By Lakshmi Priya
Note by Priya: ANR had told this from memory to journalist RAVICHANDRA who used to write a column in the telugu ANDHRAJYOTHI magazine . I added my inputs while translating it into english. Akkineni Nageswar Rao or ANR as he is popularly known as in Telugu films is basically not a trained singer. Not many know that he did sing songs for himself when he joined films .....The above write up is about the film songs he sang limited only by his memory......'
ANR was very delicate looking with a girlish voice when he was small. His mother who dint have any daughters used to dress him up as a girl and watch him with affection.For the young ANR singing in tandem with the village festivities like Kolatams, Chekka Bhajans,temple Bhajans etc was a favorite past time. For his school annual day , he played the role of CHANDRAMATI which made him popular in his village. His mother was so fond of that role that she used to make him sing the poems from that play everyday , further honing his limited voice.For young ANR who wanted to study further, financial difficulties loomed large.His elder brother anyway dint want to study further . His family , after divisions over ancestral property was left with 5 acres of land which would have disappeared totally if he were to study further and get a job which would give him not more than 40 bucks as salary....what if the job dint materialise after seiling the land and studying ? Carefully weighing his pros and cons, he decided to pursue a career in drama which gave him along with travel expenses a princely sum of 5 rupees per play ! His brother did the public relations and soon enough he started getting roles in dramas.
In order to to carve out a career in drama, he realised that he had to learn music and sing well to make a mark. With whatever voice God gave him, he practiced hard under the tutelage of Gurus such as Y Bhadrachary & a later Moturi Veeraraghavaiyya .and came a winner in several plays where he played the female roles..His role of TARA in the KANAKATARA and the poems he sang used to get him several "Once more"s.Since he got used to singing for female roles, he was very careful about maintaining its effeminate quality by not eating paan or drinking sodas etc.By the age of 19 years he reached a level of singing in one and a half sruti and in high pitch too.At that time he once again changed his guru and learned from Buddhiraju Sreeram murthy who used to play the harmonium for Sthanam Narasimha Rao. Under him he practiced for the the drama titled VIPRANARAYANA where he played the role of DEVADEVI !...and his song 'Chali Chali Vituda ' to entice Vipranarayana got him a lot of name and fame.
DUKKIPATI MADHUSUDHANA RAO & KODURI ACHAIYYA who watched this Vipranarayana play were very impressed and enrolled him in their MUDINEPALLY EXCELSIOR DRAMA SAMAJAM. In that company he used to get apart from food & lodging, the highest salary of 5 rupees for every drama. For 3 years he played many dramas in that company during which time D Madhusudana Rao became his elder brother,friend, guide, philosopher and his true well wisher by giving him judicious advice at all stages in his life.It was here that he learnt how to refine his dialogues speaking ability . Daily even if there were no dramas to play they used to have rehearsals and PENDYALA NAGESWARA RAO was the composer for all their plays.Pendyala taught him many nuances in the art of singing for female roles. He played female roles in notable social plays such as "Asha Jyoti,'Bharati', 'Satyanveshana ' etc.
Till the age of 19 years he had no problem playing female roles but this became his liability when he joined films and he still didn't develop a masculine voice. His first film DHARMAPATNI-1941, dint give him any substantial role, but he sang along with some kids for one Padyam " Indugaladandhuledani sandehamu valadu " when he attracted the attention of the benign couple P Pullaiyya & Shantakumari. After this he dint get any film offers and he went back to his stage career. One day he was returning to Gudivada through Bejawada from Tenali after acting in a drama ,when he met GHANTASALA BALARAMAIYYA on the station platform, who asked him his details and offered him the role of either Rama or Lakshmana in Seetarama Jananam-1944. He hesitated to accept the offer because he had bitter film experiences which dint help him in any way.By then , even in Kadaru Nagabuhabhushanam's Rajarajeswari films, he took salary for 5 months but came away without getting any roles in films.If he pursued this career wont he lose out on his golden career in dramas ? he thought. Not knowing what to decide he asked make up man Mangaiyya in is company for advice.Mangaiyya gave him the advice to go for films because ANR's delicate frame of body & feminine voice would not last long and very soon it would break and even put an end to his drama career.But D Madhusudha Rao put the condition that if for 20 days he acted in films in a month, atleast 10 days he has to come to Gudivada and act in dramas. ANR agreed to this condition & told G Balaramaiyya the same. The director agreed and offered him the role of Rama in the film.One fine day on 8th May 1944, [Though ANR he was born on 20th september, 1924, he always considered 8th May as his birthday] he & D Madhusudha Rao went to Madras. From the central station , they both took a Jatka and went to Mylapore PRATIBHA office. As soon as he entered actor PEKETI SIVARAM greeted him "come brother " ....and the rest was history !!!
The shooting of Seetarama Jananan started . Though he was acting among stalwarts like Vemuri Gaggaiyya,Rushyendramani,kamla Kotnis etc,ANR got his 1st shot okayed because of his grit, determination and drama experiences. DAITA GOPALAM who was present on the sets was very impressed with this new comer who got his very shot okayed in the first take itself.In that film he samg the slokam "GururBrahma" when he goes along with his brother lakshmana to sage Visvamitra.The music for this film was composed by Prabala Satyanarayana & Ogirala Ramachandraiyya. He and Proddutooru raju who played the role of Lakshmana sang another song . At that time ANR with his slim frame and effeminate voice knew his disadvantages. He was even made to wear a blouse so that his ribs would not be seen.The role of seeta was played by BALA TRIPURA SUNDARI [ who is credited to being his first heroine]. Director Gudavalli even remarked on his face , " who is Seeta ? & who is Rama ? " A stunned ANR decided immediately that it was time to acquire his masculine voice and figure. He approached composer Prabala Satyanarayana who told him to practice the voice culture called "Karj" who would enable anyone to acquire the skill of singing in any pitch and ensure voice modulation as desired. He did sheer hard work for this . Every morning ANR used to get up and hold a pot full of cold water against his stomach and shout " AAA....AAA...."to get that much needed male voice. His perseverence paid off and by the time of BALARAJU-1948 , he voice almost changed.
Recommended by G Balaramaiyya he next got the role of Sarabandhi Raju in MAYALOKAM-1945. He dint cower under the acting prowess of heavy weights such as M V Rajamma, P Shantakumari, S Varalakshmi etc.He sang the song "madudulunnayi babu mandulunnayi " which was edited from the film. He sang a padyam " Ramachiluka needu beeramul " written by Balijepalli and composed by Galipenchala.While Mayalokan was being made he was offered MUGGURU MARATHEELU-1946.In this film he sang a duet with T G Kamala Devi " chal chalo vayyari shikari ".He even joined in the singing of the title song " Jai Jai Bhairava Trisooladhari" along with Kannamba & Kamala Devi.Thsi song which was composed by Ogirala was later used in few more Pratibha films. Next came PALNATI YUDDHAM-1947 where he played the role of Balaraju opposite S Varalakshmi . He sang 2 duets with S Varalakshmi . "o ho charuseela & Manavanaijambu manalenaithi".Apart from this he also joined in the singing of " Bangaru Talliki " which was the group song of Manchaala youth & Ra kadali ra along with Ghantasala . In BALARAJU-1948 , he sang the duet " chalura vagalu with S Varalakshmi" and the song " cheliya kanarava". For this song ,after the recording ANR felt that it would sound nice if it was sung by the upcoming singing star Ghantasala. he went to Pratibha office and conveyed his thoughts to G Balaramaiyya....and thats how Ghantasala gave ANR his first playback.The film had the song by Ghantasala but the Gramaphone records had the ANR version. There is a story behind this change in ANR's mind to not sing anymore for himself. Everyday he used to practice singing as was his habit even during 1948. One day actress BHANUMATI put her hands over her ears with a grimace and told " Abha ! hero......"....to convey her displeasure at his singing. ANR became silent and thought of concentrating on acting than singing for himself and that's how Ghantasala continued to give him playback for his films. After this he sang the meeku meere maaku meme in MISAMMA-1955.
In retrospect ANR feels that all his singing practice helped him in acting too, when he had to give lip movements for songs such as " rasikaraju taguvaaramu kaama ' in Jayabheri , Manikya veena in Mahakavi kalidasu etc . He did this with commendable histrionics. So what if he could not become a singer . We did get a great actor who eventually became the Dada Saheb phalke award winner for his contribution to cinema. It was no easy work indeed !!!
WINNER DONT QUIT AND QUITTERS DONT WIN !