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Deccan Herald » Spectrum » Detailed Story
End of a path-breaking journey
Pattabhi Rama Reddy who died recently was a true Renaissance man, says Michael Patrao. He was a film-maker, poet, mathematician, socialist, theatre producer and director.
 
Pattabhi Rama Reddy, who died in Bangalore recently, at the age of 87, was truly a renaissance man. He was well-known as a film-maker, but what was little known was that he was also a poet, a mathematician, a socialist, theatre producer and director.

He had a chequered career and his path traversed many parts of the country and the world before he found his moorings in Bangalore. A long journey indeed for someone who was born in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh on February 2, 1919.

Poetry and mathematics are strange bedfellows, but Reddy had an abiding interest in both these subjects. Reddy was greatly influenced by Rabindranath Tagore in Shantiniketan, where he studied for two years. He joined Calcutta University for his master's degree in English literature and stayed in a dingy room on Lower Chitpur Road in Calcutta. The poverty, the din, the squalor, and the human misery around shocked him to the core.The exploitation in the midst of crass commercialism disturbed him very much.

Disconnect

The metaphors of Tagore's poetry suddenly lost its meaning. It had become difficult for him to concentrate on his studies in Calcutta and he returned to Nellore. He reluctantly entered his family business of mica export at Gudur, and very often travelled between Madras and Nellore.

During his visits to Madras, he used to meet Sri Sri and Mallavarapu Visweswara Rao, both revolutionary poets. It is during this time he wrote Ragala Dozen (A Dozen Melodies), a collection that recorded his observations in Madras and Nellore and became one of the first free-verse poets in Telugu. Reddy later went on to study Mathematics in Columbia University.

Back in Madras he became an active member of Madras Players Amateur Theatres and produced and directed many plays. Snehalata also acted in Madras Players which also included Girish Karnad. Reddy rejected his ancestral wealth, broke ties with his family to wed Snehalata. He was reunited with his father only during his last days.

During the Emergency, Snehalatha was accused of concealing information about the whereabouts of George Fernandes (who later become Union Minister in successive governments), a trade union leader, whose arrest had been ordered in the Emergency roundup. Snehalata Reddy known to be a friend of Mr Fernandes, denied knowledge of Fernandes' whereabouts. She was jailed and interrogated for eight months. An asthmatic deprived of medicine, she fell seriously ill and was released just before her death. She died in January 1977.

Before foraying into the Kannada cinema world, he had a dalliance with the Telugu film industry, having produced Sri Krishnarjuna Yuddam and Pellinaati Pramaanalu in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He founded Jayanthi Pictures in association with K V Reddy and P N Reddy and produced the Telugu film, Pellinaati Pramanalu, which bagged the National award.

Parallel cinema movement

With his film Samskara (1970) he pioneered the parallel cinema movement in Kannada and ushered in the trend of experimental films in Kannada. Samskara not only brought international acclaim but has been recognised as a path-breaking attempt in Kannada and everybody who had been associated with it are names to be reckoned with.

It is arguably the first Kannada film to make an impact nationally. It won the national award for the Best Feature Film in 1971.

The film was made by an unlikely team of creative persons coming together. The director Reddy, was trained in Columbia, writer-actor Girish Karnad, was Oxford educated, the cameraman Tom Cowan was an Australian, the editor was Stevan Cartaw an Englishman and the story was based on the novel by U R Ananthamurthy, a professor of English literature, and the music director, Rajiv Taranath was also a professor of English and sarod artiste, a disciple of the legendary Ali Akbar Khan. The leading actress in Samskara was Snehalata.

Reddy made films sporadically, but all his films - Chanda Marutha (1977), Shrungara Masa (1984) and Devara Kadu (1993) won State awards.

Age had not mellowed his creative abilities. Even while in his eighties he scripted In the hour of Goda reinterpretation of Aurobindo’s Savitri, as a tribute to his wife Snehalata. It was originally meant to be a film in Hindi and English, with Tabu in the lead, but when the financier backed out it was made into a stage presentation.

He was closely associated with the Socialist movement in the State. The social concerns of Pattabhi Rama Reddy has manifested in the work of his daughter Nandana Reddy. A trade union lawyer, she along with Damodar Acharya established The Concerned for Working Child (CWC) in 1980 to focus on child labour. His son Konarak Reddy is a noted flemenco guitarist and is an accomplished artiste in his own right.
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