His budding life was cut short when he was stabbed to death on the Osmania University campus
On April 14, 1972, the city of Hyderabad was jolted with the news that popular student leader George Reddy, a research student of Nuclear Physics at Osmania University was stabbed to death on campus by opponents. He was just 25. However, five decades after the incident, George continues to live on in public memory especially through the medium of cinema.
Normally, we see mythological characters being represented on screen repeatedly. It is rare for real-life individuals to be taken as an inspiration in films regularly, especially if they are not in public life. But George Reddy’s life was motivational enough to figure in three films made to date. Which brings us to the question: What was unique about this young student, whose very name evokes goose bumps long after he is gone? What was the charisma of this multi-faceted personality that led to a small hamlet in Nalgonda district of Telangana naming itself ‘George Reddy Gudem’?
Conventional wisdom states that students brilliant at academics tend to focus on nothing else whereas it is the back benchers who are usually the trouble-mongers. George broke both stereotypes. Not only was he a gold medalist in physics in his post-graduation, he was also a skilled martial artist unafraid to stand up to those who he felt were unfair in their actions and ideology. His daredevil attitude combined with his brilliant intellect naturally attracted a horde of followers. George became the go-to person for any student who was a victim in one way or the other.
At the core of the campus dispute in Osmania University then was a power struggle between the communist-affiliated student bodies and those affiliated to the Sangh Parivar. It was exactly the same situation that is prevalent on the JNU campus today in New Delhi. George was highly influenced by Che Guevara’s ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ and embarked on a bicycle journey of 150km from Hyderabad to Warangal. He met with the student leaders of various universities and garnered support for the ideology of Naxalism. In fact, it is a widely held belief that at the time of his death, George had made up his mind to join the underground Naxal movement. He championed his ideology through the auspices of the Progressive Democratic Students Union (PDSU) founded by him. Ironically though, George did not let any of this activity impinge on his academic prowess either.
Prior to enrolling for a PhD at Osmania University, George had also applied to the prestigious Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). He was called for an interview presided over by Professor Raghav who was so impressed with George that he later flew down to Hyderabad to coax George into doing his research at TIFR. However, George who was attached to Osmania University said he would continue at Osmania if he was accepted there as a research scholar.
As George continued to become a household name among both the student and political communities, his popularity soared along with his number of enemies. Hostilities reached such a crescendo that George who had escaped an earlier attempt on his life could not escape from the trap laid for him on the fateful student elections day on campus. He would always tell his friends, “I can handle anyone from the front. Just cover my back.” Unfortunately, he was all alone when he needed them the most.
Three films have since been made modeled on the life of George Reddy:
Directed by Tammareddy Bharadwaj, Alajadi saw Bhanuchander’s character of Ravi in the role of George. Tammareddy Bharadwaj was a friend of George Reddy and he actually claimed to have dropped George off at the campus on his scooter, on the day George was killed. The film was released in 1990.
Mani Ratnam designed the character of Michael (played by Suriya) along the lines of George Reddy. Understandably, he did take cinematic liberties and went in for a positive climax to depict the triumph of students over politicians in this 2004 film.
This was a biopic on the life of George Reddy by Jeevan Reddy starring Sandeep Madhav in the titular role. Many who watched this 2019 flick were divided in their opinion as to whether it was true to the original story or not. Nevertheless, the publicity for the film brought the limelight back again on George and the incidents that transpired at Osmania University in the 1960s and 70s.
All the films failed at the box-office, yet the lead characters continue to live on in the memories of the audience in what is perhaps a fitting tribute to the ‘Che Guevara of Osmania University’ which is a way of saying that the spirit of George Reddy continues to live on. Fisticuffs, rallies, academics and political sloganeering were the order of the day during the times of George Reddy. The filmmakers can probably take solace from one slogan that resonates with fans of George Reddy, even today:
Jeena Hai Toh Marna Seekho
Kadam Kadam Par Ladna Seekho
(If you want to live, learn to die
Learn to fight every step of the way)
Updated date: Monday, 06 Feb 2023 - 7:53 PM