Telugu actor Nagarjuna remembers his father, the legendary actor-producer Akkineni Nageswara Rao, who passed away on January 22.
It was so sudden.
He hadn't really prepared us for his going, although he had cancer.
On the other hand, maybe he did let us know in his own way that the end was near.
On his 90th birthday in September he decided to call all his friends and family from India and abroad, around 2,000 people.
I think he had a premonition. There were 200 tables at his birthday dinner. He went to each and every table to talk to all his friends, some of them from America.
He made an hour-long speech, which we fortunately recorded. It’s the only biographical life-sketch we have of him. We now intend to make it public.
Right from my childhood I looked at him with awe. When we went out together, the respect he commanded was visible even to a child. Even if he was not recognized by someone as an actor, my father still commanded the same respect.
He carried his aura way beyond the screen. At home he was a complete husband, father and grandfather. He was the most complete human being I know.
And yet I connected with him like any son does to his father.
Outside the house he was this iconic deified figure. Inside the house he was a sorted-out, genial householder always ready to lend a patient ear to our problems. He didn’t play favorites in the family.
He loved me my brother and our children equally.
As an actor he enjoyed acting until the 1970s and 80s. Then just when I came in as a leading man Indian cinema become mongrelized, Westernized and corrupted.
My father didn’t like it at all. He would ask, ‘Why does our cinema need to ape the West? Our culture and heritage are so rich. Why do you need to change that?’
I argued back saying ‘We had to give the audience what they wanted.’ He would counter-argue saying, ‘Look at the Chinese, Koreans. Their cinema preserves their language and culture. They’re global leaders.
Recently when I made a film I wanted to send it to international film festivals after cutting the songs. My father was aghast. ‘Why are you cutting out your culture?’ he asked. I listened to him and kept the songs.
In his later years he continued to watch all the films. He would comment only on the acting as acting was his first love. He saw no logic in my action scenes. Lately he had started approving of my performances. He liked my performance in Sri Ramadasu.
Sometimes we would try to find fault with him and end up stonewalled and very angry because we couldn’t find a single fault.
When he was diagnosed with cancer he gave us the strength and courage to face up to the impending tragedy. He taught us to deal with it.
He fought the disease as long as he could. He was on the sets of our family film Manam when he collapsed. When they opened him up he was in the 5th stage of cancer.
Until then he was in the pink of health. The film spans a period from 1920 to 2013. My father plays a 90-year old. Except that incomplete song he completed all the shooting.
Fifteen days after surgery he was at home in bed when he said, ‘Bring all the dubbing equipment and do my dubbing for Manam before I get worse, or you will get a mimicry artiste to do my dubbing.’
He made sure we he completed the film. It’s now being released March 31.
When he knew he was losing the battle with the disease he closed his eyes and surrendered to death. He developed a pain at the end.
We took him to the hospital and for the first time he had to be given painkillers. The doctor warned us that it was the beginning of the end.
We were told he had two months more and that his condition would get very bad. He said he wanted to go home.
That night (January 21) he called all of us to gather around him. At around 9.30 pm he asked all of us to go home. That night he passed away.
The love that has flown out of his fans after death has overwhelmed us. We haven’t had time to feel our grief. Thousands of people came. We had to shut the gates after more people couldn’t come into the house. They kept on coming.
After June 2013 I had cancelled all my shooting to be with him. Now when he’s gone I’ve my work to distract me from my sense of loss.
I want his last film Manam to be a befitting send-off to a man who was much more than just a father to me.
In the picture: Akkineni Nageswara Rao (left) and Nagarjuna