No subject or person is exempt from the repertoire of mimicry pioneer Nerella Venumadhav.
“He was the first Indian mimicry and ventriloquism artiste to have performed at the UN headquarters. It was an extraordinary performance, not only producing Indian themes but excerpts from Shakespearean plays as well. International diplomats who watched the performance of such a gifted artiste, were thrilled”, observed Ceasar Giraldc, President of United Nations Music Appreciation Club in 1971. That master of the art was none other than Nerella Venumadhav of Warangal.
Venumadhav is hailed as the pioneer and maestro of mimicry. Decorated with three awards by three Universities of Andhra Pradesh, he was the first mimicry artiste to have trotted the globe a number of times. As a member of state Legislative Council, he could be seen presenting his shows after a budget session at Ravindra Bharati for legislators. He takes credit for introducing subject of Mimicry in Telugu University’s curriculum; he wrote its syllabus and even taught in the first two years. “Nowhere else in the world is mimicry a university subject”, he says. Late actor and poet Harindranath Chatopadhyaya once said after watching his show that Venumadhav would be remembered even after “you have departed from this mournful earth”, but wishing him long life. Multitudes of his disciples, direct or indirect, dot the globe, some even making this art their livelihood.
Ask him as when mimicry art was born and his instant response was ‘even before the earth was born’. “Even animals and other species mimic for survival. In Ramayana, a demon assuming the form of golden deer shouts out, in dying moments, Lakshmana’s name mimicking the voice of Srirama in danger. He quotes many more such events saying imitation is part of anyone’s life. “Drama, as such, is imitation of characters they play. A ventriloquist mimics all the characters in a scene creating the effect of drama. “There is Arohana and Avarohana like in musical scales.” he says
Though untrained, Venumadhav can sing well too; it is anatural gift like his mimicry and ventriloquism. There were occasions when he even imitated a lady and male singers’ voices from western operas. He mimics all the artistes from Hollywood to Bollywood to Tollywood.
“Books and newspapers give me some interesting comical episodes. I dramatise those playing different roles with apt diction and voice modulation,” he reveals. He has a fantastic memory, also a God-given gift that’s much needed for mimicking, he says. He exhibited his talent in front of Presidents, Prime Ministers and Governors of India , as well as several film actors. Akkineni Nageswara Rao says “We are lucky that such an artiste was born in our state”.
Venumadhav has also mimicked roles of Hollywood stars, like that of the lead characters of Hamlet, his mother and Polonius in one scene; The chariot racing sequence from Charlton Heston’s ‘Benhur’. “I imitated the diction of great poets like Viswanatha Satyanarayana and Kaloji Narayana Rao, imagining a situation when they face each other and disputing over a point. I write the script for imaginary situations. ” he says.
Narrating a memorable situation he informs: “Once former President Giri’s wife Saraswati, a small time writer herself, asked me to depict how Viswanatha Satyanarayana would react to her verses, after reading them. I did it, much to their thrill. I was not only felicitated for this funny depiction by the Giris, bur Viswanatha too dedicated his ‘Sivapuranam’ to me at a function in Vijayawada”. Recently another noted poet Tirumala Srinivasacharya too dedicated his book ‘Naa Desam-Naa Avesam’ to Venumadhav. One factor that all the mimicking artistes should note is never in his life did Venumadhav resort to caricature. Venumadhav recalls when a member of Shammi Kapoor’s family gathered at Prithviraj Kapoor’s house, asked Venumadhav to depict how it would be if Prithviraj Kapoor and comedian Mehmood together face a tiger in a wood with no gun in hand. His dramatisation left the families in raptures.
His memory involves film maker B.Nagireddi in Chennai. “At a tea party he gave in honour of former Defence minister Krishna Menon, Nagireddi asked me to imitate Menon’s speech in UN. I did it, taking Krishna Menon’s permission and borrowing his stick as well. This needed recalling his speech verbatim.” Venumadhav’s repertoire includes mimicking Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Gandhi, Nehru, Lal Bahadur Sastry, Patel and others on different occasions. “It is not easy to execute such jobs until I am thorough with imbedded drama and its text” he explains.
Venumadhav has been honoured in various ways both in India and abroad. A ‘Padmasri’ from the Government India, ‘Kalaprapoorna’ from Andhra University, an honorary doctorate from Kakatiya University and a rare honour of ‘Gajarohanam', by the TTD.