(Name Dropping like a Boss… 😊 )
My voice has always been faint. I joked that if I ever was in trouble and needed to scream to save my life, that would be the end of me for sure. There I was standing at the gate of this very unique cottage-like house on Banjara Hills Road No. 1. Screaming at top of my lungs (so I thought). “Un-day, Un-day” (rhymes with “sunday”). That is just the Hindi word for eggs. I was probably 10 or 11 years old. It was my assigned chore to go buy eggs from this particular place. In the posh Banjara Hills area, this “poultry” was quite an incongruence. It was the house of a retired government official (IAS officer). It seems his married son lived there and raised chickens in a small shed on that cute compound, probably as a hobby. They were Muslims and probably Hindi/Urdu speakers, hence my use of the Hindi, instead of my mother tongue of Telugu. I used to show up with my egg carton once every couple of weeks and scream “Un-Day” and that gentleman would take the plastic carton and fill it up with half dozen eggs. Of all the chores that I helped out at that time, this was the one that I hated the least. The other ones, like getting wheat or chickpeas milled into flour at the at the ‘girni’ (flour mill) in the neighboring colony meant walking with a bucket full of wheat, past my friends who would be having fun playing and for some reason that was embarrassing for ten year old me. They all probably had servants or parents themselves taking care of these type of tasks and I was convinced that they were all looking-down on me and mocking me lugging the bucket down the street. I did not have the smarts or the self-confidence at that time to turn it into a “Tom-Sawyer-painting-the-fence” type of clever retort or comeback.
That Sunday morning, as I left with my carton full of eggs, I noticed the tourist bus pull up in front of the palatial home of ANR, just about a block from the poultry-house. Akkineni Nageswara Rao (ANR), was one of two top matinee idols of the Telugu movie industry at that time. ANR and NTR (the other heartthrob hero of that time) were the equivalent of “Raj Kapoor and Devanand” of Bollywood or “Paul Newman and Robert Redford” of Hollywood, in popularity.
ANR acted in 250 movies in a career spanning 7 decades. He ruled the roost of Telugu movie industry for decades and was at his peak in the 60s and 70s. He was credited for single-handedly moving the Telugu industry from Madras (current day Chennai) , which was the center of the the industry back then, to Hyderabad. He built this house in Banjara Hills in the late 60s. We kids from our neighborhood walked around the construction site when the building was going up and marveled at the number of rooms, the sizes of these rooms and the marble flooring. Once his family started living there we never saw them. We would walk by hoping to catch a glimpse of him, but the best we did was to see the gardener watering the roses.
That of course was good enough for us. We went around telling everyone that we lived so close to ANR’s house that we even saw his gardener! While Banjara Hills was sparsely populated by the super rich, we lived in SVR Nagar, a middle class colony of mostly government employees, living in one or two storied houses packed tightly with compound walls separating them. The women typically were housewives. Kids played cricket or dodgeball or Gilli-Danda in the small patch of land or sometimes right on the road in front of our house. The area between our house and Road No. 1 of Banjara Hills was full of rocks (some as high as 20 – 30 feet) and hillocks. Growing up, we used to spend hours playing hide-and-seek and “rock climbing” on these. Today, every inch of this land is “developed” – a euphemism for filling up of all open spaces with houses, apartments/flats and shopping malls.
Back in the simpler times of the early 70s – I had heard about ANR’s house being on the tourist map of Hyderabad, along with Charminar, Salar Jung Museum, Golconda Fort and Birla Mandir. But this was the first time I actually saw a tourist bus pull up. A crowd of tourists piled out and were standing in front of the gate, probably admiring the gardens and rose bushes. When I saw the gates open up and the tourists rush in, I ran and joined them, with an egg carton full of fresh eggs in my hand. The excitement was palpable! There he was, standing just a few feet outside the house, on the driveway. He looked fresh, and was wearing traditional Andhra Panche-kattu. He started off with very warm and friendly pleasantries. Just a casual conversation, of the kind that happens in every household. From the accents and the dressing style, I could tell that the tourists were all farmers from rural Andhra Pradesh (our state). There was some back and forth about farming season, harvests and rains that I could only get a gist of. After all, I was a city-bred ten year old. For someone who was “up there” in social status and riches, I remember him being extremely cordial and empathetic. He exhibited genuine interest in their well-being. There was a barrage of questions from the crowd about his upcoming movies and heroines that he will be acting with in these. Unfortunately, I did not know enough about his movies to get anything more than a surface level grasp of this part of the conversation either. Soon after, he bid the group good bye, turned around and went back in. There were no photos or selfies to capture the moment for posterity! Just indelible images stored away forever, only to be recollected for a future blog such as this. Of course, I came home with an ear-to-ear grin and some exaggerated stories to regale my family and friends.
Flashback in black and white
Within the next year, I got to see ANR one more time, at an outdoor filming of a song for a Telugu movie. This was also on the same Road Number 1, just a couple blocks to the right of the poultry. These sort of movie shoots used to be fairly commonplace in Banjara Hills and later in Jubilee Hills. We got word through the Colony grapevine that there was one happening with ANR and Kanchana (heroine). We rushed there and hung around for hours outside the house where two lines (literally 2 lines!) of a song were shot for hours in the front yard of the house. There was a horde of tech people manning cameras, lights and reflectors. I found this first exposure to movie-making to be fascinating. After watching several such shoots, I realized that, for the creative and artsy people who are involved in fine-tuning the scenes this could be fun, but for the rest (even fanboys like me) it could easily get tedious and boring. After rushing over and watching a few more such shoots, I got over the thrill very quickly. Over the years I did “meet” a couple of movie stars – one from the ANR era and another one closer to my age, in very interesting circumstances. But that story’s for another post…