Though belated, the Padma Sri Award comes as another feather in the colourful cap of Bapu, famed for his aesthetic lines, cover designs and fonts.
Drawing was his first love. So it became his vocation. But his creative streak took him beyond the strokes to the silver screen. Sattiraju Lakshminarayana, popularly known as Bapu, was born on December 15, 1933, at Narasapuram in Andhra Pradesh to Sattiraju Venugapala Rao and Suryakantham. He did his B.Com in 1953 and BL in 1955 from Madras University.
This artist and cartoonist, who took to film making, made movies in three languages- Telugu, Hindi and Tamil. His works are celebrated for their aesthetic sensibility, simplicity, keen observation of life, subtle humour and authentic representation of Indian and Telugu culture and values. Bapu, together with the late Mullapudi Venkataramana, a renowned writer, has created many lasting works in Telugu literature and films, making ‘Bapu-Ramana’ a household name among the Telugu speaking people around the world.
Bapu’s illustrations for stories, book covers, and cartoons in Telugu, Tamil (Kalaimagal Diwali Malar) and English periodicals are known for their brilliance in conveying the essence of a literary work through a few simple strokes. He has enhanced every famous literary work in Telugu, from classical poems to modern verse and short story, with his illustrations.
A proficient graphic artist, he has also worked in advertising agencies as a senior artist (J Walter Thomson) and Art Director (Efficient Publicities and F.D. Stewarts, Chennai).
Contribution to education
Bapu and Mullapudi Venkataramana, at the request of the then Andhra Chief Minister N.T. Ramarao, had produced audio-visual lessons for primary school children, a unique contribution to education in 1986-88. He had also developed lessons for adult literacy. ‘Budugu,’ an illustrated tale created by Bapu and Ramana about a child’s view of life, is a classic in Telugu literature.
Bapu was a delegate at the seminar on Children’s Books sponsored by UNESCO in Bangalore in 1964. The same year, he gave demonstrations for the training course programme on book illustrations and cover designs sponsored by UNESCO in Chennai.
He was Art Consultant for the Southern Language Book Trust sponsored by the Ford Foundation in 1960s. He has designed and illustrated several books for leading publishers in South India out of which, five received Government Awards. He has also done the same for innumerable works drawn from the puranas and folklore.
He has done the art work for almost all Telugu writers appearing in print from Jnanpit awardee Viswanatha Satyanarayana to new comers. They consider it a privilege as they feel it is not mere illustration but intelligent interpretation.
His greeting cards for festivals and special occasions continue to be in print. His Telugu lettering style has become so popular that it is used for wedding invitations, signboards and commercial advertisements in cities, towns and villages alike. It is known as ‘Bapu Font’ and every DTP service uses it.
Collections of his cartoons, reflecting the routine life of the Telugu people, have been published as a book.
His depiction of the girls has become a benchmark of beauty, described as ‘Bapu Bomma.’
Every new Telugu magazine feels it is auspicious to have Bapu design their cover and logo for the first issue. Andhra Patrika ran a feature on eminent personalities of the State with line portraits by Bapu. Another magazine ran a short story contest, where the tales had to be based on his drawings.
A children’s ‘Ramayana’ book, illustrated and retold by him in English and French, was exported in 1974. ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Sri Krishna Leela’ were also illustrated and retold by him.
Over a hundred exhibitions and one-man shows of his art work were held all over Andhra Pradesh and also at the National Film Theatre, London, in 1978 and at the Telugu Conferences in U.S. in 1978, 1985, 1992, 1995 and 1996. Two sets of his paintings, ‘The Navarasas’ and the ‘Indian Dances’ adorn the cultural centres in 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh (Courtesy Sri Nutan Prasad, secretary, Ravindra Bharathi Cultural Centre, Hyderabad).
His works in beautiful lines and colours of Gods and Goddesses from ancient classics run into hundreds. Many of them are kept in the puja rooms of homes along with Ravi Varma’s Lakshmi and Sarswathi. Since 1999, Bapu’s paintings of the Ramayana and Bhakta Ramadasa’s devotional songs are displayed in the temple of Bhadrachalam. Bapu was honoured by the then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, while unveiling these paintings at a function in New Delhi during August 2001. The Devasthanam of Kottapakonda in Guntur District, another pilgrimage centre, commissioned him to do nine paintings about the ‘Sthala Mahatyam.’ Since 2003, these paintings of Lord Dakshinamurthy have been on display at the temple.
As the Asthana Chitrakar of the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam, Bapu has illustrated many works of Saint Annamacharya. He has designed and produced video on the Brahmotsavam Festival of Lord Venkateswara of the Seven Hills for TTD. in 1992 and again in 2001. He has illustrated the 30 paasurams (devotional songs) of Andal (Tiruppavai). ‘Janardanashtakam,’ a romantic poem of Rudra Kavi, came out in book form with his drawings and handwritten text.
Telugu Director Sri Vamsy made a documentary on him in 1996, which won the Andhra Pradesh Government’s Nandi award. Bapu was the subject of another documentary in the Doordarshan documentary series, ‘Eminent Cartoonists of India.’
Bapu made his directorial debut in 1967 with the Telugu film, ‘Saakshi’ (The Witness), scripted by Mullapudi Venkataramana. Shot completely outdoors, it became a path breaker in Telugu and was screened at the Tashkent Film Festival (1968).
So far, he has directed 37 films in Telugu starring NTR, A. Nageswara Rao, Krishna, Shoban Babu, Chiranjeevi, Somayarajulu, Mohan Babu, Rajendra Prasad, Krishnama Raju, Vanishree, Jayapradha, Sharadha, Vijayashanthi, Radhika and Rwatri Sneha. His last film, ‘Sri Rama Rajyam,’ in 2011 was with NTR Balaksrishna and Nayanthara.
In 1982 he directed ‘Needhi Devan Mayagugiran’ (Tamil) with Bhanuchander and Madhavi. Bapu ‘introduced’ Hindi actor Anil Kapoor in his Telugu film, ‘Vamsa Vriksham (1981). His first directorial foray into Hindi films came with ‘Hum Paanch’ in 1980, starring Mithun Chakravarthy, Naseeruddin Shah, Raj Babbar, Shabana Azmi and Amrish Puri. He did ‘Bezubaan’ (1981) with Shashi Kapoor. Anil Kapoor starred in his ‘Who Saat Din’ (1983) with Padmini Kolhapuri and ‘Mohabbat’ (1985).
Bapu made ‘Mera Dharam’ (1986) and ‘Diljala’ (1988) with Jackie Shroff, ‘Pyaari Behna’ (1985), ‘Prem Pratigyaa’ (1989) and ‘Paramaatma’ (1994) with Mithun Chakraborty. His Hindi film tally is nine.
His mythological, ‘Sita Kalyanam,’ was screened at the London, Chicago, Berlin, San Reno and Denver International Film Festivals and is part of the course at the British Film Institute. Bapu’s ‘Tyagayya’ and ‘Sreerama Rajyam’ were also shown at International Film Festivals. Despite the big canvas of the celluloid, Bapu did not ignore the small screen either. He directed a 40-hour Telugu TV serial, ‘Sri Bhagavatham’ in 1996 – 2004 for ETV.
Bapu is the recipient of numerous awards and honours: Asthana vidwan (Chitrakar), Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams (1979); AP Government’s Raghupati Venkaiah Award (1987); Honorary Doctorate (Kalaprapurna), Andhra University (1991); Visishta Puraskaram, Potti Sriramulu Telugu University (2003); Honorary Doctorate, Venkateswara University (2005).
The Golden Jubilee of Bapu’s first publication was celebrated in Chicago by the Telugu Association of North America (TANA) in 1995. He received the Lifetime Achievement Awards from Raja Lakshmi Foundation (1982), Indian Institute of Cartoonists (2001), AP Press Academy (2002), AP Government, Crowquill Academy (2002) and World Telugu Federation (2004). He was named as one of the 11 Telugu Velugulu (Light of Telugu) by the AP Government and was honoured by the President of India at the World Telugu Conference 2012 at Tirupathi.