Edida Nageswar Rao: The Gold-Standard Producer who Took the Road Less Travelled

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[intro]Nageswar Rao is an iconic producer who made few films which will linger on forever in our minds for the sheer range and artistic excellence. He has taken a road less traveled and that is the secret of his success. [/intro]
In 1980, the year of Total Solar Eclipse, Telugu Film Industry has had a record number of 165 releases but only one movie stood out and got greeted to the grandest reception any Telugu film has ever received before – “Sankarabharanam”.  [pullquote position=”right”]Edida Nageswar Rao is the man who dared to think beyond the norm of the seventies and in his passing today, the Telugu Film Industry has lost a sterling producer, a man with a golden heart and a midas touch who became the last torch-bearer of artistic and realistic cinema which brought world-wide acclaim to the Telugu Film Industry from music lovers world-wide.[/pullquote] On the day of the release of this film, the trade pundits bet on another film which has Kamal Hassan in dual role and Sridevi as lead heroine. The film was called “Kalyana Ramudu”. But when “Sankarabharanam” got released, director K Viswanath and producer Edida Nageswar Rao didn’t have the courage to face how the audience will receive the film. So, they went to Royal Cinema (now a shopping complex in Kothi, Hyderabad) where the film got released as the main theatre. By the time the duo went inside the theatre, the morning show on day 2 already started and the hall was pitch-dark. They stumbled and sat in a corner expecting to trip over people seated in the hall. When the interval came and the lights were turned on, K Viswanath and E.Nageswar Rao were shocked to find hardly a dozen people in the hall.The scene changed after four to five days and the tables turned on the other movies released. “Sankarabharanam” Sankarabharanamturned out to be a giant-killer and ran to houseful collections with unprecedented adulation and word-of-mouth publicity. A film which has a 60-year old “hero” as a classical singer, a vamp as a “heroine” and a story without the usual cuts of an item song, bell bottom pants, bloody fights and lengthy duets – which producer in the 80s will have the guts and the audacity to make a film like this challenging the status quo of the perverse 70s which ushered in the 80s? A producer who dared to think beyond the norm of the seventies and cast an unconventional-looking public servant JV Somayajulu and an unglamorous siren girl Manjubhargavi as the lead pair in a movie which celebrates the unfathomable richness of the Indian Carnatic music. Edida Nageswar Rao is the man who dared to do all of that and in his passing today, the Telugu Film Industry has lost a sterling producer, a man with a golden heart and a midas touch who became the last torch-bearer of artistic and realistic cinema which brought world-wide acclaim to the Telugu Film Industry from music lovers world-wide.

[pullquote position=”left”] Sirisirimuvva brought in close collaboration with not only K Viswanath but also Jandhyala (dialogues) and Veturi (lyrics) and established a crucial creative link that got stronger over the years in giving Tollywood’s golden era classics etched in artistic effervescence. [/pullquote]A stickler for quality that he always was, Nageswar Rao’s real interest in films started with acting which made him seek roles in over 100 films and as a dubbing actor in another 30 films. One of his best roles was in K.Viswanath’s landmark film “Neramu-Siksha” (Crime and Punishment) in which he played the key role of a driver who  agrees to go to jail in order to protect his owner’s errant son. Around that time, Rao  found it difficult to run the family of six including a daughter and three sons. With all the allowances from acting, he started a textile business which looked into garment exports. “Seiko Garments” was the name of the firm and it was not doing that well even as expenses mounted. And then Rao observed the craftsmanship of K Viswanath and his sense of dedication on the sets. That’s it. He asked Viswanath to direct his first film “Sirisirimuvva” on a budget of just rupees ten lakhs. The film became a bumper hit and completed silver jubilee in several centers. It brought in enormous riches to the three producers including Nageswar Rao both as direct movie collections and from the remake rights of the film in Hindi and Tamil. In Hindi, it got remade into “Sargam” which became a big hit again with Jayaprada and Rishi Kapoor playing Chandramohan’s role. The film got released on the eve of Christmas in 1976 in a theatre called Deepak in Hyderabad which became jinxed for films earlier. It still remains one of the only few films which ever completed silver jubilee in that theatre. The film brought in close collaboration with not only K Viswanath but also Jandhyala (dialogues) and Veturi (lyrics) and established a crucial creative link that got stronger over the years in giving Tollywood’s golden era classics etched in artistic effervescence.

Siri Siri muvvaBuoyed by the success of “Sirisirimuvva” (Shining Anklet), Nageswar Rao wanted to continue the good work. But his co-producers didn’t want to continue movie production and parted ways. That forced Rao to think of starting his own movie production house which will usher in a new dawn in Telugu films. He roped in his co-brother Akasam Srimalu and his own blood relatives to start a production hub called Poornodaya Art Creations (because he believed his birth stars mandated the name to start with “Poo”). And the first film “Tayaramma Bangarayya” rolled out with a director Kommineni Seshagiri Rao who made action films like “Devatalaara Deevinchandi” (Gods bless us) and “Simha Garjana” (Lion Roar). The story was about an aged couple who want to set aright newly-wed couples torn in strife and differences. “Tayaramma Bangarayya” was the film that set the ball rolling for Rao as a single producer alongwith his co-brother Akasam Sriramulu. The theme of the film is still ever-green and contemporary in today’s world of dime-a-dozen divorces. It got sold to B.Nagireddy for remaking in Hindi (“Sriman-Shrimati”) and Sivaji Ganesan (“Satya-Sundaram”) for Tamil. The film has had its brilliant flashes despite having an elderly couple like Sowcar Janaki and K Satyanarayana play the title role of marriage counsellors. Chiranjeevi is seen in a two-minute role without a single dialogue and Sangeeta get a modern woman role after what she last played as a traditional damsel in Bapu’s “Mutyala Muggu”. The film completed 100 days at many centres and became a big hit. (Cost of production: Rupees Nine lakhs). What many don’t know is that the reason K Viswanath couldn’t direct the second film for Rao was that he got busy with a few other films committed including the Hindi remake “Sargam” – something that Nageswar Rao had got used to in so many years since his partnership began with KV. Whenever his dates became scarce, Rao collaborated with few other like-minded directors like Bharatiraja and Vamshee.

Next Part : Sankarabharanam, Seetakoka Chiluka, Sagara Sangamam

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