A Sankranti Flashback

It was the rocky terrain between our colony and Banjara Hills. The battle lines were drawn. There were probably 5 or 6 on our side, ranging in age from 10 – 12. On the other side, three of them : Nagarjuna (son of ANR, the top hero of Telugu movie industry at that time), his sidekick and a dog. We had never seen Nagarjuna before, but knew of him through movie industry gossip. It was Sankranti season, which is also the kite flying season in Hyderabad.


Nothing stands out as more uniquely Hyderabadi than the “pathang” (kite flying) season. This typically starts off about a month before January 14th, which is Sankranti, the harvest festival. In the countryside it is celebrated with uniquely farmer centric festivities, but in the city it is always the kite flying! There would be thousands of kites of all different colors and sizes. Kids would be flying these from the roof tops and getting into friendly (and sometimes not-so friendly) kite-fights, where the goal is for you to cut the other guy’s “maanja” (thread coated with finely crushed glass). Everyone has his own closely guarded secret as to how they achieve this! Once the thread is cut the winner gloats by loudly screaming and cheering. The “loser” sadly and quietly sulks and winds up his “charkha” to come back with a new pathang/kite and maybe better maanja and/or technique. But the kite that was cut loose and is freely floating away is free for anyone to grab. This is the secondary fun aspect of the whole game. Those who catch these and use them in their own “fights” are experts in their own right and have a fan following as well.

Sankranti Kite Flying in today’s Hyderabad

This brings us back to the tense standoff on those rocks, during the Sankranti season circa 1972. Shockingly, it appeared like these guys from the Banjara Hills high society had come down to the middle class neighborhood to run after and catch some wayward kites! We, of course, were there purely to protect our turf! They were definitely out of place and encroached into our “ilaqa” (territory). Maybe his dad (ANR) did not have that conversation about the shadowy places in the rocks where Nagarjuna was not supposed to go to (obviously this was way before Mufasa had a similar conversation with Simba). We had so many questions : “These guys are stinking rich, why are they running after these cheap kites? They can probably buy hundreds or even thousands if they want to”. We were genuinely puzzled, but they were probably in it for the same adventure and thrills that we were seeking. Also, they were probably curious to see how the commoners lived and played.

The battlefield

The fight started, like all fights do, with a barrage of finely targeted insults at the appropriate family members (“yo mama is ..” type). Then someone from our side came up with a gem – “Your dad is having an affair with Vani Sree”! Vani Sree was the leading lady in many of ANR’s movies at that time. I was super impressed with the kid in our group who had this kind of general knowledge (“National Inquirer/ People Magazine” level gossip). I am not even sure if this “insult” ever made it all the way to the enemy side, but it did score a lot of points on our side, with everyone in agreement that it was a brilliant zinger! I am not sure who threw the first stone, but they started flying fast and furious. We outnumbered them 2 to 1, yet no one scored a hit! We heard them trying to sic the dog onto us (“Smoky” I believe his name was). In the end the whole thing fizzled out. We all ran out of steam and insults to throw. It definitely wasn’t the rocks. There were plenty of them. Luckily no one got hurt. The whole incident probably lasted less than 10 minutes. We all went back to our families and bragged about how we saved the colony from invading movie star kids!

It’s amazing that this is still in my memory after almost half a century! I have to see if any of my buddies who were there remember this incident. I am pretty sure that Nagarjuna (who is now a super star in his own right) thinks about the incident every year at Sankranti time 🤪. I can very well imagine who the heroes and villains are in his retelling of the incident.

Anecdotally Speaking

(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.

The happening scene on Road No. 1, Banjara Hills!

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.

In front of the famous rocks of SVR Colony (circa 1970). I’m the one on the far left. (pc. Surekha)

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…