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Blast from the past

Niraparadhi 1951

Anjali Devi, G. Varalakshmi, Lakshmikantha, Mukkamala Krishnamurthi, Kona Prabhakar Rao and Appa K. Doraiswamy

complicated story Niraparadhi

H. M. Reddi, the ‘Grand Old Man Of South Indian Cinema’, produced and directed Niraparadhi in Tamil and Telugu. Lawyer-turned-actor Krishnamurthi who was active in Telugu cinema for a while and also tried his hand at direction without much success, played the hero, a barrister. Niraparadhi is a long and complicated story, moving from the city to the countryside, in which Anjali Devi plays a double role — that of the heroine and a stage actress of questionable morals. The villain (Prabhakar Rao) is a rural Shylock who cheats folks to make money. There is also a vamp (G. Varalakshmi) to complicate matters. The resemblance of the good-natured heroine to the stage actress creates considerable misunderstanding between the educated hero and the docile heroine. Expectedly, the villain exploits the situation. However, all is well that ends well and true love triumphs.

Anjali Devi excels in the double role. G. Varalakshmi as the vamp lives the role. As Krishnamurthy could not speak Tamil well, the pioneer filmmaker Reddi decided to have someone dub for him. That was when he spotted a struggling stage actor, Sivaji Ganesan! He was engaged on a princely remuneration of Rs. 500. (Sivaji later told this writer he received only Rs. 200. He never saw the rest of the money!) In those days, the names of dubbing artistes never appeared in the title-credits and Sivaji Ganesan remained anonymous and had to wait for one more year for Parasakthi (1952) to happen. This fact of film history is not known to many. It marked Sivaji’s foray into cinema though his face did not appear on screen.

Kona Prabhakar Rao, a lawyer from Bapatla in Andhra Pradesh, entered films as villain (Prasad’s hit film Drohi), and also acted as hero (Excuse Me or Mangalasutram) and directed some Telugu films without much success. Later he entered politics where he was successful. He held high offices and was the Governor of Maharashtra for a while.

Hanumappa Muniappa Reddi, a Mysorean, who began life in the silent cinema days in Bangalore, made his way to Bombay during the late 1920s to work in silent films where he made some progress. He began to direct movies and won the distinction of directing the icon of Hindi cinema Prithviraj Kapoor in his debut Vijaykumar. He also made history directing the first Tamil talkie Kalidas (1931) and also Telugu Bhaktha Prahaladha (1931). After a short stint in Kolhapur, he moved to Madras where he joined hands with a creative audit apprentice who on his own forged ahead to create Telugu film history under his iconic name B. N. Reddi! Sadly, however, H. M. Reddi’s later days proved unproductive for many reasons and he faded from prominence.

The film also introduced a young boy, Madhu, a member of Reddi’s family who created a good impact as a child artiste. Later, he moved behind the camera and built up a reputation as a talented cinematographer.

Remembered for the impressive performance of Anjali Devi in a difficult double role and the arresting screen presence of G. Varalakshmi.


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