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Comedy is his forte

After 25 years and 375 films behind him he is still prepared to experiment with himself

Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam

VERSATILE ARTISTE Mallikarjuna Rao

After being in the Telugu film industry for 25 years and 375 films to his credit, Peela Mallikarjuna Rao is quite exuberant talking about films and his roles. Hailing from the jaggery town of Anakapalle, he talks about his never say die spirit to get a break, the influence of Rao Gopala Rao who he acknowledges as his mentor, the turnaround courtesy Vamsi, a Nandi-award winning performance etc.

Better known as Battala Sattigadu, his character in Vamsi's Ladies Tailor, Mallikarjuna Rao struggled hard for a role that would make his day. He had always been fascinated by films and skipped his eighth class exam to see an NTR-starrer. All-time greats NTR, ANR, S.V. Ranga Rao, Savitri, Relangi, CSR and Allu Ramalingayya and classics like Mayabazar, Patalabhairavi, Devadas and Kalisiunte Kaladu Sukham always inspire him. Because of his stint in theatre, (he acted in 50 to 60 dramas and staged ekapatrabhinayams), he knew late Rao Gopala Rao, the great character actor, since 1969. He took keen interest in Mallikarjuna Rao and always guided him. "I still highly think of the values that he had taught me," says Mallikarjuna Rao reverentially.

Though he had been associated with the film world since 1973, he started a serious effort to find his feet only in 1980. He had a brief stint as assistant director for Gopalraogari Ammayi and Parvatiparameswarulu. Then he landed brief roles in Kirayi Rowdeelu and Nagamalli. "Thereafter a peculiar situation had emerged," Mallikarjuna Rao recalls. When he had significant roles, the films bombed. For instance, in Punyabhoomi Kallu Terichindi, his performance was praised by Rao Gopala Rao, who himself acted in it. But the film fared poorly.

Though he knew Vamsi well, he had never asked him for a role. Later following the advice of stage director Satyanand he had acted out a few scenes written by Vamsi for him. He got a role in Vamsi's film Sitara. Even as he was seriously considering calling it quits, Puliraju in Vamsi's Anveshana gave him the much-needed break. Then came Battala Sattigadu in Ladies Tailor. "What began as a brief role went on and on with Vamsi improvising. Even when the character was not present in the scene, he gave it presence by penning dialogues about it," recalls Mallikarjuna Rao revealing what went into the making of his most notable screen persona.

Best advice

It was Rao Gopala Rao who had advised him against getting typecast and warned that he would get half dozen roles like Battala Sattigadu and it did happen, said Mr. Mallikarjuna Rao. Vamsi had roles for him in April 1 Vidudala, Chettukinda Pleadaru and other films. In a number of films made by EVV Satyanarayana and Relangi Narasimha Rao too, he had played a variety of roles. Mallikarjuna Rao still cherishes the values Rao Gopala Rao dinned into him when he was a budding actor and does not like degenerate comedy.

His proud moment was when he had won the State Government's Nandi Award for best character actor in Tammudu and also the Raghupati Venkayya Gold Medal instituted by character actor Gummadi. But he is still prepared to experiment with himself. His dream role is a comedian with a touch of villainy and ending up with pathos. He looks forward to roles in a string of films including Pournami, Friendship, Annavaram, Mayajalam and Kitakitalu and Ushakiran Movies forthcoming movie.

G.V. PRASADA SARMA

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