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Why AP Government named an award after Raghupathi Venkaiah.

The government of Andhra Pradesh introduced the Raghupathi Venkaiah Award to recognise lifetime achievements and contributions to Telugu cinema. Veteran filmmaker, late LV Prasad was the first recipient in 1980. Many legends of Telugu cinema followed. MA Rahman (Camera), BA Subbarao (Director), P Pilliah (director producer) ANR, B Nagi Reddy (director), Dr Dasari Narayana Rao…However, stalwarts like Narasraju, Marcus Bertly, Rushyendramani, B Padmanabham didn’t live to be felicitated, even as likes of Balasubramanyam, Jamuna, Mohan Babu, K Raghavendra Rao etc are yet to be honoured. Little wonder then that the selection procedure has attracted severe criticism.

The greatest name to have never won the hounour perhaps is Raghupathi Venkaiah himself. A pioneer of Telugu cinema, his contributions are quite simply jaw dropping. The father of Indian cinema, Dada Saheb Phalke made the first ever Indian movie, Raja Harishchandra in 1913. Raghupathi Venkaiah had been exhibiting films right from 1909! He sure deserves a fancy title or two.
He was born to Subedar Appaya Naidu and Seshamamba, in Bandar (Krishna district) in 1869. As a child, he was a talented artist and a sculptor. He moved to Chennai and set up his art gallery at Mount Road, while he was just 13 years old. He gradually learnt about photography and got hooked to it. It was around this time that he came across a news item that perhaps kick started the advent of cinema in south of India. It was about an instrument called the Chrono Megaphone that could relate sounds with pictures. He ordered the Chorno Megaphone from UK in 1909. It cost him Rs 30,000, a fortune in those days. He had to let out a portion of his photo studio to raise the money.

A short film called Under the Panama was the first film he exhibited at the Victoria function hall in 1910. He shot and exhibited about a dozen three-minute-long-short films. Thus began the business of film exhibition in Madras, perhaps all of India. While people loved the novelty, it did not make him any money. He soon set up the Dera Cinema Hall, the first ever rain proof exhibition centre. He travelled around Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and exhibited films. He also travelled to Sri Lanka and Rangoon (Burma of today) to exhibit his films. He started the Gaitey Talkies, the first ever permanent theatre in Madras, all of south India actually. He later constructed Crown Theater on Mint Street and Globe Theater in Parasuwakka, Chennai. He also exhibited American and British films. Some of the first movies shown in his theatres were Million Dollar Mystery, Mysteries of Meera, Clutching Hand, Broken Coin, Raja's Casket, Peral fish and Great Bard.

He started his film production company, Star of East Films in 1919. Wanting to make a feature film, he sent his son, Raghupathi Surya Prakash Naidu to study cinematography in London. Surya Prakash learnt his craft assisting Cecil B Demille, who directed the 1923 American epic silent film in 1923. Raghupathi Venkaiah Naidu and his son Prakash made their first movie Meenakshi Kalyanam around actual locations of the Madurai Meenakshi temple. Later, they produced films like Gajendra Moksham, Mathsyavatharam, and Nandanaar. The father son duo also made Bhishma Pratigna, the first ever Telugu silent film. In all, fifty actors were featured in the film and it was exhibited all over the country with subtitles.

He started another film production house called Guarantee Pictures Corporation along with partners. A couple of films like Dasavataram (1927) and Kovalam (1928) made on the banner flopped and he apparently ran into debts. Raghupathi Venkaiaha left the movie business to his son, stepping back from the business. He passed away in 1941 leaving behind a rich and unparalleled legacy...