Kantharao, Rajanala, Gummadi Venkateswara Rao, Sudarsan, Madhu, Sarangapani, Ramana Reddy, Savitri, Girija, Seetha, Gangarathnam, Jayalakshmi

Besides pioneering the Telugu talkie, H.M. Reddy also introduced many new faces to the film industry notable among them were T.L. Kantharao and Rajanala. In later years, the duo became a much- sought-after hero-villain combination in folklore movies. They also proved their worth in social films and mythologies. Along with these two, H. M. Reddy introduced, in his movie Pratigna, a body-builder and winner of the Mr. Mysore title, Sudarsan. The three were signed on a monthly pay of Rs. 250, with the stipulation that they should not take up any other assignment.

 Hanumanthappa Muniappa Reddy was a considerate person. During travel from his residence (next to the present day Palmgrove Hotel near the Gemini Circle, Chennai) to his Rohini Studios (which later became Golden Studios after changing hands and is now an FCI godown) in Virugambakkam, whenever he spotted any of his staff, whether an actor, technician or a carpenter, he used to stop his car and give them a lift in his vehicle. No wonder that he was affectionately referred to by film-folks as ‘Pappaji.’

Kantharao debuts

The first stage experience of Tadepalli Lakshmi Kantharao, who hailed from Gudibanda in Nalgonda district, was in a school play, Sati Sakkubai as Lord Krishna. He later joined the Surabhi Nataka Samajam where he was for about three months. In one of the Surabhi plays, Gayopakhyanam Kantharao acted as Narada for the first time, a role that he later perfected on the screen in films as Sri Krishna Thulabharam and Seetharama Kalyanam. To try his luck in films, Kantharao landed in Madras and stayed with his childhood friend T. Krishna, who was working as an assistant director under H.M. Reddy.   He got a small role, with just one dialogue, in the movie Nirdoshi, which H.M. Reddy was then making. But impressed by his looks and enthusiasm, Reddy asked his writer to add a few more lines for the new-comer. He then sought the opinion of his cinematographer P.L. Roy, who replied that the boy’s face was photogenic. Immediately, the veteran filmmaker told Kantharao, ‘You are the hero in my next movie.’ But Kantharao had to wait for almost a year to play the hero in Pratigjna as Reddy was preoccupied with the projects he had already launched.

Arrival of Rajanala

Rajanala Kallaiah, a revenue inspector from Nellore, also arrived in Madras almost at the same time to be a movie actor. He submitted to the filmmaker a still of his from the play, Ida prapancham. When he had finalised the script for Pratigjna, Reddy felt the antagonist role would suit Rajanala. But he had lost the photograph. So he asked his production-in-charge K.V. Rao (who later worked with legends such as Bapu, besides writing film-related articles under the assumed name Swami Chitrananda) to locate him. A telegram was sent to ‘Rajanala Kallaiah, Revenue Inspector, Nellore’ and the next day Kallaiah was at Rohini Pictures office. Reddy felt that Kallaiah was too old fashioned a name and advised him to act under his surname Rajanala.

Interestingly, Reddy had seen Sudarsan’s photograph in the magazine, ‘Sports & Pastime’ brought out by The Hindu. Through his friend in Mysore, he contacted him.

Savitri played the village belle, while Girija acted as the hero’s sister. The film was launched in two versions, Telugu and Tamil (titled Vanjam). H.M. Reddy entrusted the job of directing the movie to his nephew Y.R. Swamy. Pratigna

The way the hero expresses his anguish while taking his vow before the goddess was a straight lift from Sivaji Ganesan’s Parasakthi. Sri Sri wrote most of the lyrics tuned by T.A. Kalyanam. One of the songs, Saganee jeevitham jorugaa (rendered by A.M. Raja) was ‘inspired’ by Talat Mahmood ’s rendition, Ay mere dil kahin aur chal  composed by Shankar-Jaikishan, for Daag (1952).

Kantharao has narrated an interesting anecdote in his autobiography Anaganaga Oka Raakumarudu’  Rajanala tried for the lead character, but due to his tough looks, H.M. Reddy felt he was better suited for the villain’s role. A peeved Rajanala tried to slight Kantharao at every opportunity and somehow managed to get his name appear first in the title card. He spread word that he was the hero of the movie. Since his name appeared first and since both of them were newcomers, many mistook Rajanala for Kantharao and Kantharao for Rajanala. It took a while for Kantharao to clear the confusion. “He always tried to compete with me, but I never had any animosity towards him and we remained good friends,” Kantharao writes in the book.

Both versions of the movie failed at the box-office. However Pratigjna ran reasonably well in Vijayawada and by shifting theatres it celebrated 100 days function at Rama Talkies.

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