S.V.Renga Rao,an actor of high stature for more than a quarter century from the early days of Tamil Cinema, reigned with his look of majesty and mighty voice,as the most wanted person both in Telugu and Tamil film circles. He was a perfect father figure, besides fitting excellently into portrayal of mythological characters. His voice was so powerful that it could reflect moods and emotions exactly as if through a process of calibration.
My memories of this gigantic figure, take me to my childhood evenings spent at the Touring Talkies, shuddering at each and every scene he would appear as an evil mythological giant in movies like 'Patala Bairavi' and 'Sowbagyavathi' getting attracted to some beautiful princess and kidnapping her, in order to forcefully marry her. He would have also made children cry as Lord Yama in 'Savithri'and King Hiranyakhasib in 'Bhaktha Prahalath'.But he became an endearing spirit in the role of Kadothgaja in 'Maya Bazaar' and made every one enjoy all the scenes he occupied.He had also acted as a Pallava King in the guise of a Lord Siva devotee, in the historical fiction based film Paarthiban Kanavu.
Renga Rao was also a formidable villain in films like 'Annaiyin Anai' 'Raaja' both,with Sivaji Ganesan and later in 'Nam Naadu' with MGR. As a cruel character called Parobhakaram, [ which means 'service' in English]with an infatuation for his friend's wife,it was a memorable role he played in the first of the three movies mentioned above.He performed it so well that everybody hated him for his role in that movie.Similarly, in the role of a manipulative capitalist with a shady personal past, he performed brilliantly in Gemini Pictures'Irumbuthirai,starring Sivaji Ganesan and Vaijayanthimala.
It was usually in the role of father of heroes and heroines did he make an amazing impact. That too as a wealthy man with notions of status and snobbery or charity and generosity,he would always remain as the one and only choice, because of his innate aristocratic look and demeanour. Movies like,'Sabash Meena','Padikkadha Medhai','Bandha Pasam' Padithaal Mattum Poedhuma' 'Kathirundha Kangal''Kai Kodutha Deivam' 'Enga Veetu Pillai' 'Manidhan Maaravillai' and 'Vaazhaiyadi Vaazhai' are a few samples in this regard.
But it was in 'Padikkadha Medhai' as a rich man, who lost his riches and was left in the lurch by his children,he became the true face of fallen aristocracy not failing in spirit.His performance as a powerful family patriarch and later as a pathetic old man not falling into self pity was the hallmark of perfection.Here,he installed his position as an actor of spontaneity and magnificence.It was his special appeal in playing character roles with extraordinary dynamism, that pulled him closer to director K.S.Gopalakrishnan,thereby making him almost a regular artist in the films of many movies [including Selvam, Saradha and 'Kan Kanda Dheivam' ]of this great director.
Again in 'Karpagam' as a thoughtful father-in-law looking for a second wife to his widowed son-in-law,whom he respected a lot, Renga Rao carried on an impressive show of his felicitous acting skill. This grandeur in performance was also noticed in his role as a father-in-law, prejudiced against his blackish daughter-in-law in' Nanum Oru Pen' her blackness being the cause of prejudice.But soon the prejudices were over taken by credentials of feminine virtues and the hatred mellowed down into a deep bond of love between a father and daughter.As the father of a mentally immature daughter in 'Kai Kodutha Deivam',he really looked pathetic and finally when that daughter committed suicide because of his scolding,his sadness aggravated with the compunction of having been wild to an innocent soul.
Renga Rao's sense of humour was spontaneous and enjoyable in K.S.Gopalakrishnan's 'Pesum Deivam' in which the actor donned the character of a rich old man, with unflinching faith in Lord Venkateshwara. The speed in his voice modulation, from the height of anger and anxiety, to the base of calmness and acceptance of reality was a common characteristic of Renga Rao's acting style.The last film of this distinguished actor that I watched was 'Anbu Sagodharargal',a film on the grandeur and complexities of sibling love and joint family system.This tall actor played the role of the eldest of all brothers in that film, pouring forth emotions of joy and depression in his own,inimitable, natural way. Ranga Rao was so passionate an actor that his place as father, as villain and as character actor still remains void.