Paul Muni of India- Chittoor V.Nagayya
Great actor, great musician, singer, composer, producer and director and above all a great human being with heart full of gold. He was the first celebrity from South India to be awarded Padma shri by the Government of India. The great film journalist Sri Baburao Patel of Film India called him as “The Paul Muni of India”.
Nagayya was born on 28th March 1904 in Chittoor district, Andhra Pradesh. His parents were Ramalinga Sharma and Venkata Lakshmamma. He learnt Classical music under Sri Chittoor Perayya Pillai. His first brush with stage took place when he was a child. He played the role of “Prahlada” under the famous“ Surabhi Theatrical group”. His father, however, had different plans and was against his son being an actor and sent him to Tirupathi for studies. He worked as a teacher after graduating in B.A and then as a clerk in a Government Office. Later he turned into a Journalist with “Andhra Patrika”.
That was the time of Indian Freedom Movement. He was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru and participated in freedom struggle(Dandi Satyagraha)in 1930. Nagayya acted in plays associated with freedom movement. “Ballarai Raghava” the famous Telugu Drama artist offered him a role of Kabirdas in Bhakta Ramadas drama. This role inspired him a lot. His liking for the fine arts found himself working with Gramphone companies like Hutchins. He had the patronage of the legendary personalities in Carnatic music “Musiri Subramanya Iyer” and and “G.N Bala Subramaniyam”. He attended the Guwahati Congress Conclave alongwith Srinivas Iyengar. He impressed Kamala Nehru in her residence ‘Anand Bhavan’ in Allahabad with his musical skills.
He met Dadasaheb Phalke with a letter of recommendation from his relative the great Engineer “Mokshagundam Vishweshwaraya” and joined in the editing department of Phalke. Later he joined Madras Andhra Maha Sabha, a popular cultural association. He met B.N.Reddy in Madras during a drama. B.N.Reddy was a famous film maker in South at that time and he developed a life time friendship with B.N.Reddy. He was introduced to Shri H.M.Reddy who offered him a role as the brother of Popular Heroine P.Kannamba in Grihalakshmi (1938). Later he acted in several hit movies “Vande Matharam(1939), Sumangali(1940), Devata(1941), Bhakta Potana (1942), Swarga Seema(1945), Thyagayya (1946) and Yogi Vemana (1947) were huge hits. He started getting offers in Telugu and Tamil equally and he became a super star. He was the highest paid actor and the remuneration was Rs one lakh per movie in those days. His performance influenced a boy who later turned into a saint and became popular as “Balayogi”. The film “ Thyagayya “ is the story of one of the Carnatic music trinity Thyagaraja Swamy. This film was released in 1946. It is considered to be the greatest Classical film of the South Indian Film history. This movie was produced under his own banner “Renuka films”. He was the director, script writer, Music director and actor of this film. Another Music hit of Nagayya was “Chakradhari(1948) based on the story of Maharashtrian potter-saint “Ghora Kumbhar”. M.S.Subbulakshmi the famous Carnatic Vocalist also happens to be his contemporary. He also acted with her in the great musical movie Chandra Prabha Cinetone’s “Meera(1947) in Hindi version. He acted in more than 200 films in Telugu and 160 films in Tamil, Kannada and Hindi combined. He produced ‘Naa Illu( My home)’ in 1953 and Bhakta Ramadas in 1964 which turned out to be failures and he lost all of his wealth. He played as ‘Valmiki’ the revered saint and writer of Indian mythological “Ramayana” in Lava Kusha(1964).
Nagayya was distinct in his approach towards mankind. He always used to salute every traffic constable while travelling in car. He felt it as a respect he was offering to them since they stand under the sun for hours together only to help and guide the people. His unselfishness surpassed the limits and was the root cause for his fiscal devastation. He treated everybody as true friend and gave liberty to everyone to take total advantage of his benevolence due to his innocence. In those days whoever went to Chennai to try their luck in films used to stay in his office. He used to offer food and shelter till they were settled.Most of the time he went out of the way to help people in distress. He was very simple and humble all the time. In fact he was humility personified. He had no children of his own yet he was called “father” by the most of the people in the film industry since he treated everybody as his own children.