, he got an invitation from one of his relatives, B.V. Ramanandam, to enact the role of the protagonist. He immediately abandoned his job and left for Salem to start his acting career. The film, Varudhini (1946), had Dasari Tilakam (mother of popular actress, Girija) as female lead. S. V. Ranga Rao was accustomed to male company and essayed female roles in dramas, so the on-screen intimacy left him in discomfort. He almost gave up his acting career but Ramanandam insisted him to stay. The result of Varudhini was disappointing and the film tanked at box-office. The producers showed no interest in casting him in their films. S. V. Ranga Rao was disillusioned with the colourful world of cinema. He left Madras presidency for a job of Budget assistant with the Tata company in Jamshedpur. He was married to Leelavathi on 27 December, 1947.


SV Ranga Rao in Gundamma Katha with NTR and ANR

He couldn’t give up on his dreams of acting career, so he used to meet his friend B. A. Subba Rao once in a while. His second film, ‘Mana Desam’, starring Chittoor V. Nagaiah in the lead role, was the debut movie of N. T. Rama Rao as an actor and Ghantasala as a music director. At this time, he was given an opportunity to play the villain in the film, Palletoori Pilla, which was written, produced and directed by B. A. Subba rao. When S. V. Ranga Rao was about to take a train to Chennai, his father expired. After performing the final rites, he reached Chennai but learned that he was replaced by someone else. He continued to do minor roles in films. His family wasn’t supportive during this phase and his relatives ridiculed him saying that only a fool would choose acting career by shunning the Government jobs. His wife Leelavathi would often go back to her parents as a protest to his acting career and erratic schedules. SVR promised her a bright future and lived up to his words. His first major role was offered by Vijaya Pictures, that is ‘Nepala Mantrikudu’ role in ‘Pathala Bhairavi’ (1951). Being an ardent fan of Shakespeare, he took Shylock’s look and characterization from ‘Merchant of Venice’ as basis to his tantric role in Pathala Bhairavi. He never looked back and became popular throughout India. Pathala Bhairavi was screened at the first India International Film Festival held in Mumbai on 24 January 1952. S. V. Ranga Rao received wide reception for his portrayal of Nepala Mantrikudu. He acted in both Telugu and Tamil versions of ‘Pelli Chesi Choodu’ which made him most sought-after actor of that time and highest paid actor of 50s. In spite of being a character artist, he used to get higher remuneration compared to the established actors such as NTR and ANR.

He was well known for his natural acting style and the dialogue delivery. He enacted the role of Ghatotkacha in Maya Bazar (1957) which is regarded as the greatest Indian film of all time by CNN-India poll. Maya Bazar had an ensemble cast of N. T. Rama Rao, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Savitri etc. but S. V. Ranga Rao dominates them all with his amazing performance. Maya Bazar was screened at the 1957 International Film Festival of India and the Indonesian Film Festival. He used to live in his role in the sets and at his home, and talk, behave and walk exactly like the character. He was a soft-spoken person with a very good sense of humour which used to attract people and he was often called as a people magnet. He even rejected several protagonist roles thinking that they would restrict him as an actor. He enacted several historical and mythological roles including Bhishma, Duryodhana, Akbar, Yama, Ravana, Tandra Paparayudu, Bhoja, Daksha, Harischandra, Hiranyakashipu, Kamsa, Keechaka, Mayasura and Narakasura.


SV Ranga Rao birth centenary

He won the best actor award for his portrayal of Keechaka in Narthanasala at the Indonesian Film Festival. It was the first time an Indian actor received an international award. This award made him feel sad that his own country couldn’t honour his talent. His contemporary actor, Gummadi Venkateswara Rao, exclaimed, “Fortunate are we to have SVR born in India but SVR is unfortunate to have born here. If he was born in the West he would have been one of the top 5 actors of all time in the world.” S. V. Ranga Rao wasn’t interested in producing and directing films considering the financial pitfalls of his contemporary actors. However, he produced 4 films and directed 2 of them himself. The Two films that he directed received state Nandi awards but weren’t commercially successful. S. V. Ranga Rao was known to be moody on-sets and not discussing his personal life with his industry friends. He was a busy actor throughout his career and he continued to act until his last days. He had a cardiac arrest at Hyderabad in February 1974. He was admitted to Osmania General Hospital and later discharged. On 18 July, 1974 at Chennai, another attack proved fatal and before any medical treatment could be instituted, he passed away. He continues to live in the annals of Tollywood and Kollywood film history.

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