Centenary tribute

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As we celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema this year, 2012 is also the centenary year of Bommireddy Nagi Reddy, the veteran filmmaker from South India.

Born in Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh on December 2, 1912, Nagi Reddy was a pioneer in the real sense of the term. A doyen of Indian film industry, B Nagi Reddy’s contributions to the society was immense and he touched the heart of the common man in many ways.

Here was a man from a humble background who conquered his dreams despite many trials and tribulations. He broke new ground in whichever industry he laid his hands on. Be it printing, film production, health care and even publishing, Nagi Reddy always led the way and there was no stopping him in all that he ventured into. Wanting to give back to society, he even started Vijaya Hospitals in Chennai, which provides quality health care at a nominal rate.

Nagi Reddy has produced over 50 films in all four south Indian languages as well as in Hindi. His oeuvre included mythological, devotional and historical movies — primarily in Telugu — for four long decades. Making classics was his strong point. Interestingly, his filmmaking was preceded by the setting up of the Vijaya Vahini Studio in Chennai, which was Asia’s biggest film studio then.

A remarkable facet of Nagi Reddy’s film production was his friendship with Aluri Chakrapani — the legendary screen writer. He made most of his films in association with Chakrapani. So close and intense was the association that he stopped producing movies after the death of Chakrapani.

Nagi Reddy’s Telugu films were rightly called golden films. Whether it is Patal Vairavi (1951), Missamma (1955), Maya Bazaar (1957) or Gundamma Katha (1962), these films are timeless wonders. The critically acclaimed Maya Bazaar is considered as one of the enduring classics of Indian cinema. It was a landmark achievement in Indian film’s cinematography, art direction and visual effects, considering the technology available at the time. A digitally remastered colour version was released in 2010.

Gundamma Katha is also a milestone film in the Telugu hinterland. The cast was superb — N T Rama Rao, A Nageswara Rao, Savitri, Vijaya Laxmi, Yamuna and of course, the redoubtable Relangi. This film was also a musical masterpiece. Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao scored dazzling tunes while lyricist Pingali Nagendra Rao coined some wonderful expressions. With the use of excellent narrative skills by the director Kamalakara Kameswara Rao, the right cast and stupendous camera work by Marcus Bartley, Chakrapani-Nagi Reddy gave a wholesome entertainer.

Producer Chakrapani later made the Tamil version of Gundamma Katha as Manithan Maravillai. But it flopped in the box office and was no match for the amazing success of the Telugu original. Gundamma Katha is regarded as the last film of Vijaya Studio’s ‘Golden Age’. Nagi Reddy also made some Hindi movies and these too were hits — Ram Aur Shyam, Julie, Swarg Narak, Shriman Shrimati and Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani For his enormous contributions to Indian — mostly Telugu and Tamil — cinema, Nagi Reddy got several awards along with the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 1986.

Nagi Reddy’s foray into publishing began with Andhra Jyoti in 1945 and Chandamama — the children magazine published in 12 Indian languages — just after independence. He was also the publisher of The Heritage, a monthly magazine on art and culture, edited by the veteran writer and novelist Manoj Das. The magazine stopped publication after five years.

B Nagi Reddy’s multi-hued personality was something of a legend. This veteran filmmaker passed away on February 25, 2004, leaving behind a rich legacy of movies, unmatched in the history of Indian cinema.

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