Eelapata Raghuramaiah, known for his histrionics and melodious voice, carried his role as an actor and singer with élan.
Despite the fact that he was a force to reckon with in yesteryears’ cinema and theatre, not everybody may be familiar with the name Kalyanam Venkatasubbaiah. However, most people will recognise Eelapata Raghuramaiah, the name by which the same artiste became famous.
Telugu stage-and-film-actor and singer Raghuramaiah was widely admired for his histrionic skills, melodious voice, padyam renditions with fluid alapanas, and eelapata (whistle-songs). Among those who lauded his performances were Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore who likened him to a nightingale, Sarvepalli Radhakrishna, V.V. Giri, etc.
His ardent admirers included P. Suseela, S. Janaki, S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, Sivaji Ganesan, M.G. Ramachandran, etc. Born in 1901 into a humble family in Suddapalli village, Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh, he was eight when drama-company owner Dantu Kishtaiah, noticed him. Sensing potential in the boy he took permission from his father to take the child under his wing and groom him to be an actor.
That was the beginning of a long and illustrious career. Raghuramaiah performed as an actor and singer in about 45,000 stage-dramas and 100 films. In the early years, he underwent some music-training under Yadavalli Suryanarayana.
However, his performances revealed an expertise that went beyond this basic training. He won accolades for his superb rendition of songs and padyams complete with exquisite alapanas replete with intricate gamakas.
His command over Hindustani and Carnatic ragas was remarkable.
He also began whistling songs using his finger placed on his tongue, a feat which earned him the title Eelapata. Raghuramaiah was also celebrated for his roles of Krishna (Telugu cinema’s first Krishna) and Narada. His debut film was Pruthvi Putra (1933, silent movie). Well-known talkie films included Daksha Yagnam, Sri Krishna Maya, Valmiki, etc. He became a playback-singer for Sri Sri Maryada Ramanna on the request of his friend, actor Padmanabham, who was producing this film.
Balasubrahmanyan who made his career debut with this movie and was co-singer with Raghuramaiah, reveals: “I met Raghuramaiahgaru during the rehearsal-sessions. I was in complete awe of him. After hearing me sing, Raghuramaiahgaru blessed me and said: ‘Your voice and singing remind me of the young Ghantasala’!”
Raghuramaiah’s last songs were the hits Saketha Sarvabhouma and Ramaneelameghashyama in the film Sri Ramanjaneya Yuddham. Long before fitness and health-consciousness became fashionable, he was talking about them. “He also walked the talk,” says his actress-daughter Roopa. He regularly practiced pranayama and several yoga techniques.
He always looked several years younger, thanks to his good vision, smooth skin, hair which never greyed, and never a loose tooth too. In fact, he used to enjoy asking people to guess his age!
He died in 1975 survived by his wife Adoni Lakshmi and five children.
His son Kalyanam Ramakrishna, TV personality, says, “We cherish the ideals of hard work and total dedication to one’s art which he practised.”