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All-in-Allu

P. Sujatha Varma grabs the deflecting moods of the celebrity comedian of yesteryear on the Telugu silver screen


LITTLE DOES one realise that meeting a person at two different places would expose him to the contrasting facets of his persona. It was like a transition phase where one finds his moods swing, from a lively and jovial comedian breaking into a child-like laugter at the slightest provocation, to a matured man in his eighties, eager to unravel the mystery shrouding the enigma called life.

The first part:full of celebrations, socialising and partying in high spirits and cheer. A private meeting unveils a person who appeared to be at the crossroads in his life, badly in need of advise of those who know better than him.

A rendezvous with this multi-faceted personality immediately brings to one's mind several queries with regard to his actual identity. Is he the ever-green octogenarian comedian oozing flamboyancy or a soul longing for peace and solitude.

Allu Ramalingaiah, who has acted in 1032 films in the course of his long journey through the 81 summers of his life, is determined to make the best of the rest of his lifetime. Taking into account his height, weight and body frame, it is hard to believe how a man of his stature could mesmerise his ever-demanding audience for such a prolonged period.

Even while complaining of a fading memory, he is quick to answer when quizzed about his first movie. "Puttillu", pat comes the reply.

"It was shot in 1953. I initially performed street plays before graduating to stage plays which brought me the public recognition." Ask him to spell out his favourite among the actors of his time, he frowns, thinking hard to figure out one, only to conclude decisively that it is difficult to pronounce a single name. "Each one excelled in his role. Trying to pick 'the best' among them would be doing injustice to others."

A mood of melancholy descends on him as he talks about the tragic death of his son, Venkateswara Rao, at 17, in a ghastly accident. "He acted in a couple of movies, but I lost him when he was at the prime of his youth. He probably would have been my successor in Telugu films, had he been alive today," he says in a pensive mood.

Celebrities play their screen personalities reinforcing the fact that they are perhaps trapped in these very images. Such is their characters' popularity and the credibilities generated by them that people love to see them as they are in their movies.

But, Allu Ramalingaiah always chose to play a different role off the screen. Unlike most of his films, where he played a meek henchman of the villainous landlord unleashing tyranny against the oppressed, in real life, he attacked many of the unhealthy customs prevalent during his time.

The cause that was closest to his heart was the salvation of the suppressed in society. "I would invite the Dalits of my village to my home and offer them good food. I derived a strange kind of pleasure in making my otherwise 'superstitious' mother serve them food like a hospitable hostess. She would scream and hop mad at me after learning that she had served the 'not-so-priveleged' class," he reminiscences with a chuckle.

The man who has been in the habit of sending peals of laughter among multitudes of his fans, gets emotional while talking about his wife, Kanakaratnam. "She's a simple housewife who never sought an escape from the drudgeries associated with her role of a dutiful home-maker and an affectionate mother to my children," he says breaking down like a small child. "I am indebted to her for all my life for the selfless services she rendered to me and my children," he continues through a film of thin tears.

Whether the lively and ever-smiling Allu Ramalingaiah, who stole the entire show at a felicitation function organised in the city last week, or the calm and composed soul at his hotel suit that yearned to talk about the more serious things in life that made sense, his roles, both on and off the screen, give a sense of timelessness.

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