Dasari Narayana Rao dead at 75: Telugu cinema loses one of its most forceful voices

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Dasari Narayana Rao

Veteran filmmaker Dasari Narayana Rao passed away on 30 May 2017 after a prolonged illness due to respiratory problems and kidney failure. He was 75. The news about his death has sent the Telugu film industry into a pall of gloom and several members from the film fraternity, politicians and journalists offered their condolences to the veteran director’s family.

In January this year, his deteriorating health condition made headlines and it took nearly two months before he was stable enough to be discharged from the hospital. For a while, he seemed to be recovering and even met Megastar Chiranjeevi, Allu Aravind and Mohan Babu who presented him with the Allu Ramalingaiah award on 4 May. However, his condition turned critical soon after he was admitted at a private hospital in Hyderabad earlier this week.

With 151 films as a director and 53 films as a producer, Dasari Narayana Rao has delivered scores of blockbusters and critically acclaimed films throughout his career. In his heyday, he was one of the most influential and prolific directors who had a knack for highlighting gender and class discrimination prevalent in the society through films like Bobbili Puli, Osey Ramulamma, Premabhishekam, Meghasandesham among many other hits. At one point of time, he was churning nearly 10-12 films in a year, sometimes hopping between sets of different films on the same day. He even entered the Limca book of world records for directing the most number of films.

As a filmmaker, he was one of Telugu cinema’s most forceful voices urging filmmakers to make meaningful cinema and was often a vocal critic of the younger generation, who, he opined, didn’t respect cinema enough. On the contrary, he was almost always one of the first few bigwigs in the industry to appreciate new talent when he came across good films. This might seem like a paradox, but such was his life which was filled with dazzling heights and lows.

Cinema became a medium of personal expression for him and in the ’70s and ’80s, Dasari Narayana Rao turned his work into a tool for change. Talking about his obsession with cinema, when he turned 70, he was once quoted as saying, “The only thing I know in my life is cinema. I don’t know anything else. During Manashulantha Okkate time, NTR said, ‘Brother, If you want to become number one in your profession, you need to sacrifice things you like. Everybody gives priority to their family life than to their profession. But I make my profession a priority. You are also doing the same. I can guarantee that you will become number one in the future due to the same quality.’ That’s the reason why I want to keep making films.”

True to his urge to keep making films, he had announced plans to produce a film with Pawan Kalyan in the lead role and another biopic on Jayalalithaa was also on his mind; however, neither of these films took off. Few years ago, he shifted his focus to encouraging young talent under his own production house and make a series of small-budget concept-based films, but his plans didn’t quite materialise.

Apart from being a filmmaker, producer, and a lyricist, he was also a journalist. In the early 80s, he forayed into publishing industry and started a newspaper — Udayam — which went on to become the second largest selling newspaper in Andhra Pradesh, behind Eenadu. The filmmaker’s immense popularity, along with top-notch style of reporting in the newspaper, made Udayam a runaway hit. And ever since, he has been a father-figure to many journalists and he even took some of them under his wing to groom them as writers and filmmakers. Not so long ago, when the media accused a popular actor of using foul language while referring to them, it was Dasari who took up the matter in his own hands to reprimand the actor and made him apologise for what he had done. Such was his power that no one could oppose his authority.

Unlike his long career in film industry, Dasari Narayana Rao’s stint with politics was short-lived. He served as a Union minister during Congress’ reign; however, his name popped up in the coal scam where he was named as one of the people who received bribes from steel baron Naveen Jindal. Dasari Narayana Rao has had his share of controversies, especially with Chiranjeevi’s family, although both the parties patched up in recent times.

He was not only widely respected, but also left many awestruck with his command over the medium of film. His death truly marks the end of an era in Telugu cinema, which owes a lot to the veteran filmmaker who was ‘Guruvu Garu’ for everyone.

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