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A Salute To Superstar Krishna: The Bold, Trendsetting Actor With An Unmatchable Legacy

Aishwarya Yerra |Wednesday, 16 Nov 2022 - 7:29 PM

A Salute To Superstar Krishna Who Will Remain The Bold Trendsetting Actor With An Unmatchable Legacy-10
A Salute To Superstar Krishna Who Will Remain The Bold Trendsetting Actor With An Unmatchable Legacy-10

As an actor who defined his own limitations, Superstar Krishna paved the current path to innovation in the Telugu Film Industry

Boldness doesn't mean rude, obnoxious, loud, or disrespectful. Being bold is being firm, sure, confident, fearless, daring, strong, resilient, and not easily intimidated, said a wise man. And, this description holds true for Superstar Krishna who passed away on 15th November, 2022. A veteran of the Telugu Film Industry, Krishna was not just a highly successful actor with a massive fan base — he was a true patron of movies, who helped shape some of the biggest elements of filmmaking in this film industry. As a millennial, I wasn’t exposed to the actor’s movies when he was at his peak; instead, I grew up watching reruns of his movies on TV channels in the late 90s, knowing very little about his contribution to Telugu cinema. I was a huge fan of Mahesh Babu, his youngest son, and wasn’t wise enough to appreciate my father’s adulation for Krishna. But as I read more about the Industry and the dynamics between its core members, and the very nature of it, it’s hard to believe that one man stuck to his own game for decades and proved his mettle in more than a couple of ways.

Finding His Feet

A Salute To Superstar Krishna Who Will Remain The Bold Trendsetting Actor With An Unmatchable Legacy-4

To understand the depth of Krishna’s achievements we have to start at the very beginning of his journey. Born in Burripalem village in Guntur district in present-day Andhra Pradesh in 1943 to a family that practised agriculture, the young BSc graduate was awe-struck when he saw the kind of appreciation and impact that an actor is capable of receiving when he witnessed it live at an event which was attended by Akkineni Nageswara Rao as the chief guest. He made up his mind to be an actor in the Telugu Film Industry and tried his best to get roles in movies. He even managed to win minor roles in Kula Gothralu (1961), Padandi Mundhuku (1962), and Paruvu Prathishta (1963). He finally won his first lead role in Thene Manasulu, a 1965 romance drama with an ensemble cast which was directed by the national award-winning director (writer and editor) Adurthi Subba Rao. The role did not come by easily — he had to go through an extensive and rigorous audition process and Adurthi Subba Rao was even discouraged by many to not cast Krishna as they feared the newcomer was too skinny and fair to be accepted by the audience. The director stuck to his vision and thanks to his conviction, the hit movie opened many doors for Krishna.

From Spy To Cowboy

A Salute To Superstar Krishna Who Will Remain The Bold Trendsetting Actor With An Unmatchable Legacy-5

In the next year itself, he would appear as the lead in one of India’s first spy thrillers modelled on the likes of James Bond, titled Gudachari 116 also starring Jayalalitha. The movie was responsible for introducing the spy genre to Telugu audiences and they took such a liking to Krishna as a spy and the genre itself that the actor would go on to act in multiple movies as Agent 116 over three decades, earning himself the title ‘Andhra James Bond’. Just five years after winning his first solo lead role, Krishna established a production house with his brothers, Padmalaya Films, with the sole aim to make films which went against the template of cinema-making that was stagnating Telugu cinema in that era. As none of the producers of that time was willing to present him with this opportunity, he knew his only option was to produce his own kind of film. He produced and starred in the 1971 movie Mosagallaku Mosagadu which was a massive blockbuster and introduced the western cowboy genre in Telugu cinema and it wouldn't be far-fetched to call him the ‘Telugu Clint Eastwood’. The film catapulted him to another level of success that solidified his place in the hearts of youngsters who were yearning for some real action and stunts in Telugu movies. To this day, the generation that grew up devouring Krishna’s trendsetting cinema is fiercely loyal to their superstar and his appetite for risks.

The Workaholic With A Heart

Krishna-Ghattamaneni-Photos-(84)

Within the first decade of his career, this quiet and reserved superstar built an impressive reputation. He averaged 10 films per year (in 1972, he had 18 theatrical releases) pulling three shifts a day and was known to be a workaholic with no professional airs. He threw no tantrums on sets, was friendly to his directors and producers, and would avoid extra production costs. He was an extremely busy actor who neither wanted to nor had the time to be a starry diva. This behaviour is rare given that the cinema industry at that time was ruled by rude and self-serving stars. His empathy towards producers was so strong that even if one movie didn’t do well he would make his dates available to these producers, in the hopes that their next movie would help them cover some of the losses. Earlier, distributors were power centres in the industry and during times of need, he would personally approach distributors on the behalf of producers and convince them to distribute a movie even if he had to pay an advance from his own pocket. His affinity for not being too choosy with scripts and the decision to work with new and unknown producers was a boon for many who worked in the film industry. Some of these producers, with no money to even buy coconuts for muhurat shots, turned into millionaires because Krishna gave them a chance and acted in their films. His motivation wasn’t money; ambition and empathy drove him forward.

Mr. Innovator

A Salute To Superstar Krishna Who Will Remain The Bold Trendsetting Actor With An Unmatchable Legacy-11

He wasn’t just a champion of directors and producers — he was also a champion of technology and innovations in the Telugu Film Industry, pushing the boundaries very often. Through his production house, he purchased cinema tech that was yet to debut in the industry and introduced it via his movies — cinemascope (Alluri Sitaramaraju), Eastman colour (Eenadu), 70 mm (Simhasanam) and DTS film (Telugu Veera Levara). This is a reflection of Krishna’s bold commitment to bringing path-breaking cinema to Telugu audiences.

The Birth of a Brave Superstar

A Salute To Superstar Krishna Who Will Remain The Bold Trendsetting Actor With An Unmatchable Legacy-6

In my opinion, what truly sets Krishna apart from the rest was his unwavering conviction in himself and his attitude towards risk. To portray one of the bravest men in Telugu history, it only makes sense that the bravest man in the industry made a film about him. At the age of 32, Krishna produced and acted in Alluri Seetarama Raju, a biopic on the legendary freedom fighter from Andhra Pradesh, a beloved figure of the Telugu population. Making the movie was not easy in any way; NTR, who was 20 years his senior by age and an industry god, had called dibs on the script on Alluri and was neither ready to make the film anytime soon nor was willing to give it to anyone else. But Krishna had the strongest of convictions when he made up his mind to make the movie; how else would you explain that a young actor with barely anything to rival the towering figure called NTR would decide to make Alluri his passion project? He went all in for this movie — he was ready to take on senior figures, invested time and money in research for a solid script, and took his crew to the forests to shoot in an authentic setting braving not just elements of nature and wild animals but also the threat of Maoists. The odds were stacked against him given that the story itself was risky as it was based on a social theme about a sanyasi who gives up on worldly things. It had very little masala entertainment value that was typical of star movies of that time. And, as this was a home production, the entire risk of the big-budget production fell on him and his studio. When the movie was released he might have earned the ire of NTR but he won the respect of every Telugu person for bringing one of their real heroes to life. The movie created multiple records in cinematic history and cemented Krishna’s status as a superstar. Crowds went crazy for the actor who risked it all and his stellar performance gave birth to a strong sense of pride for Telugu land.

A Salute To Superstar Krishna Who Will Remain The Bold Trendsetting Actor With An Unmatchable Legacy-12

There were other movies that Krishna produced and acted in that ruffled many feathers; he made Kurukshetram when NTR wanted to make the similar themed Daana Veera Soora Karna. Krishna stood his ground and made the movie; however, the movie suffered due to the competition from NTR's film and wasn't a success. He wasn’t afraid to stand up to ANR in 1974 when he decided to buy the rights to his iconic 1953 film Devadasu. He paid for this risk; ANR rereleased his hit movie on the same day Krishna’s Devadasu was released, sinking it at the box office. But Krishna bounced back and went on to make and act in films at the same pace that he was known for. In the late 80s, he even parodied NTR’s regime as a chief minister in a few movies when he was hounded by the Telugu Desam Party for his alleged affiliation with Nadendla Bhaskar (a story for another day) and the Congress Party. Today, we assume Ram Gopal Varma is the king of parody but what we forget is that Krishna was the dashing and daring hero who holds the title of OG King of Satire in Telugu cinema.

A Distinctive Star

Krishna-Ghattamaneni-Photos-(265)

When he was new to the industry, the reigning star heroes had their own distinct style of acting that leaned heavily on theatrics and a dramatic style of dialogue delivery. But Krishna’s acting was not so dramatic and in those days, he was lauded for introducing a more toned-down and natural style of acting. If you trace his performances from the beginning of his career to later, a visible difference is apparent. He created his own unique style that didn’t rely on crutches and his dialogue delivery became his trademark, thanks to the ease at which he would deliver lengthy monologues.

The Crowning Glory

Simhasanam

One of his biggest cinematic achievements as well as risks to Krishna’s credit is his 1986 directorial debut Simhasanam which was simultaneously shot in Telugu and Hindi (Singhasan with Jitendra playing his part). He is the writer, producer, director, and editor of this epic-historical movie based on folklore. Not only was it India’s most expensive film to be made at that time with a budget of Rs. 3.5 crore, Krishna chose to make it in 70 mm 4-track stereophonic sound, a first for Telugu cinema. He hired Bollywood legend Bappi Lahiri to compose the tunes for it, which was another first in the industry. But his hard work and vision paid off; the movie was a stupendous blockbuster and is often called the ‘Baahubali of the 80s’ for its scale and treatment. Screens in the Telugu states were upgraded to be able to screen it and held the record for the highest collections in the first week with a collection of Rs. 1.5 crore. There was a certain level of mass hysteria that the film created — to attend its 100-day function in Chennai, fans arrived in nearly 400 buses.

The Man

A Salute To Superstar Krishna Who Will Remain The Bold Trendsetting Actor With An Unmatchable Legacy-7

Another aspect of Krishna’s career that requires due credit is his working partnership with his late wife Vijaya Nirmala. With his support, she ran her own production company Vijaya Krishna Productions and holds the Guinness world record for the most number of movies directed by a woman (40 films). What astounds me is the fact Krishna was so secure in his masculinity that he played the lead role in at least 25 films that were directed by his wife. I barely know any male actors of his generation or the ones later who have chosen to give their female partners the reigns to creative control, especially in a country where a woman is never given her creative due. And, this was Krishna’s USP — an actor who was a thorough professional who never let ego spoil his game, only adding to his superstar quality. The perseverance with which he made movies well after his peak, with a resolve to serve his fans even five decades into his career is indeed a rare feat. It’s hard to know when to stop writing about a truly unique star that it is Krishna who refused to fall into any mould and managed to act in more than 400 films. But I shall take adieu here, with the hope that cinema buffs understand the real legacy that the trendsetting genius left behind.

Updated date:  Tuesday, 29 Nov 2022 - 4:39 PM

Contributors: Aishwarya Yerra

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