Ramoji Rao, the versatile genius who revolutionised media industry, passes away at 87 (2024)

Ramoji Rao, the versatile genius who revolutionised media industry, passes away at 87 (1)Ramoji Rao, the versatile genius who revolutionised media industry, passes away at 87 (2)Ramoji Rao was the owner of the Ramoji Film City. (Credit: X/@DealsDhamaka)

Media baron and business tycoon Cherukuri Ramoji Rao passed away in Hyderabad on Saturday morning at the age of 87.

A versatile genius, Rao’s work is unparalleled across various fields, including media, films, hospitality, food and retail store chain. In 2016, he was honoured with Padma Bhushan, India’s second-highest civilian honour, for his contribution to journalism, literature and education.

The political and social history of Andhra Pradesh in the last five decades would be incomplete without a mention of Rao’s role and relevance. In many fields, his innovation and enterprise have taken the region to greater heights. The firms founded by him — Eenadu newspaper, the largest circulated Telugu daily, ETV channels, Ramoji Film City, said to be the world’s largest, Dolphin group of hotels, Margadarsi Chit Fund, film production company Ushakiran movies, Priya Foods and others — provided jobs to thousands and continue to impact the lives of millions in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and elsewhere.

In a condolence post on X, President Droupadi Murmu mentioned Rao as an “innovative entrepreneur”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called him a “visionary who revolutionised Indian media”. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said Ramoji was a “pioneering figure in the Indian media industry”. Telangana Chief Minister A Revanth Reddy credited him for “adding credibility to Telugu journalism”. A heartfelt note from Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister-designate N Chandrababu Naidu, who has been closely associated with the media doyen for the last four decades, said, “His way of saying good is good and bad is bad… brought me closer to him.” The Telangana government has decided to accord full state honours to Rao.

Condoling the death of its former chairman, the Editors Guild of India said Rao was “trailblazer in many ways” and he will be “best remembered as a media owner who on several occasions took on the establishment and fearlessly spoke truth to power”.

Newspaper revolution

Born on November 16, 1936 in Pedaparupudi of Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh, Rao’s rise from humble beginnings is legendary. He ventured into the media sector with the launch of ‘Annadata’, a magazine for peasants, in 1969. Before that, he was an advertising professional and owned Priya Pickles.

In 1974, he launched the Eenadu daily, which revolutionised the newspaper industry in undivided Andhra Pradesh and became the number one choice of Telugu readers in the next few years.


Senior journalist Mulugu Somasekhar said the Eenadu Group chairman introduced several firsts in Telugu media such as colour printing of newspapers, district editions, engaging stringers and contributors at Mandal level and using novel methods to reach remote areas by engaging RTC bus conductors to deliver newspapers there. He was also the one to introduce hyper-local tabloid editions. “Rao was the first to demonstrate the power of a newspaper by wholly backing a political party — Telugu Desam — and contributing to its victory in 1983. After N T Rama Rao came to power (in 1983), 80 per cent of the paper was balanced and critical of the government. The paper was highly professional,” Somasekhar said.

Rao’s association with legendary actor-turned-politician N T Rama Rao can be traced back to the same caste and same district they hailed from. Rao was inclined towards communism in his student days and nursed political ambitions. It was perhaps this sense of politics that brought him closer to NTR when the latter decided to launch his political party and invoke Telugu pride. Rao’s Eenadu was already a strong critic of the Congress government and found a natural ally in NTR and later his son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu. He is credited with playing a pivotal role in the rise of NTR as a politician. Rao’s association with TDP earned him the moniker “kingmaker”.

Rao also waged political battles with Congress chief ministers — late Y S Rajashekhar Reddy and his son Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy. In June 2023, the AP Crime Investigation Department accused Rao-owned Margadarsi Chit Funds of cheating, financial irregularities and money laundering and Rao was named in seven FIRs.

The YSR Congress party often refers to Eenadu as “Yellow Media” for allegedly spreading propaganda against the Jagan government and also to suggest the newspaper’s proximity to TDP whose flag colour is yellow. In the run-up to the 2024 Andhra Pradesh elections, Eenadu ran a strong campaign against the Jagan government, once again playing a role in the TDP’s return to power.

Foray into films


Rao forayed into bankrolling films under Usha Kiran Movies. He produced over 50 films, started film distribution under Mayuri Film Distributors, launched the ETV network of TV channels in multiple languages, started an English daily — NewsTime — and also started Eenadu School of Journalism. He had to wind up NewsTime in the latter half of the 2000s, probably his only failure in the media business.

“His production ‘Mayuri’, which won actress Sudha Chandran a national award in 1985, was a story picked up from a news report about a girl who used a Jaipur foot (a prosthetic leg for people with below-knee amputations) to learn dancing… It shows how keen an eye he (Rao) had to pick up a news story and convert it to a feature film and get the national award,” said Somasekhar.

Senior journalist U Sudhakar Reddy said Rao’s understanding of the pulse of people made Eenadu newspaper a household name even as there were allegations of political bias. The paper gave a lot of importance to education news. “Rao was a man with Midas touch who transformed vision into reality. He used the newspaper for two things — to champion social change and to gather monetary support for victims of natural calamities such as earthquakes and tsunami,” said Reddy.

Rao and Eenadu are credited with pioneering Andhra’s anti-liquor movement, and several other social movements, including the one to protect water.

(With PTI inputs)

© The Indian Express Pvt Ltd

First uploaded on: 08-06-2024 at 08:08 IST


    Ramoji Rao, the versatile genius who revolutionised media industry, passes away at 87 (2024)
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