The story in a road name

B.N. Reddi.  


On the verandah — and that Club verandah group's contribution to this column is something I forgot to mention in my recollection of its history in The Hindu's celebration on November 28 of 10 years of MetroPlus — the talk turned to road names the other evening. And B.N. Reddi Road in T'Nagar (once the northern half of North Boag Road and now curiously labelled Narasimhan Road) was not named after B. Nagi Reddi, as I had always thought. It was named after his elder brother Bommireddi Narasimha Reddi, who long preceded him in films, I discovered. And the search for B.N. Reddi's work revealed how much he had contributed to the early film industry in Madras.

B.N. Reddi was a theatre buff, often seen at the plays regularly staged at the Victoria Public Hall. It was there that he met H.M. Reddi, who had already made a name for himself as a film-maker. The two teamed together with Moola Narayana Swamy, a business partner of B.N. Reddi's father, and, as Rohini Pictures, produced Grihalakshmi (1938). The film was a success but not the partnership. B.N. Reddi and Narayana Swamy then teamed with K. Ramnoth and A.K. Sekhar, to promote Vauhini Pictures — named after B.N. Reddi's daughter.

Vauhini's first film was Vande Mataram (1939), which Reddi directed and Ramnoth scripted. Its hero was Chittoor C. Nagaiah whom Reddi had first spotted on the VPH stage. With the film's success Reddi was hailed as having launched the golden age of Telugu cinema; with it too was born a star. Over the next few years, there was every year a B.N. Reddy-Nagaiah hit. By which time the partnership had established Vauhini Studio with a Rs. 2.5 lakh investment, the bulk of it Narayana Swamy's.

After 1942, Nagaiah moved into Tamil films. And so did others in the Vauhini team. B.N. Reddi continued to direct films till 1966, but slowly began to distance himself from the film industry. By then, his younger brother, Nagi Reddi, wanted to move on from the onion export business and was looking for a new opportunity. Teaming with his friend Sudhakar Rao better known as Chakrapani, he started Vijaya Productions. In 1948, Narayana Swamy was in financial difficulty with the government. Vauhini was leased to Vijaya and Vijaya-Vauhini was born. In 1961, Vijaya finally acquired Vauhini Studios.

‘The Vijaya Twins', as they were to become known, launched Vijaya Productions with a serious Telugu social film, scripted by Chakrapani and titled Sahukaru (1949). Its cast of newcomers included N.T. Rama Rao, S.V. Ranga Rao and a feisty young woman called Janaki. The trio were to go far from these beginnings in a critically-acclaimed film but one which failed at the box office. It, however, bequeathed Janaki a name that still remains with her: ‘Sowcar'.

Deciding that they needed to reach out to the popular market if they were to be successful, Nagi Reddi and Chakrapani decided to make a series of social comedies. Pelli Chesi (1952) was the first of them. Starring Rama Rao and Ranga Rao, the film was a runaway success in Telugu and Tamil — and later in Kannada. Vijaya Productions was on its way to become one of the most successful film production units in India. But there's still no B. Nagi Reddi Road.