The year was 1964. Indian cinema was mostly identified with Hindi movies then, in countries other than India. Foreigners identified Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand in East Asia, in countries like Russia and China, but non Hindi actors were unknown then.
The newly independent India started a cultural exchange programme of Indian actors interacting with other countries’ film industry personalities, be it directors, actors or cameramen. As a part of the Ministry of External Affairs initiative, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand went to the United States Of America and visited Hollywood, where they interacted and shared their views about cinema and its making from the technicians then. They were also interviewed by foreign press to share their views.
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The Pioneers Who Represented South Indian Cinema In Foreign Lands
The first South Indian actor to become a part of the exchange programme was the legendary Tamil actor, Sivaji Ganesan, who had a translator with him, to help him out with his ideas, whenever Sivaji spoke in Tamil. The interaction was conducted in Hollywood in California.
Sivaji was a known face in the foreign world by then as he was adjudged as the best actor at the Cairo International Film Festival of 1960 for his inspiring portrayal of the 18th century Tamil freedom fighter, Veerapandiya Kattabomman. Therefore, he had a rousing reception in the press.
The ANR Story
Now, it was the turn of Akkineni Nageswara Rao (ANR,) who was a novice to the western world until the 1960s. A golden opportunity was presented to him in the early 1960s when the movie Mooga Manasulu (1964,) in which the legendary Savitri, played the female lead with ANR, was premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival. The Adurthi Subba Rao film, which was a moving tale about the pure relationship between the daughter of a landlord and a boatman, was well received at the film festival.
Soon, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) was commissioned to interview the main cast of the movie, of whom, only ANR was present at Melbourne. The affiliated channel of ABC, WEW News interviewed ANR at its studios in Melbourne, asking for his views about the approach to acting, the difference between Indian and English cinema, etc.
ANR, by then, had acquainted himself with English and speaking the language by hiring a home tutor in Madras in the early 1960s. Taking a leaf off from Sivaji Ganesan, who interacted with the Hollywood great Marlon Brando, ANR spoke at the interview about difference between Hollywood method actors and the way it works for the Indian actors, who are dictated by a lot of commerce, fan following and the way actors adapt to the working style of various directors.
The reception and the following interview in Melbourne made ANR the first ever Telugu actor to be interviewed by foreign press. Among many firsts to his credit, ANR also added this feather in his cap.
A more interesting snippet about ANR’s Australian visit is about his family drama, Anthasthulu (1965,) which won the best film award at the Melbourne Film Festival in 1965. ANR won the Best Actor award for this movie. Dr. Bhanumathi Ramakrishna, who played a pivotal role in the movie as ANR’s sister, won the Best Actress award.
ANR, hence had a great maiden foreign tour indeed!