Some Ramblings - NTR Kathanayakudu Roma by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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The Gold - 1950 - early 1970s

Working with the best of the technicians, writers of some serious repute and actors who could meet his eyeline on caliber, capability and delivery, NTR enjoyed his golden period during this couple of decades that elevated his stature from an actor to demi god. But it wasn't just good fortune or coincidence when he found himself in the most envious of positions, enacting roles that cut across of variety of genres - social, mythological, folklore, devotional, fantasy, comedy and a dizzying variation on all possible combinations. Sure, a little bit of gold dust was sprinkled on him along the way. But NTR was a self made man by virtue of his unwavering discipline. If the role called for, as the movie depicted, standing in the same position for 20 hours, he didn't flinch; if the script called for, as the movie fleetingly mentioned, portraying a blind man (in "chiranjeevulu"), he went overboard with his contact lens even risking blindness; if the character suffered in the script, he made sure he bore the cross for it (in "Srinatha Kavi Sarvabhouma, his last role as an actor, he reportedly thundered upon the extra near-by to really rain on him the lashes that Srinatha faced during his end times; And this, at the ripe age of 70; which ironically mirrors the antics in his first movie role, "mana deSam", when the cane was in his hands this time and he went all out being 'natural and realistic' on the sorry backs of the extras, when the scene called for the constable dispersing the unruly crowd). NTR, as the movie wrongly and unnecessarily projects at every opportunity, is not blessed. Calling him blessed is a serious insult to his discipline, rigor, craft and sincerety. Calling him God(ly) is anti-thetical to his modus operandi. If there is one song that can rightly characterize his devotion to his trade - "కృషి ఉంటే మనుషులు ఋషులవుతారు మహాపురుషులవుతారు, తరతరాలకీ తరగని వెలుగుగవుతారు ఇలవేలుపులవుతారు!".

NTR, during this period, was not a star, he never considered himself a star, he was a hard working actor and he only saw himself as one. Else, he wouldn't have taken up the most opportunistic and two-faced character in telugu literature - gireeSam from "kanyASulkam" - and come out all trumps. He would have never made a "guDi ganTalu", a scheming, jealous husband constantly suspecting his wife of infidelity. He would have never portrayed the reviled son from "pAnDuranga mahathmyam" who goes for broke in his depiction to make the later redemption that much genuine and cathartic. Disfiguring himself, like in "rAju - paeda" Even the Ravana character is "Seetha Rama Kalyanam" was never meant to be heroic, even though he got the best lines. It was meant to depict the character's haughtiness and arrogance which ultimately led to his downfall. NTR took on roles and risks irrespective of the rewards (the first two movies that he made under his NAT banner "picchi pullayya" and "tODu dongalu" were socially conscious but financially unviable) challenging himself in roles that others dared not touch (ChakrapaNi strongly advised him not to take on the eponymous role in "bheeshma" for its old and deglamorized presentation of arguably the most handsome hero back then). And it is this strong foundation that essentially carried him till the end of the career.

The Gild - Mid 1970s - 1982

The advent of color removed the magical mystery of the black and white and presented him in his primary colors, warts and all. This is the period when NTR, leave aside the sycophants, started believing in his own myth, assumed the aura of a star and grew larger in every which way - larger to his humble and modest shoes, larger in his roles, larger in his acting. This is the time when he personally took a wrecking ball to all his mythological black and white classics and cast them in color ruining every single one of them ("seethA rAma kaLyANam" became "Sri Rama paTTAbhishekam", "nartanaSAla" became "Srimad virATA parvam", "Sri venkateswara mahathmyam" became "Sri Tirupati Venkateswara Kalyanam". "Sri krishNa pAnDavIyam" was turned into a barely bearable "dAna veera Sura karna" thanks in large parts to konDaveeTi venkaTa kavi's dialogues and NTR's dialogue delivery as Suyodhana in a production that was otherwise ludricrous by NTR's standards). This was not the case of an actor ill adjusting to the times after he was past his prime. This is a case of narcissism run amuck and ego gone wild. When everyone around starts elevating him to near God status, having his likeness in their places of worship, keep repeating the same sycophantic praises over and over again all the time, it is near impossible for any human being to remain grounded and keep his perspective and sanity intact and NTR was no exception. When people start arriving in buses from the visit of Tirumala straight to his house to pay respects to the "living diety", the psychological impact (damage) that it could have on a person's psyche as to lose bearings of his own self, his own place and his own worth is incalculable. The combination of portraying omnipotent characters under arc lights and the environment of being surrounded (and bombarded) with praises and paeans of perpetual glory gave rise to a belief that NTR succumbed to - God Complex.

The Aura - 1983 -

Adulation and attention - there are only two arenas in public sphere that can constantly feed a person those, and after tasting it to the full in the glamor field, NTR's focus diverted to the political space. This wasn't without precedent though, having seen MGR in the neighboring state capture the hearts of voters too, the transition was as natural as it was inevitable. NTR's intentions could certainly have noble too. After campaigning for funds for Rayalaseema's famine and Diviseema's devastation and seeing the plight of the underprivileged during natural and manmade disasters first hand, the socially conscious beliefs in him (that made him wager his personal money on his initial two ventures) might have spurred his political entry, but the meteoric rise to the highest seat in the state in record time, thanks in large parts to smart campaigning tactics of Ramoji Rao who oversaw the entire operation - right from finalizing the candidates list, setting the agenda, preparing campaign speeches, and all these with the constant coverage on the most trusted news source in the state at that time - Eenaadu, all these only enhanced and entrenched NTR's God Complex even further, psyching himself into a trance like state wheere he thought he cannot put a foot wrong, he cannot take a wrong decision, he IS the party and the party IS him.

This is the real trajectory at play when the director embarked on making a film on the man who had as many personal(ity) flaws as he had noble thoughts, ideas and qualities. NTR's life oscillated between the extremes - extreme discipline to extreme self-absorption. There is no middle ground, nor is there anything in moderation with him. And Krish's approach of the material is to frame his life in that same extreme, except this extreme is one of total reverence. In much the same way as NTR believed and behaved as one who didn't have the "other side", Krish's film removes all the contours and rough edges of NTR's life and depicts it as one of a straight arrow with unquestionable intentions, purity, and thought. Richard Attenborough's "Gandhi" was accused of being too soft on his subject, when there was plenty more to the person besides being spiritual and saintly at times. But the advantage that "Gandhi" had was the social and political mileu during his time offered the right contrast, of being violent, unreasonable and tumultuous, against which Gandhiji's personal flaws, follies and foibles paled in comparison. But NTR's movie background didn't offer the requisite contrast, and so by also keeping the personality out of it, Krish didn't have much choice but to diefy his character and stick to the same flawed path as NTR's thinking himself, that the character can never be wrong at anything. And by choosing that path, Krish made a movie on NTR's image than on NTR himself.

In this sanitized, clinical, non-controversial world, Balakrishna's acting surely shines through. While it takes time to warm up to his dialogue delivery, the sincerety and honesty in his portrayal appears as a homage to his father, in much the same way NTR treated the mythological characters in his early years. There is a great amount of restraint in his voice modulation and his body language that by the time the stage shifts to the political scene, and particularly during the climactic moments, he BECOMES NTR. This is some of the finest acting of his career, on par with the portrayal of the tragic king in "Sri Rama Rajyam". Keeravani's background score (and the title song) is the another stand out amid the technical elements that all play their part commendably well. There is a beautiful touch in the score when NTR is about to board a flight to Hyderabad to change the political fortunes of the state and asks his wife to cross his path for good omen and Keeravani picks up the song and plays - "O taaraaka, navvulaela nanugani" from old "chanDee rAni" . Nice attention to detail!

"NTR" remains a nice trip down the memory lane for the first half, recreating the scenes and songs from NTR's memorable filmography, but for a man who is such a great case study for an image overpowering the self, "NTR" definitely deserved to delve into the depths, with the same courage and fearlessness that NTR dove headlong into his characters.

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