NTR, Epics and Politics

N. T. Rama Rao

NTR acted as Lord Krishna in 17 films, and the first one is the super hit film Maya Bazar in 1957 by Vijaya Productions. Let’s see how exactly the aura of puranic characters helped NTR in capturing the public mood and winning the political power.

Movies on epics/puranas played a very important role in building stardom, hero worship, big fan clubs to heroes. Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao fondly called NTR is considered a demi-god, whom people worshipped with garlands giving equal stature as a deity. NTR’s movie roles demand a revisit as they shaped his career not only as actor but also helped him to pursue politics as a career. NTR used to receive pilgrims at his home who were en route to Tirupati, after he played the role of Sri Balaji in 1960 movie Sri Venkateswara Mahatyam.Many film experts feel that it was his “aura” and it was a very calculated move in projecting him as a political alternative in the South through religion and belief.

Epics and Nationalism

NTR succeeded in turning wide fan base to his political advantage through consistent portraying of demi god roles on screen. He was not a just successful politician, but also a very popular leader who formed his own political party and shaped the political discourse of the then united Andhra Pradesh. He portrayed and carried varied mythological characters so effectively that the viewers forgot to notice the difference between the original and the constructed. The interesting cocktail of nationalism and epics convinced viewers to accept stars like NTR as demi-Gods. In fact, the Indian nationalism movement had a political agenda very closely associated with Indian films.

Preminda Jacob, professor of art history and museum studies, in her book Celluloid deities: The visual culture of cinema and politics in South India corroborates the fact that NTR’s depiction of mythological characters was a deliberate move that encouraged his fans to view him as a living deity

MGR’s success in Tamilnadu politics and he becoming the CM inspired many and NTR imitated many strategies of MGR. NTR became a celebrity by being perceived as deity in epic hit movies and consciously encouraged his viewers to view him as a living deity and people loved doing that. Politically inexperienced NTR formed Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1982 and dethroned the firmly rooted congress party. Even as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, NTR used his puranic aura that he had drawn from his filmy roles. He used to dress like a deity waving his hands from his terrace to the visitors. He maintained that persona of deity through his life.

Capturing political power with puranic aura

Puranic roles played by NTR reverberated and echoed with many minds and hearts of  film goers in India. His roles as Sree Rama, Sree Krishna as just characters and Gods made people to think that NTR is real God and he is an alternative to the prevailing state government.

NTR studied BA in Telugu Literature at AC College, Guntur. He got great command on Telugu Literature and Language. With his commendable knowledge in Telugu, he played with puranic characters the way he liked and depicted Karna as a great hero in a movie titled “Dana Veera Sura Karna” produced and directed by him. The timing was perfect and apt and there was a considerable vacuum in political leadership in the state of Andhra Pradesh. People felt that NTR is God and he would rule the state as just Gods from the great epics and voted him to power. People were unable to distinguish between the real deity and the virtual character depiction in a movie.

NTR had his own production house and he was the producer to many of his movies. He understood nationalism in its presentable form, and also, he knew people’s pulse. It would have been difficult to him to capture the ethos of people if he “had tried to depict nationalism in political movies. Hence, it was simple for him to use the existing format of playing epic characters from our sacred texts and capture and enhance the then existing trust factor in people.

NTR the Alchemist

NTR redefined the dimensions of our great epics like Sree Ramayana and Mahabharata and addressed the issues of caste, creed and class in the society. The issue of caste dominates whole movie of “Dana Veera Sura Karna”. He presented Kauravas as “Victims of Fate.” NTR played triple roles of Krishna, Karna and Duryodhana in the movie. He brought Karna and Ekalavya together as “Victims of Circumstances” and he portrayed Pandavas as villains in the movie. His earlier movies grabbed the attention of people across all castes and class. His later movies made him a leader of the masses.

His puranic movies made him the star of his times and his social movies got him tremendous support from the backward sections of the society. NTR played the role of a predictive preacher of “Kalajnanam”  in a movie called “Srimadvirat Veerabrahmendra Swami Charitra”, and the screenplay ended up mocking Brahmanism. NTR played the lead role of “Veera Brahmam” belonging to lower caste and Balakrishna played the role of a Muslim man.

“Naa Desam”, “Gandikota Rahasyam”, there are discourses on democracy, prevailing corruption, and the treatment of women and minorities, so much related to political environment of the society. “Yamagola” movie is a mockery of emergency days of Indira Gandhi. He addressed these issues in his movies when congress was ruling the state of Andhra Pradesh. People from lower castes supported NTR and gave him political power when NTR formed TDP.  Though, NTR’s puranic movies are deliberate attempts to attract masses and to enhance collective public goodwill, even his opponents agree to the point that NTR is one of the most charismatic leaders that India had ever produced. To his people, he was the God.

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