15th December is Bapu’s birthday, an opportune moment to re-confess the love and admiration for “Our Bapu”
Be it with his Budugu (that he created inspired by Ramana’s writing), the naughty kid who has endless questions to ask and is as much a menace as he is endearing; the fat aunty with a rolling pin and her hapless husband who look suspiciously familiar and remind one of the next door aunty and uncle; the sensuous sari clad women who with their large eyes, long plaited hair adorned with flowers and an inherent beauty that could only come from his effervescent brush – the artist, painter, cartoonist and film director Bapu (Sathiraju Lakshminarayana) had intertwined himself with Telugu households and one was introduced to the great man’s art as a young kid of the 80s, as naturally as he learnt to talk. And as the young kid grew into an adult and discovered the gamut of Bapu’s art, he inadvertently identified himself with it.
The most interesting aspect of his art is that it took a chip from different facets of life and drew from the typical Telugu household; bringing it closer to people. Bapu’s art evokes myriad emotions – a mother sees her mischievous son in Budugu, a married woman relives her sweet memories, while a young man imagines his dream girl. Bapu’s many paintings from Ramayana and other such works bring people closer to divinity.
As his art is versatile, so are his films. From the first film that he directed Saakshi to several landmark films like – Balaraju Katha (1968), Sampoorna Ramayanam (1971), Andala Ramudu (1973), Muthyala Muggu (1975), Bhakta Kannappa (1976), Manavoori Pandavulu (1978), Pelli Pustakam (1991), Mr. Pellam (1993) to Sri Ramarajyam (2011) he had created a unique space for himself in the Telugu celluloid along with his long time friend and associate Mullapudi Venkata Ramana. His films serve as an extension of his canvas where he brought to life, the all so familiar characters. Mullapudi’s script that exudes nativity in all its nuances and Bapu’s direction together have created films that stand as all-time classics and appeal to all classes and ages of audience. A good example of this is his film Muthyala Muggu.
Late Akkineni Nageshwara Rao who had acted in the Nandi Award winning film of Bapu Ramana, Andala Ramudu shared – I wonder when Bapu’s lines have struck a chord with Ramana’s words, but since the time I knew them I have always seen them together. During those days, Ramana used to work for Andhra Patrika and whenever I met him, Bapu was around along with his drawings. I never thought that they would one day become Producer and Director, but they proved themselves with their first movie – Saakshi. I worked with them it just two films – Budhimanthudu and Andala Ramudu. The former has me in dual role of two brothers- one who is very religious while the other is an atheist. In fact the atheist brother’s role has been designed keeping me in view.
He also had said, “As a Director Bapu had a distinct style. When he crafted a scene, he made sure that each and every aspect of the scene is translated to the audience. He created every frame like a painting. Usually director oversees heroine’s dress, their dialogues and expressions. Bapu is one director who even explained how and when eyelids should move. If you gave one story to ten different directors, Bapu could make a film that will reflect his distinctive style. I shall always regret not being able to work in more films with him.” Someone must have said Amen, for; Nageshwara Rao had acted as Maharshi Valmiki in Bapu Ramana’s cinematic adaptation of Uttara Ramayanam – Sri Ramarajyam, their last film.
Celebrated poet Arudra had once said, “It is not just Bapu’s drawings that people worship, Andhra Pradesh has lovingly given Bapu’s unique handwriting a status of its own and while many are still trying to give Telugu script a recognition, Bapu has single handedly given it to the Telugu people. This is a skill that Bapu has mastered by his own. He is an artist who does not need to endorse his art with his signature. Each of his art is a master piece.
It was quite a natural transition for the artist to be a movie director. And though he had not assisted any other Director previously, he made his mark with his first film itself. It was a result of hard work, the innumerable films that Bapu and Ramana watched during the 50s and 60s, the amount of notes that they made and plans that they drafted.
Bapu worked for 18 hours a day. I had been BapuRamana’s in-house lyricist since their first movie. He made me write some wonderful lyrics for his films. Before entering the film world, he worked as an Art Director for a company called Elite Advertisers. Through them he became a member of many clubs. The only time I remember him using the club’s facility was to park his car in one such club on Mount Road. He would then walk up to a cinema theatre to watch an English film. He had the habit of collecting experiences of things that he liked or admired for future use. Bapu Ramana shared their love for music. Whenever they heard a good song and if there was a place for it in their movies, they ensured that they did not miss it. Bapu not only had a huge collection of books, but also has an excellent collection of music that included Hindustani classical music which he listened to when he was drawing. His picturisation of the song “Muthyamanta pasupu” for Muthyala Muggu was so inspirational that many people actually started decorating their front yard with muggu (teerayina sampada Ye inta nundu, dinadinamu muggunna mungilla nundu.)”
Bapu led a simple life and spoke very little. It was as if that he had said whatever he wanted to through his art. He had made numerous cartoons, scores of illustrations that have adorned the cover pages of magazines and novels and his drawings of Lord Rama find a place in Bhadrachalam. But it is never enough for his admirers. His popularity has remained unwavering through decades even after his demise. One can never forget one of the rare exhibitions of his original works in Hyderabad organised by Mukhi Media, a few years ago, People of all ages thronged to the venue from all over the city. One elderly lady Saraswati shared, “When I saw that this exhibition is happening, I told my family members that I am coming here and will be spending some time. I told them not to expect me back any time sooner. We have grown up seeing his drawing and watching his films. He is very dear to me.” As young and the old lingered at each of his works, reading his cartoons with a smile on their face, it was a reminder that Bapu still retains a dear place in the heart of Telugu people even in the internet driven age. There were hundreds of his works on display at the exhibition. But even after spending hours with Bapu (through his works) one could sense the dissatisfaction of not having seen enough. That is Konte Bommala Bapu for us. One can never have enough of him.