Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (28 May 1923 – 18 January 1996), popularly known by his initials NTR, was an Indian film actor, director, producer, and politician who also served as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh for three terms.
NTR made his debut as an actor in a Telugu social film Mana Desam, directed by L. V. Prasad in 1949. He gained popularity in the 1950s when he became well known for his portrayals of Hindu deities, especially Krishna and Rama, roles which have made him a “messiah of the masses” in Andhra Pradesh. He later became known for portraying antagonistic characters and Robin Hood-esque hero characters in films. In total he starred in over 320 Telugu films and has become one of the most prominent figures in the history of Telugu cinema. Besides Telugu, he has also acted in a few Tamil and Kannada films. Widely recognised for his mythological characters, of the time, NTR is considered even today as one of the leading mythological and method actors of Indian cinema, He was referred to in the media as Viswa Vikhyatha Nata Sarvabhouma. He was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1968, recognizing his contribution to Telugu cinema.
After his career in films, NTR entered politics. He founded the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1982 and served three tumultuous terms as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh between 1983 and 1995. He was known as an advocate of Andhra Pradesh’s distinct cultural identity, distinguishing it from the erstwhile Madras State with which it was often associated. He was instrumental in the formation of the National Front, a coalition of non-Congress parties which ruled India from 1989 till 1991.
In Andhra Pradesh, he is considered to be one of the greatest political leaders and actors of the state. He is idolised by his followers as Annagaru (lit. Respected Elder Brother).
NTR as Lord Krishna in the film Daana Veera Soora Karna (1977), which was one of his most memorable films
NTR started his film career playing a small role as a police sub-inspector in the movie Mana Desam (1949). The role was offered by director L. V. Prasad. Following this, he appeared in Palletoori Pilla, directed by B. A. Subba Rao. It marked the first occasion that Rama Rao and his contemporary Akkineni Nageswara Rao (ANR) acted together for the first time. The title role was played by Anjali Devi and the story was loosely based on the English play, Pizaro by Richard Sherton. The film was a commercial hit and ran for more than 100 days in 6 centres. His got his major breakthrough with the film Paathala Bhairavi directed by K. V. Reddy, releasing in 1951, where he played the role of a prince. He soon became famous for his commercial roles, usually depicting an adventurous prince saving a damsel in distress.
His first mythological film was in 1957, where he portrayed Lord Krishna in the film Maya Bazaar, which went on to become a blockbuster. He essayed the role of Lord Krishna in 17 films, including some landmark films like Sri Krishnarjuna Yudham (1962), the Tamil film Karnan (1964) and Daana Veera Soora Karna (1977). He was also famous for his portrayal of Lord Rama, essaying that role in films like Lava Kusha (1963), Shri Ramanjaneya Yuddham (1974) and Shri Rama Pattabhishekham (1978) to name a few. He has also portrayed other characters from the Ramayana, such as Ravana in Bhookailas (1958) and Seetharama Kalyanam (1961) among others. He portrayed Lord Vishnu in films like Sri Venkateswara Mahatyam (1960) among others and Lord Shiva in Dakshayagnam (1962). He has also enacted the roles of Mahabharatha characters, such as Bheeshma, Arjuna, Karna and Duryodhana. Overall, NTR acted in 42 mythological films. These mythological roles catapulted him to the top of Telugu film stardom and he soon achieved a demigod status in Andhra Pradesh.
Later in his career, he stopped playing the role of a prince in his commercial films and began to play roles of a poor yet heroic young man fighting against the existing system. These films appealed to the sentiments of the common man. Some of these films are Devudu Chesina Manushulu (1973), Adavi Ramudu (1977), Driver Ramudu (1979), Sardar Paparayudu (1980), Justice Chowdhary (1982) and Bobbili Puli (1982). He also portrayed fantasy roles, his notable films in that genre being Yamagola (1977) and Superman (1980).
Even after his entry into politics, NTR continued to act in films. He directed and acted in the hagiographical film Shrimad Virat Veerabrahmendra Swami Charitra (1984) while he was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. He also acted in films like Brahmasri Viswamitra (1991) and Major Chandrakanth (1993) while he was the Leader of Opposition in the assembly. His last film was Srinadha Kavi Sarvabhowma which released in 1993.
In the later half of his career, NTR became a screenwriter. He received no formal academic training in movie script writing. Yet he authored several screen plays for his own movies as well as for other producer’s movies. He also produced many of his films as well as other actor’s films through his film production house National Art Theater Private Limited in T. Nagar, Madras (now Chennai). He actively campaigned for the construction of a large number of cinemas through this production house. He was influential in designing and implementing a financial system that funded the production and distribution of movies. He was so dedicated to his profession that he would often learn new things in order to portray a particular character on-screen perfectly and realistically. At the age of 40, he learnt dance from the renowned Kuchipudi dancer Vempati Chinna Satyam for his role in the film Nartanasala (1963).
NTR’s film career spanned about 44 years. During this period he acted in 186 social films, 55 folklore films, 44 mythological films and 13 historical films. 140 of his films celebrated hundred days and 33 films celebrated silver Jubilees while six of his films ran more than 50 weeks.
Despite his stellar contribution to South Indian cinema, NTR only received three awards in his lifetime, with only one awarded for his success as an actor, a Filmfare South Award for Best Telugu Actor in 1972 for the film Badi Panthulu. He won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Telugu for the film Varakatnam as a director in 1968. Though he won the Padma Shri that year for his contribution to Indian cinema, he never won a Nandi Award, the film awards which are given annually by the Government of Andhra Pradesh. He also never won a Dadasaheb Phalke Award. However, his achievements in films was honoured with the institution of the NTR National Award in 1996, which is awarded as part of the Nandi Awards ceremony to a prominent film personality for lifetime contribution to Indian cinema.
NTR on his Chaitanya Ratham
NTR entered politics in early 1982, following widespread reports in the media about his mulling an entry into politics. He founded the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) on 29 March 1982 in Hyderabad. His stated reason for entering politics and launching his own party was based on a historic need to rid Andhra Pradesh of the corrupt and inept Congress rule, which had governed the state since its formation in 1956 and whose High Command had changed the Chief Minister five times in five years. At a time when the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi was cracking down on state governments led by opposition parties, NTR was one of the very few leaders who stood up to Gandhi and matched her charisma. The popularity of NTR was such among the people of Andhra Pradesh that a jittery Congress decided to hold early elections in January 1983 instead of August 1983 as scheduled.
NTR campaigning at an election rally
In the elections, the TDP allied with another party called Sanjaya Vichara Manch and decided to field educated candidates who had a good name in the society and were not indulging in corruption, which was an innovative political concept at the time. NTR himself decided to contest from 2 assembly constituencies, Gudivada and Tirupati. NTR used many innovative ways of campaigning, such as being the first politician in India to use rath yatras for campaigning. For this, he used a modified Chevrolet van which he named as Chaitanya Ratham. In this van, NTR travelled across the state of Andhra Pradesh, crisscrossing all the districts. With his son Nandamuri Harikrishna, also a film actor, driving the van, NTR notched up over 75,000 kilometres during his campaign, a distinctive sight with the van’s yellow party flags and banners and NTR sitting on top of the vehicle hailing the crowds. NTR campaigned for restoring the dignity of the Telugu people and advocated the forming a closer bond between the government and the common people, going into the elections with the slogan, Telugu Vari Atma Gauravam (lit. Telugu people’s self-respect).
In the elections, the TDP won by an aboslute majority, winning 199 out of the 294 seats in the state assembly, with NTR himself winning from both the seats he contested. Their alliance with the Sanjaya Vichara Manch fetched 202 seats. NTR was sworn in as the 10th and the first non-Congress Chief Minister of the state on 9 January 1983 with 10 cabinet ministers and five ministers of State.
On 15 August 1984, NTR was removed from office by the then-governor Ramlal. His finance minister, Nadendla Bhaskara Rao, a former Congressman who joined the TDP during its inception, was made the Chief Minister by Ramlal. Bhaskar Rao purportedly had the support of majority MLA’s (Members of Legislative Assembly of Andhra Pradesh) which was never the case. NTR disputed the claims by Bhaskara Rao and demonstrated his strength by bringing all the MLA’s supporting him, which was a majority in the 294 member assembly, to the Raj Bhavan (Governor’s Office). Ramlal did not relent and NTR then campaigned for restoration of democracy by mobilizing the support of people and various anti-Congress political parties in the country including the Janata Party (JP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Left Front, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and the National Conference (NC). During the one month crisis, the MLAs supporting NTR were secured in a secret place to avoid horse-trading. Due to mobilization of several political parties and the people and due to bad press, Indira Gandhi, unwillingly removed Governor Ramlal and appointed a Congress veteran, Shankar Dayal Sharma, as the governor of Andhra Pradesh to pave the way for restoring NTR. Shankar Dayal Sharma removed Bhaskara Rao from power and restored NTR as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh in September 1984.
A month later, Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Her son Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister in her place. In the ensuing national elections to the Lok Sabha, the Congress, riding on the sympathy wave caused by Gandhi’s assassination, won convincingly all over the country except in Andhra Pradesh where the TDP secured a landslide victory. TDP achieved the rare distinction of becoming the first regional party to become the main opposition party in the Lok Sabha. Meanwhile in the state, NTR recommended dissolution of the Assembly and called for fresh elections the following year in the state the following year to ensure the people had a fresh choice to elect their representatives. The TDP again won with a massive majority in those elections, with NTR winning from 3 seats; Hindupur, Nalgonda and Gudivada. Senior Leaders of the Congress in the state including former Chief Ministers Kasu Brahmananda Reddy and Kotla Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy lost in their constituencies of Narasaraopet and Kurnool respectively to the TDP.
NTR completed his five-year term as Chief Minister. In the December 1989 assembly elections however, he was voted out of power due to a wave of anti-incumbency sweeping the state and the Congress returned to power. NTR himself lost from Kalwakurthy by a narrow margin to the Congress, but retained the Hindupur assembly seat. During this time, he had suffered a mild stroke, as a result of which he was unable to campaign. However during this period, he established himself in national politics, forming a coalition of non-Congress parties opposed to the Congress known as the National Front. It included parties, besides the TDP, such as the Janata Dal, the DMK, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Indian Congress (Socialist). This alliance governed India between 1989-1991 with support from the Left Front and the BJP, with the Congress supporting it later after the BJP withdrew support in 1990. Meanwhile, NTR assumed the position as the Leader of Opposition in the state.
NTR returned to power in the December 1994 state assembly elections with his party in alliance with the Left Front. This alliance won 250 seats in the 294 seat Assembly, with the TDP alone winning 226. The Congress, which once again had multiple Chief Ministers in the state during its five year rule between 1989-1994, won only 26 seats. NTR contested again from Hindupur and won the seat for the third consecutive time, achieving a rare hat-trick of wins from the same assembly constituency. He also won from another assembly constituency, Tekkali.
NTR’s third term only lasted 9 months. On 23 August 1995, NTR was unceremoniously removed as Chief minister. NTR’s son-in-law Nara Chandrababu Naidu engineered an internal party coup against him and took over as Chief Minister on 1 September 1995. He was also chosen as president of the TDP by party members. Naidu claimed that the reason for overthrowing NTR was that the latter was planning to hand over the reins of the party to his second wife Lakshmi Parvathi, also claiming that the party was in danger of disintegrating under her rule. Most of the TDP MLA’s sided with Naidu and camped at the Viceroy Hotel in Hyderabad, the centre of the revolt. NTR’s sons Nandamuri Harikrishna, Nandamuri Balakrishna and his other son-in-law Daggubati Venkateswara Rao played a crucial role in the coup but all of them fell out with Naidu soon afterwards. The reason for this is that Naidu is said have promised to make Venkateswara Rao the Deputy Chief Minister and Harikrishna the party’s general secretary, but he sidelined all of them soon after becoming the Chief Minister and Party President. In an emotional interview after the coup, NTR called the coup a planned treachery and lambasted Naidu for being power-hungry and untrustworthy, likening him to Aurangzeb, the Mughal Emperor who jailed his father and killed his siblings to become the King of the Mughal Empire.
Achievements as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh
Main article: Chief Ministership of N. T. Rama Rao
NTR reflected socialist and populist views in several of his policies and provided basic necessities such as home, clothes and food and subsidies on them for people below the poverty line. He was also an advocate of women’s rights and worked on a bill to amend inheritance law to provide equal rights for women to inherit ancestral property, enacted in 1986. He introduced many populist schemes such as the Midday Meal Scheme for poor children, rice ar ₹ 2/kg, subsidised electricity and prohibiting the selling of alcohol in the state among others. He started the EAMCET (Engineering, Agricultural and Medical Common Entrance Test) which allowed students to join a professional college on merit. He was also a champion of social justice and introduced various measures that broke the Brahmin and upper-caste hegemony in various areas. He passed legislations allowing private transport operators to compete with the government-owned APSRTC. He also pioneered the Telugu Ganga project with support from the Government of Tamil Nadu, which provides water from the Krishna river for drinking and irrigation purposes to Rayalaseema and Chennai. He was a fierce advocate of Telugu pride and was instrumental in shifting the Telugu Film Industry from Madras to Hyderabad. The Telugu newspaper Eenadu wholeheartedly supported NTR and the TDP and covered most of NTR’s achievements.
Achievements at the National Level
NTR earned a seat for the poor in Andhra Pradesh at the centre via well-thought out political decisions. NTR extended un-qualified support (cleared an MP seat and did not field a TDP candidate) to Congress leader and former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh P. V. Narasimha Rao resulting in the latter winning from the state and entering Parliament for the first time in his long career with a record majority. While the Congress wanted Narasimha Rao to be a powerless un-elected (Rajya Sabha member) yes-man of the Nehru-Gandhi family, NTR actively made sure Narasimha Rao had independent power. This earned Telugu people some influence even when the Congress was in power at the centre. His National Front government at the centre led by V. P. Singh was at the forefront of social justice by implementing the provisions in the Mandal Commission for providing 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC’s).
Campaigning in other states
NTR also campaigned in other states, besides Andhra Pradesh. In 1984, when the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and fellow actor M. G. Ramachandran (MGR) was unable to campaign in the state elections due to his being hospitalised in the USA for kidney failure and a massive stroke, NTR, who was a close friend of MGR, campaigned for his party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), despite the fact that that party was an ally of the Congress at the time. As leader of the National Front, he campaigned extensively for the constituent parties when they faced elections.
In May 1942, at the age of 20, while still pursuing his Intermediate, NTR married Basava Tarakam, the daughter of his maternal uncle. The couple had eleven children- seven sons and four daughters. The sons were (Late) Nandamuri Ramakrishna Sr., Nandamuri Jayakrishna, (Late) Nandamuri Saikrishna, Nandamuri Harikrishna, Nandamuri Mohanakrishna, Nandamuri Balakrishna and Nandamuri Ramakrishna Jr.. The daughters were Garapati Lokeswari, Daggubati Purandeswari, Nara Bhuvaneswari and Kantamaneni Uma Maheswari.
His eldest son Nandamuri Ramakrishna Sr. died in 1962, soon after NTR completed shooting of the film Dakshayagnam. NTR founded the film studio Ramakrishna Studios in Nacharam in his memory. His fourth son Nandamuri Harikrishna is a child actor-turned-politician elected to the Rajya Sabha, representing the TDP. Harikrishna’s sons Nandamuri Kalyan Ram and Jr. NTR are also actors in the Telugu film industry (Tollywood), with the latter being one of the top actors in the industry today. Nandamuri Balakrishna is one of the leading actors in Tollywood from the late 1980s. He also started his career as a child artist. Balakrishna has plans to contest the 2014 assembly elections as a TDP candidate. Nandamuri Ramakrishna Jr. is a film producer. Nandamuri Saikrishna, who was a theatre owner, died in 2004 following diabetic complications. The other sons Jayakrishna and Mohanakrishna are noted cinematographers. Mohanakrishna’s son Taraka Ratna is also a Tollywood actor.
NTR’s second daughter Purandeswari is the sitting MP from Visakhapatnam representing the Congress. She is also the incumbent Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry. She is married to Daggubati Venkateswara Rao, who is also in the Congress and is distantly related to film producer D. Ramanaidu. His third daughter Bhuvaneswari is married to Nara Chandrababu Naidu.
Basava Tarakam died of cancer in 1985. In her memory, NTR established the Basavatarakam Indo-American Cancer Hospital in Hyderabad. In 1993, at the age of 70, NTR married again, this time to Lakshmi Parvathi, a Telugu writer. He became the stepfather to Lakshmi Parvathi’s son from her first marriage, Koteshwara Prasad, as a result of the marriage. She was the author of his 2-volume biography, which was published after his death. However she was never accepted as a family member by NTR’s family members, who kept a distance from her after NTR’s death.
NTR was a highly disciplined and punctual person. He would get up every morning at 2:30 am to do Yoga, physical exercise and worship God. By 5 am, he would be ready for shooting. He would always arrive on the film sets one hour in advance of the stipulated time. He never stumbled or stammered in front of the camera as he used to take all the dialogues by heart when he was doing a particular film. He used to practice hard on the shores of Marina Beach at Madras, to retain his bass and echoic voice for excellent dialogue delivery and base modulations. He insisted on giving and showing respect to all members of the film crew. He would always stand whenever the producer walked into the sets, even if the producer was many years younger to him, thus setting a good precedent to his younger co-stars.
He shunned drinking off-screen. However, he did use to smoke two cigars a day early in his career, but later got rid of that habit.
NTR died of a massive heart attack in the early hours of 18 January 1996 at Hyderabad, just a few months after he was ousted from power. At the time of his death he was 72 years old. He was cremated by his eldest surviving son, Nandamuri Jayakrishna. However, his ashes were immersed at Srirangapatna by his second wife Lakshmi Parvathi only eight years later, in 2004, after Chandrababu Naidu was ousted from power in the assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh held that year.
Awards and Honours
National Film Awards
1960 – Certificate of Merit for Best Feature Film in Telugu for Seetharama Kalyanam
1970 – National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Telugu Director for Varakatnam
Filmfare Awards South
1972 — Best Telugu Actor for Badi Panthulu
1968 — Padma Shri award from the Government of India
1978 — Honorary Doctorate from Andhra University
State Awards instituted in the honour of NTR
NTR National Award
NTR National Award is a National Level Award instituted in 1996, in the honour of NTR by the Government of Andhra Pradesh to recognise notable film personalities for their lifetime achievements and contributions to the Indian film industry. The Award carries a cash prize of ₹ 500,000/- and a memento.
NTR National Literary Award
This Award is instituted in the honour of NTR by Lakshmi Parvathi, the chairperson of NTR Vignan Trust, as an annual award to recognise people for their lifetime achievements and contributions to Indian literature.