Remembering SV Ranga Rao : The Legend Less Known, But A Pioneer Of Method Acting

An Ode To Method Acting

The Indian film industry boasts of a good number of actors who literally live the role and mystically become the ‘character’. We call them ‘method’ actors or in layman terms ‘natural’ actors, where any character portrayed by these actors give us an authentic feel of that character, not just by expressions but also psychologically. In the present generation, there are a bunch of such actors from Kamal Haasan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Mohanlal to the latest Fahadh Faasil, Vijay Sethupathi or Ranveer Singh.

But way before cinema turned to colour, it was SV Ranga Rao, who along with Dileep Kumar, was considered as the pioneer and the finest method actor of India. In the present times, our memories are occupied mostly with the current updates apart from thriving to know what’s in the future for us. While it is a good sign of progress, it’s not a bad idea to be aware of the contributions made by a few legends to one of the most creative fields, filmmaking. And when it comes to SV Ranga Rao or famously known as SVR, who was a versatile actor, explored himself in character roles all through his career. He was referred to as the ‘Viswanata Chakravarthi’.

Akbar, Bhishma, Dhuryodhana, Yama, Ravana, Tandra Paparayudu, Ghatotkacha, Harishchandra, Hiranyakashipu, Kamsa, Keechaka, Mayasura, Narakasura, you name an interesting character from mythology and SVR excelled in it. He stood as one of the highest paid actors back in those times in spite of not acting in lead roles.

Born in Nuzvidu on July 3, 1918, when the World War I was coming to an end, Samarla Venkata Ranga Rao completed his schooling from Madras. At the age of 12 itself, he developed immense interest towards acting in plays. He was a brilliant student and as a result post his bachelor’s degree, he earned himself a job as an officer in the Fire Service department. However, the young SVR had by then only two objectives – one to complete his M.Sc and the second to take active participation in plays.

A Bumpy Beginning

Seeing his interest in acting, the first opportunity SVR received was through a relative, BV Ramanandam, who offered him the lead role in his movie Varoodhini.  Without any second thought, he immediately quit his job and went to Salem to take part in the shoot. It was indeed a great opportunity for the young SVR back then. But, just when everyone thought SVR got his first chance quite easily, the movie released and tanked at the Box-Office. Thereafter, no maker dared to give SVR a second chance.

This disheartened SVR immensely and he had no other option than to pick up a job again. For the ace talent, he was in every field, he secured a job as the budget assistant with Tata Company. He moved to Jamshedpur while his love for dramas almost doomed. He married Leelavathi in 1947. With great difficulty, another opportunity knocked on SVR’s door He was asked to play the antagonist in one of BA Subba Rao’s flick. However, when SVR was all prepared to board the train to Madras, little did he know that his luck would be pushed farther. He received the news that his father expired and hence had to go to his hometown. He completed the last rituals and arrived in Madras two days later. By then, the unit had a replacement for his role thus knocking away his opportunity.

The Breakthrough

A few of the many versatile roles donned SV Ranga Rao

However, it was Vijaya Pictures who came to SVR’s rescue giving him a break through the much-acclaimed role of ‘Nepala Mantrikudu’ in the 1951 blockbuster Pathala Bharavi. From there on he never stopped, offers kept pouring in and SVR hit the bull’s eye every time. He eventually became a crucial actor for the industry. He gradually ventured into Tamil cinema and garnered great name in the industry as well. Missamma, Mayabazaar, Sati Savitri, Gundamma Katha, Nasthanasala, Pathala Bhairavi, Pandava Vanavasam in Telugu and Sarada, Annai, Naanum Oru Penn in Tamil are a few of the gems where he added great weight to the movie with his roles. He acted in a total of 162 movies, 53 in Tamil and 109 in Telugu. He was known for showing a sort of recklessness and arrogance in his dialogue delivery, which actually gave a raw essence to the characters he portrayed. This style was even adapted by MGR in the Tamil cinema. It was to such an extent that, people who would imitate MGR would end up imitating SVR.

The Rise Of India’s First Method Actor

Back in the 50s and 60s, most of the big ventures by Vijaya Vauhini Studios or Vijaya Pictures that involved the biggest stars such as NTR, ANR, Savitri, Gummadi, Anjali Devi and so on had one factor in common. The inclusion of SVR in their cast. He added great value to the inclusive performances of everybody merely by his involvement in the roles that he essayed. Many times, he was even offered lead roles, but he didn’t want to restrict himself to any particular image and hence let go of them. This, in turn, paved a path for many legends to build their image and career. Kaikala Satyanarayana and NTR are the actors who are a result of this.

He was the first Indian to receive the Best Actor Award at an International Film Festival. It was for the film Narthanasala where he donned the role of Keechaka and he won it at the Afro Asian Film Festival, Jakarta. This was SVR’s first acclaimed recognition and ironically till then from the Indian Film Fraternity. Surprisingly not many are aware of this fact. He further won the Rastrapathi Award five times, a couple of Nandi Awards and a Filmfare Award. He was also an ace director. He directed two movies, Bandhavyalu and Chadarangam, both of which won Nandi Awards. As a tribute, the Andhra Pradesh Government gives away an award every year to the Best Character Actor under his name. It is called the SV Ranga Rao Nandi Award for Best Character Role.

SV Ranga Rao’s kind of brand endorsements back in those times.

Unfortunately, Rao suffered from a cardiac arrest on 18 July 1974 and breathed his last. He was only 56 then. Just when you think you’ve got everything right, guess fate loves to get cruel.