NTR, A Biography: This account of Telugu matinee idol-turned-politician's life is a must-read
Pitched as the first-ever biography of NTR in English, K Chandrahas and K Lakshminarayana’s NTR, A Biographyruns over a mammoth 600 pages and barely leaves anything about the iconic star behind.
Pitched as the first-ever biography of NTR in English, K Chandrahas and K Lakshminarayana’s 'NTR, A Biography' runs over a mammoth 600 pages and barely leaves anything about the iconic star behind.
It begins with NTR’s family history, follows the career that saw him become one of India’s biggest film stars ever and dedicates a significant portion to the public figure who served as the CM of Andhra Pradesh for seven years.
Reading the biography amid a general election makes it a far more interesting exercise.
Reading the biography of NTR, the moniker by which Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, the legendary Telugu matinee idol turned politician was better known, amid a general election makes it a far more interesting exercise. Pitched as the first-ever biography of NTR in English, K Chandrahas and K Lakshminarayana’s NTR, A Biography (CLS Publishers) runs over a mammoth 600 pages and barely leaves anything about the iconic star behind. It begins with NTR’s family history (the actor was adopted within his own family where he was brought up by two women in a fashion similar to the character he portrayed 17 times onscreen, Lord Krishna), follows the career that saw him become one of India’s biggest film stars ever and dedicates a significant portion to the public figure who served as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh for seven years over three terms.
NTR was not the first film actor to become a chief minister in India. By the time he decided to foray into public life, MG Ramachandran, the Tamil superstar, had been the CM of Tamil Nadu for almost five years but it wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that it was NTR who left a more significant impact in terms of a political career. NTR considered MGR a close friend — they even shared the same make-up man, Pithambaram — and he sought advice from MGR as well when he was toying with the idea of launching a political party. A large part of NTR’s political life, much like his existence and his public persona, had to do with the concept of identity. It was quite early on in his acting career that NTR laid the foundation of what would late become the springboard for politics. NTR tried to develop his distinctive style both in front as well as behind the camera where he tirelessly advocated Andhra Pradesh’s distinct cultural identity and continually distinguished it from the erstwhile Madras State with which it was often associated. A major factor in the shaping of brand ‘NTR’ were the roles that he essayed. He played nearly every important god including Krishna and Ram, and in fact, even Karna as the hero in Daana Veera Soora Karna (1977) at a time when such interpretation was not conventional. In fact, he played all three roles in that film: Karna, Duryodhana, and Krishna. With NTR, the fine line separating reality and myth blurred. Legend has it that during the shooting of Mayabazar (1957), which was the first hit to feature NTR as Krishna, when he appeared on the set as Lord Krishna the entire studio come to a standstill. Crew members rushed to touch his feet; some even offered the aarti and NTR blessed them.
Considering that half of India’s present populace was just two when NTR died in 1996, it wouldn’t be surprising that many might have little or no idea of who he was. Moreover, NTR belonged to an era sans an all-pervasive social media and the world was too big to exist within a mobile phone and unfortunate as it is, the current crop of non-Telugu film aficionados, also, wouldn’t know much about him when compared with a Kamal Haasan, Nagarjuna, Mahesh Babu or Prabhas.
In that aspect, NTR, A Biography not only fills the blanks but also offers a fantastic insight into the intrinsic relationship between films and politics that prevails south of Vindhyas. The book is peppered with insightful nuggets that reveal the person behind the larger than life image of NTR — he always referred to himself in the royal plural, he hated newspapers to the extent of making it a virtue not to read them, and he rarely lost his shirt in public; and also the adulation that his fans had for him — an anonymous transporter referred to as Chowdary offered 40 trucks to ferry around fans for NTR’s first public rally for no cost and didn’t even hang around to meet his idol.
Written by a former IRS officer (Chandrahas) and an ex-IAS officer (Lakshminarayana), who also served under NTR when he was the CM between 1984-89, the book benefits immensely from the access they might have enjoyed. This might be the reason why there is a protracted focus on NTR, the politician, as opposed to NTR, the superstar. For history buffs, the book describes in great detail how the Congress party, first under Indira Gandhi and later Rajiv Gandhi, treated the local heavyweights, often insulting them in full public view, and how this apathy towards the Telugu people pushed NTR to stand up for his people.
No one gave NTR and his political outfit, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), an outside chance to make a dent in state politics. Even NTR did not push his son in law, N Chandrababu Naidu, who was a rising star in state Congress party along with the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy or YSR, to join his party as he was not sure of the future. What NTR did was nothing short of epoch-making — he traversed nearly 75,000 km across the state in a refurbished 1940 Chevrolet convertible that he called ‘Chaitanya Ratham’ (chariot of awakening) and mobilised the entire state of undivided Andhra Pradesh. The TDP won 202 out of the 294 state assembly seats, and NTR went on to become the first non-Congress CM of Andhra Pradesh. As a side note, NTR’s victory was the first election that future psephologist Pranoy Roy got wrong. NTR achieved a lot in terms of governance but the social changes that he ushered had more considerable significance, and the one that stood out was the successful modification of the Hindu-Succession-Act that gave equal default property inheritance rights for women. Later, NTR also became the propelling force for the United Front that formed the government at the Centre under VP Singh in 1989. NTR died in January 1996, barely four months after his son in law, Chandrababu Naidu, led a coup to oust him from the post of CM.
NTR, A Biography is a weighty tome. When it comes to reading long books, the reader, like EM Forster noted, usually overpraises to convince others and oneself that they have not wasted their time. The book is not bereft of problems and some of them could be off-putting. For starters, the writing could have been edited as well as structured better. Some of the chapters are just half a page and needlessly break the flow, but the thing that could nag the reader the most is the occurrence of grammatical errors. Irrespective of it all, the book is a must-read.
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