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Poet who loves to churn the mind

Photo: K. R. Deepak

Sirivennela Sitarama Sastry.

Ever wondered how much creativity goes into making a good film? It may be just another family drama or running around the trees as romantic thrillers....but a good end-product is the culmination of many creative talents and ideas. However, when it comes to songs, lyrics are the single lifeline for survival.

One such life support lyricist is Sirivennella Sitarama Sastry. The name rings a bell? Well, just go back in time and glean the five best films you may have seen in the last decade and K. Vishwanath's cinemagic will pop up, and with it the lyricist's contribution to this expression will come to you in poetic deluge!

The recent blockbuster, 'Indra', had glimpses of Kasi and the spiritual fervour and rhythm of the tune are perfectly matched in 'Bham Bham Bhole'. Yet another masterstroke from the fountain pen of Sirivennella. Poetry has been in his bloodstream right from childhood. He found himself most comfortable amidst the crescendos and rhythm of poesy. It was one such a flight that gave birth to an award-winning masterpiece on the national spirit in 1971 on the occasion of the silver jubilee of India's Independence. That day, 15-year-old lad had arrived as a poet. But this spiritual aspirant has had a chequered career. His scholastic father's knowledge of homeopathy and mathematics and grasp of Persian, Urdu and Sanskrit rubbed off very early on him. During his early days in Kakinada, he found a ready circle of fans and admirers flocking around him just to listen to those pearls of wisdom from his mouth. Free verses started pouring and he soon found it difficult to shut out the stirrings of his heart. As if from some ethereal source, the thoughts and words would flood his mind, and in a trice the poet would sing aloud much to the glee of the gathering. Goaded by C.V.Krishna Rao (then managing director of tribal projects), Sastry began to write commercially under the penname 'Bharani' (incidentally his nakshatram).

Soon rhyme and beat got into his poems and his renderings meandered into soulful expressions of eternal search. In the early 1980's Sastry saw the epic film, 'Sankarabharanam', and this exposure to a great theme remained etched in his soul. He wrote a poem entitled 'Gangavataram' to personify the classic features of the river Ganga. In this expression, he extols Vishwanth and compares him to Lord Siva who holds the Ganga in control on His head, lest she drowns and destroys all on her way. This 'Sankarabharanam' was a reflection of the Lord in His elements. This poem would have died a natural and unsung death in the poetic circles of Kakinada, but a fortunate combination of circumstances that brought Vishwanath to the port town and to add to it all the boys who sang the prayer at the felicitation function chose 'Gangavataram'. Little did the director know that the song was a tribute to him. Something tugged at his heart and he enquired about the lyricist. At this time, Sastry was quite oblivious of what was going on. The search for poet 'Bharani' began and this led to the first meeting of the two great minds. Highly impressed, Vishwanath offered Sastry the opportunity in his next venture, 'Sirivennella'. The rest is history.

Sastry's first cine composition (translated from Telugu) goes thus: ''Resonance starts in the valleys of your heart. It is the first and the last occurrence of Brahma, the creator. An ordinary man must upgrade to the real resonance (nadam).'' These power-packed words describing creation took the entire film industry by storm. People started searching their souls for more meaning. This 1986 film catapulted Vishwanath into the higher echeleons of excellence, and lyrics took a new meaning in Telugu cinema. 'Sirivenella' is a poem of 100 lines. It describes the churning of the mind. Sastry says, ''Unless you churn the seas you would not get the 'amrutam', so also unless you churn your mind you will not find yourself.''

This employee from the Telephone Department found a great guide in colleague Akella. The offers flooded him. 'Swatikiranam', a treat that talks of the three sides of everyman - the philosopher, the logician and the critic - and depicts the man four centuries ago. The torrential speed with which the lyrics for this film came to the poet is outstanding. ''Don't give into norms. Follow the untrodden path and blaze your own trail'' is his message to the youth. ''Bham Bham Bole'' from 'Indra' describes Kasi through the simple language of a taxi driver cum guide. Each stanza has five sentences but the chorus ''Vilasanga Sivananda Lahari'' is the highlight of the verse. No wonder this song is haunting!

Sastry has a spiritual bent of mind but he has to cater for different themes in films. He has also penned songs for cabaret dancers, drunken folks and the double entendre stuff in line with the times. He gets into the role and thinks like the character. Some cynical thoughts do hack in sometimes but the sunny side is always up in arms. ''Audience will slowly change. Before 1980, they listened more and thought less. After the advent of television and now Internet, listeners are looking at a fast paced expression. But whatever it may be, I try to fit in a philosophy and spiritual message in every situation. A river is

static but the water in it is dynamic,'' says a contented Sastry. His best critic is his wife Padmavathi and his 'mastaru' Y. Satya Rao has been the fragrance of his literature.

The poet is now busy with compiling his 'Siva Kavyam' of 300 songs. 'Siva Darpanam' is a reflection of his inner soul. ''There is no mirror like it,'' he says. Talking of women's liberation he strongly feels that there is no difference between Siva (the male - the experience) and Sivaa (the female - reason for expression). He has performed in a sterling role in Ramgopal Varma's 'Gaayam' (incidentally he also won the best lyricist award for this film). A winner of 40 major awards, including the conveted Nandi award for a record eight times, 'Sirivennella' is a household name today. As he moves on like a child waiting to deliver his godly gifts and narrations, Sastry takes every day as a new beginning and every new beginning as one day. If poetry be the food of life, then give vent to it.

MEENAKSHI ANANTRAM

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