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Spinning magic

Post `Mumbai Express', the golden jubilee director Singeetham Srinivasa Rao is busy with his forthcoming Hindi flicks.



Living Legend Singeetham Srinivasa Rao works with a youthful zing.

At 74, he still retains the youthful exuberance and talks about his forthcoming ventures with the enthusiasm of a debutant.

With an amazing display of mastery over a wide range of subjects from comedies to experimental socials to folklore to mythological to 3D animation films that no other contemporary filmmaker has attempted, Singeetham Srinivasa Rao completes half a century of film career this year.

Singeetham, as he is fondly known, not only won the hearts of native Telugu audiences but Tamil and Kannada filmgoers too.

No wonder the eternal student of cinema enrolled himself to learn the art of making 3D animation films before starting work on Son of Alladin for Penta Media group. The film won a special jury award at the International Children's Film Festival and did well in the US .

"Before that we planned a film called Five and Half Hours to Dawn with lots of special effects in Hollywood. I went to Los Angels and even engaged a casting director. But we have to shelve the project. Instead we made a three language film, Little John in English, Hindi and Tamil with Bentley Mitchem and Jyothika," smiles Rao.

Born in Udayagiri in Nellore district on September 21, 1931 to Ramachandra Rao, a headmaster and Sakunthala Bai a violinist, Singeetham showed glimpses of talent both in plays and music even as a school student. It was while studying at Presidency College, Chennai he honed his skills in stage plays such as Windows, under the watchful eyes of Harindranath Chatopadhyay.

After graduation his ambition was to get into films. As his attempts to meet veteran director K.V.Reddy failed, for sustenance he took up the job of a teacher in Sullurupet. But he continued his passion for stage and wrote two experimental plays Bhrama and Anthyaghattam and staged them with his students. Both the plays won him several awards.

"The later play was even made a text for students of Theatre Arts in Andhra University," says Rao.

At the request of a family friend and popular singer-actor Tanguturi Suryakumari he had written Chitrarjuna, a musical play adopted from Tagore's `Chitra - Prince of the Dark Chamber'. "Pt. Nehru saw our play in Delhi. The Scottish dramatist Tom Buchan translated it in English for an American television channel," he reflects.

At that time he was also dabbling in journalism writing for Telugu Swatantra interviewing such stalwarts in the field as Mary Seaton who wrote the biography of Eisenstein (and later day biographer of Satyajit Ray too).

Films and K.V. Reddy were still at the back of his mind. So in 1954 he made one more effort to meet his favourite director and this time around he met with success.

K.V. gave him a copy of Monkey's Paw and asked him to write a subject based on it. "Without any knowledge of the art of writing a cinema script, in three months I wrote the script with dialogues and he was impressed and took me as an apprentice. K.V. was making Mayabazaar then," recalls Rao. He later graduated as an associate director under K.V. Reddy working with him for all his films.

First brush with direction

When poet turned filmmaker Pattabhi Rami Reddy launched Samskara, a film based on U. R. Ananathamurthy's famous novel, he took Singeetham as the executive director. The film won the President's gold medal.

Soon Rao was directing his first independent venture, Neethi Nijayithi (1972) an offbeat film. "It won critical acclaim but the audience felt it is ahead of its time," laughs Rao. Later he made many successful films in Telugu including a couple of them with thespian A. Nageswara Rao, Balakrishna and others. "I must mention the faith that the late `Navatha' Krishnamraju had reposed in me. Defying his distributors he took me as a director for Zamindaru Gari Ammayi that paved the way for my successful stint in films." Usha Kiron Movies Mayuri based on the life of Sudha Chandran was a milestone film in his career. "He chose me as a composer for this biopic. It is amazing the way Singeetham keeps pace with the times," opines S.P. Balasubrahmanyam.

Fruitful association

"When I went to Bombay to collect the Film Fare award for Dikkatra Parvathi (based on Rajaji's novel) I first met Kamal Haasan. He came there to receive the best actor award for a Malayalam movie. We planned to make a different film but ended up making a comedy Sommokadidhi Sokokadidihi, a runaway hit. When Kamal decided to launch his own production house, he asked me to direct his first film. This time we attempted a truly different film, Raja Parvai (dubbed as Amavasya Chandrudu in Telugu) on the visually impaired. Thota Tharani made his debut as an art director with this film."

The bonding and the perfect sync between the two stalwarts resulted in many experimental blockbusters from Apoorva Sahodarargal, Michael Madana Kamarajan, Magaliar Mattum and the path breaking silent film Pushpaka Vimana (Pushpak in Hindi) to the recent Mumbai Express.

As a music director

A sishya of the legendary composer Saluri Rajeswara Rao, Singeetham had composed music for two Kannada films, Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma a big hit and Samyuktha." For the benefit of Indians settled in U.S.A. he had composed 30 slokas in English, made the children in U.S. to render them and brought out an interactive multi media CD Rom called Prarthana. His next musical sojourn is to bring out an album commemorating the genius of Rajeswara Rao as a composer.

The Phool and Mumbai Express director's next assignments are both in Hindi. "I am making a film for Sahara One. The whole film is a pre recorded musical. And the other one is titled Traffic Jam, a comedy thriller that starts at 9.30 in the morning and ends at 5.30 in the evening amidst a heavy traffic jam," says Rao with the excitement of a beginner. Talking to him it is hard to believe that the man is celebrating his golden jubilee year in films. He makes you believe that it is like yesterday that he made his debut. How time flies.

M.L. NARASIMHAM

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