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Written by 5:31 PM Film

S. V. Ranga Rao, the consummate actor

S.V.R could play any role given to him. From pauper to king, from villain to hero, from a mytholog…


Has anyone seen this movie, Server Sundaram?  

There is a scene in the movie where the character played by Nagesh is getting his first break as an actor. He has paired apparently with the most popular lady star of that time, played so well by our beloved Achi Manorama.

The director, played by S.V. Ranga Rao, is hilarious! Caught in the crossfire between this first-time greenhorn actor played by Nagesh and this fussy, demanding diva played by Manorama, S.V.R. so convincingly plays the role of a harried director that he stands out as an unforgettable character in the entire movie! At least for me!

Who was S.V. Ranga Rao

To the young ones of today, here is a synopsis of the legendary actor, S. V. Ranga Rao, or S.V.R. as he was popularly known.

Samarla Venkata Ranga Rao (July 3, 1918 – July 18, 1974) was a South Indian actor, film director, and producer. He is an internationally recognized actor and was awarded the title “Vishwanata Chakravarthi.” He was also the first Indian actor to win an international award. He is considered an all-rounder actor who could carry any role given to him. With the famous mannerism of “orey dongrey” from Jagath Jettilu, he is still a household name in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. 

Rao was born to Lakshmi Narasayamma and Koteshwara Rao Naidu, a customs inspector from Nuzvidu, Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh. His mother, Lakshmi Narasayamma, was a fervent devotee of Lord Venkateshwara, who named the boy after him. 

At the early age of 12, the boy showed a tremendous interest in acting on stage. Two goals were still clearly set in his mind: pursuing a master’s degree in literature and taking an active role in theatre and cinema. 

His first foray into the film world

S.V.R. got an invitation from one of his relatives, B.V. Ramanandam, to play the hero in his film “Varoodhini .” It was an excellent beginning for the young man. However, the movie “Varoodhini” bombed at the box office. Producers hesitated to give him any roles after that. S.V.R. was disillusioned with the filmdom and left the Madras Presidency (as was the term used for a collection of Southern Indian States then) and reached Jamshedpur, where he took up a job as a budget assistant with Tata Steel. However, his love for acting never really went away. He married Leelavathi in December 1947 and settled down to a domesticated life. 

Then came an opportunity to play the villain in the film, “Palletoori Pilla,” produced by B.A. Subba Rao came his way. His father passed when he was about to board the train to Chennai, so he had to stay back and finish all the rituals a son was expected to do. After performing the final rites, S.V.R. reached Chennai, but it was too late. Another actor had already replaced him.

His first real break

Lucky for him, he got a break with Vijaya Pictures, who offered him the most memorable role of a  “Nepali Mantrikudu” in  the “Pathala Bhairavi.” He also played the same role in the Tamil version. Immediately, he shot into the limelight. Pathala Bhairavi was followed by another hit, “Pellichesi Choodu” (1952). At this point, he had established himself in the industry. The iconic status of a superstar took time to come to him. He struggled a lot and, from that struggle, rose the great actor of all time. Maya Bazaar and Nartanasala are among his famous movies. 

The roles he played

He acted almost every character in history. He showed a kind of recklessness and disregard in his dialogue delivery. This controlled nonchalance was something that appealed to me very much! 

S.V.R. was the first Indian to get an international award at the Djakarta International Film Festival for his role of Keechaka in Nartanasala. His dialogue delivery was unmatched. Those days, no one in the industry could deliver dialogues, even in Sanskrit, with so much ease and aplomb, complete with the required histrionics. Even N.T.R., who was great at dialogues in Telugu, used to stammer in front of S.V.R. This was the rumor those days!

His compatriot Gummadi once exclaimed, “Fortunate are we to have S.V.R. born in India, but S.V.R. is unfortunate to have born here, for if he were born in the West, he would have been one of the top 5 actors of all time in the world.”

S.V.R.’s relatives and family circles ridiculed him, saying that he was a fool to go after chances in cinemas by shunning government jobs.

Some trivia

  • L.V. Prasad gave S.V.R. lots of moral support and encouragement.
  • “Maya Bazaar” automatically brings about the picture of S.V.R. as Ghatothgacha 
  • His role as “Nepali Mantrik” in “Pathala Bhairavi” will continue to be remembered by millions of people.
  • As Keechaka in “Narthanasala,” S.V.R. proved himself to be the ultimate when it came to acting the mythological films.
  • He was a passionate game hunter, sporting an excellent firearm that a friend in the British Indian army gave him. One day, he was hunting a deer, and the deer stopped running and looked straight into the eyes of S.V.R. as if questioning him, “What will you get if you kill me?” S.V.R. never hunted after that.
  • S.V.R. and Gummadi went to International Film Festival in Spain for the film Raju Peda, where they met Sir Richard Attenborough. S.V.R. played Peda (poor man), and Sir Attenborough commented that S.V.R. should have played the role of the Raju (king). 

His transition to immortality

He died on July 18, 1974, after suffering from severe heart failure. But he continues to live in the hearts and minds of the Telugu and Tamil people.

Cited Sources

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