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An embodiment of Uttarandhra culture



J.V. Somayajulu

North Andhra in general, Vizianagaram in particular, was in the forefront of modern Andhra renaissance. Gurazada Appa Rao with his pen, Adibhatla Narayana Das through Harikatha and art and letters, Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu with the violin, Kodi Ramamurthi with his physical prowess, Sri Sri, Chaso and Raavi Sastry with their revolutionary fervour, Saluri Rajeswara Rao and P. Suseela in the field of film music and Peesapati Narasimhamurthy, a doyen of the stage, were among the harbingers of the Andhra cultural and literary renaissance. To have served both the stage and the screen with equal distinction and dedication for over half a century is an extraordinary achievement and for that J.V. Somayajulu and his younger brother J.V. Ramanamurthy will always be remembered with grateful admiration.

Somayajulu was just 16 when he made his debut on the stage as a student of the Maharaja's College at Vizianagarm in 1944. The boy possessed everything that was needed for a successful career on the stage - a rich voice, flawless expression, majestic figure and, above all, abiding love for the stage. His equally talented younger brother was handsome and dashing. Gurazada's classic `Kanyasulkam' was the magnet to which all stage actors were instantly drawn. In the three decades that followed, Somayajulu and Ramanamurthy elevated the play to a stage-masterpiece, the former as the incorrigible Ramappa Panthulu and the latter as the irrepressible Girisam. But their fame was confined to the stage and mostly to the north Andhra districts.

When Somayajulu was 52, he was Special Deputy Collector in Visakhapatnam Urban Development Authority. In early 1980s he was catapulted to dizzy heights in the filmworld for his sterling performance as Sanakara Sastry in K. Viswanath's `Sankarabharanam'. Overnight he became a celebrity. The film after a sluggish start at the box office became a super-hit. A few days after the release this writer, on seeing the unusual movie, went to meet Somayajulu in his small house in MVP Colony. Even he appeared unsure about the level of success the film would achieve. Reacting to the shower of praise being heaped on him he said in all humility: "I was extraordinarily lucky to have got such a break and all credit to that master-craftsman, Viswanath. I was a student before the camera and it was my teacher Viswanath who drew the best out of me through his brilliance and imagination.'' Did your long experience on the stage help you in playing the difficult role of Sankara Sastry in Sankarabharanam'' I asked. "Yes it did help me to some extent. But stage and screen are two different worlds. On the stage the sequence of events and dialogue build up one's emotions as there is continuity of emotions. On the screen, it is different and difficult, too. The first scene may be taken last and the last first and emotional continuity may not be there with takes and retakes. Moreover, in `Sankarabharanam' there was little dialogue and all expression was through gestures,'' he replied.

The genius of Viswanath lay in the fact that instead of resorting to powerful dialogues he made Somayajulu convey the message through the fierce look, the soft smile and the quick gait. On another occasion, Somayajulu explained how another creative mind, Bapu, would direct a film with very few retakes. "It was great joy to work with him in such classics as `Vamsavriksham' and `Thyagayya'. Bapu would finalise the day's shooting schedule the previous night itself with the help of his drawings, and everything would fall in place the following morning with the great artist treating the screen as another canvas for the display of his genius.'' Somayajulu played a variety of roles on the screen. But he was always the crusader for a cause and a reformer of society, restoring his married granddaughter to her sweet-heart, or striving to bring together Hindu and Muslim communities at the local level.

Despite the rise in films, he never kept away from his friends and colleagues in service. He always remembered with gratitude the help rendered by the then Collector, C. Arjuna Rao, when Somayajulu needed leave to pursue his film career. With his passing both Telugu stage and screen have suffered a grievous loss. It is a void hard to fill. Though he spent his last years in Hyderabad, his love and affection for his home town Vizianagaram and Vizag where he blossomed into a consummate artiste remained undiminished. He knew that the people of the area hailed him as a torch bearer of that culture which embellished Andhra renaissance.

A. PRASANNA KUMAR

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