Bapu no more, film industry feels orphaned

(K Ramachandra Murthy)

bapu 2Chennai, September 1: Demise of a great artist, cartoonist and film director Bapu is a loss intensely felt by every Telugu family. It is a great loss to Telugu film industry and literature. The 80 year old Sathiraju Laxminarayana, who was called Bapu by his father out of the latter’s love and reverence for the Father of the Nation, died on Sunday at 5 pm, of a massive cardiac arrest after five-day stay in a hospital in Chennai. Born on December 31, 1933 at Narasapur in West Godawari district of Andhra Pradesh, he migrated to Madras with his father and started drawing political cartoons for Andhra Patrika even while he was studying in the college for degrees in Commerce and law. He has been unwell for more than six months. His elder son lives in Japan. The younger son lives in Chennai and he was on Bapu’s side when he breathed his last. Bapu’s brother Shanakara Narayana is a specialist in line drawings. He retired as an officer with All India Radio.

Bapu’s funeral took place in Chennai on Tuesday with state honours. AP Minister Palle Raghunatha Reddy, Assembly Deputy Speaker Mandali Buddha Prasad, Playback singer SP Balasubrahmanyam and many other film personalities took part in the funeral procession, An era in Telugu films and cartoons has thus ended.

Bapu did wonders with his pencil creating the most beautiful images. His style was unique. Expressing profusely in simple and ordinary-looking strokes, his drawing had come to be treated as personifications of beauty and esthetics. Any good looking girl is normally described as akin to Bapu’s Bomma (sketch/painting).’ Bapu Bomma’ is found in film dialogues and lyrics as a phrase denoting beautiful doll with wide eyes, straight nose, negligible waist and in one hundred percent Telugu traditional attire. He inspired many a cartoonist and painter. Those who go about claiming to be followers of Bapu’s line are a legion. He must have drawn cover page sketches for thousands of books in his long and illustrious career. Bapu was awarded Padma Shri very late. He deserved more than that. A Padma Vibhushan ten years ago would have been fitting.

bapu 3Bapu and Mullapudi Venkataramana, the inseparable duo, were in turn inspired by River Godawari which is a favourite shooting spot for Bapu for his films. Mullapudi Venkataramana is a writer of great gift endowed with tonnes of humour. His dialogues in the famous film “Mutyala Muggu” directed by Bapu have become part of the folklore. The film which made actor Rao Gopala Rao immortal as a wily contractors had won the distinction among the regional films. Bapu and Ramana created Budugu, a character of a mischievous but well-meaning lad. While the line is by Bapu the lines are by Ramana in this famous and most popular work.

I had the fortune of interacting with both the masters at their residence in Chennai before the launch of HMTV, a Telugu news channel. As Managing Director of the channel, I went to Chennai to discuss a proposal with both of them. They received me well and spared a lot of time (more than two hours)discussing many issues of common issues (Andhra Jyothi and its second editor Nanduri Ramamohan Rao, related to Ramana through marriage, were some of the absorbing topics). At that point of time Ramana was penning a serial for Swathi weekly. It is named “kothikommatchi”. Ramana spoke about the serial in an animated fashion. It is an autobiographical narrative of his life and the lives of those who were connected to him. We also talked about ‘Runanandalahari’ and other famous books by Ramana. First we sat at Ramana’s place and then climbed down to Bapu’s where I was shown the place where Bapu sits on the floor and paints. We talked about Sakshi, Bapu’s first film as a director, and other movies that were classics. Bapu took the films out of the studio settings and shot mostly in natural surroundings. He made excellent films with Ramayana as theme. He is a master of the characters in Ramayana and Ramana was known for the punch in his dialogues.

bapu 4I also met Bapu at EMECSCO office at Domalguda a couple of times in the company of Vijayakumar and BV Pattabhiram. He is a man of very few words, economical with his words as with his lines. A good conversationalist, he could not continue even for five minutes without referring to Ramana. No wonder that the entire film industry feels orphaned without Bapu. A news channel as described Bapu’s departure not as death but a reunion with Ramana. Aptly put.

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