Rajeshwar Rao, a retired civil servant, now settled in Vijaywada, spends his time in various hobbies. He is a philatelist and has one of the best stamp collections in India. He loves gardening and pets. He takes great pride in having fifteen dogs at home. He loves Carnatic classical music and makes it a point to attend Kacheris regularly. He is a film buff and is up to date with the latest releases. One of his other hobbies has been to collect memorabilia connected to the film industries in South India. Over the last few decades, he has also met and interacted with many film stars. His home has hosted many of them who visit that part of Andhra, either on shoots or for leisure. A few weeks ago he wrote to me in response to one of my columns here. A shy conservative man, Mr Rao spoke of his love for South Indian cinema. I asked him if he could share some stories with the people he met. Instead, he shared with me his precious album of childhood images of film starts. His collections makes for an excellent photo essay.
From his collection are images of yester years’ Telugu screen stars like Vijaya Shanti, Chiranjeevi and his brothers Pawan Kalyan and Nagababu. Among the current generation stars are images of Mahesh Babu, Allu Arjun and the ‘Bahubali’ boy Prabhas.
Chiranjeevi with Pawan Kalyan and Nagababu
In the heroines from Tamil Nadu are images of veterans like Vyjayanthimala Bali, Kumari Kamala and J Jayalalithaa. There are also those who migrated to Bollywood like Hema Malini and Sri Devi. Among the younger generation are actresses like Meena.
Sridevi in Bala Bharatam
The heroes of the Tamil screen include the famous Kamal Hassan! In the younger generation of heroes are images of Ajith Kumar, Madhavan, Vijay and Vikram.
His collection of Malayalam actors’ images has among others Mohan Lal and Mammootty. Among heroines are Shobhana and Revathy. He even has an image of the super model turned actor John Abraham who is half a Keralite. Among Kannada stars are images of heroes like Puneet Raj Kumar, son of Dr. Raj Kumar.
I asked Rao why this fascination for these childhood images of film actors and his reply was interesting. “All of them look like regular children you could easily miss in a crowd. The girl-next door or the boy-next door kinds. But each of them have had interesting careers and become successful in their own way. This is a good way to tell children that if they work hard, they too can be successful in whatever field they choose in their career ahead”, he said over the phone.
There is a whole big section of images of stars who are no more. The ones in this piece are actors who are alive. In addition to these images, Rao also maintains separate albums of images of playback singers, music directors, character artistes and so forth. His favourite hero however is Chiranjeevi and he has saved every little paper scrap of news he could in the last fifty years. If someone wants to write a biography of Chiranjeevi, Rao is likely to be a great source and help. May be Rao himself can write it sometime, if he finds time from his dogs, gardening and other hobbies. I asked him for a portrait of himself and he denied it saying he didn’t have a single good image worth publishing. Such humility and modesty in times of aggressive social marketing!
In these images, see the wonder in their eyes and the various moods these actors have been captured in, as kids. More power to passionate collectors like him!
(Veejay Sai is an award-winning writer, editor and a culture critic. He writes extensively on Indian performing arts, cultural history, food and philosophy. He lives in New Delhi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Images courtesy: Mr Rajeshwar Rao’s personal collection. All images are sourced from his collection with his permission.