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Telly beckons top stars

The switchover from big screen to television has been a natural process for many big stars. They are lending a whole new formidable stature to the medium through their presence, says M.L. NARASIMHAM.

LEGACY CONTINUES: A.N.R completes acting in all media.

THE EQUATIONS are fast changing in show business. Just a couple of years ago, it was impossible to think of actors like Akkineni Nageswara Rao or Krishna reaching out to the masses through the most popular mode of entertainment today, the soaps.

The small screen is today seen as a more viable medium and is competing with the big screen for viewers' attention. Suman is the latest to join the bandwagon with his serial Raja getting ready. Rumours of Rajendra Prasad doing a comedy serial and the current comedy craze, Sunil, starring in another serial are making rounds. And, the list is adding up. The competition between the private satellite channels, too, is heating up with each trying to woo the stars to attract the ever-increasing viewer segment, especially women.

Not surprisingly, it is the women among the film folk who first saw the huge potential in the `20th century wonder'. `Kutty' Padmini and Radhika were the first to enter into the serial business. The first daily serial in Telugu (Idi Katha Kaadu) for a private satellite channel was made by actress Radhika, thus setting a trend. It has become so popular that its repeat telecast is currently on. Radhika's subsequent serial, Pinni (dubbed from the Tamil Chithi), too, was a hit. While Radhika concentrated more on the private channels, Kutty Padmini made serials in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi for Doordarshan.

Suhasini and Revathy took the cue from them and made serials in Tamil that later were dubbed into Telugu. They not only acted in these serials but also roped in other popular actresses. Fed up of playing second fiddle to the hero in film after film or playing the eternal sufferer, these actresses found scope for experimentation on the small screen.

INEVITABLE SWITCH: Krishna and Vijaya Nirmala storm television with `Annayya.'

"Getting good roles in films has become a rarity. In contrast, serials like Shakthi and Jeevitham were challenging assignments. That way, I am more happy and enjoy my work," says Bhanupriya, the first among the top heroines to snatch a television offer 13 years ago. She had acted in the Hindi serial, Viswamithra. "When I starred in that serial, I was looked down for accepting a television offer. It is, indeed, a surprising change today that most of them are acting in serials. As far as I am concerned, I do not differentiate between the two media. I put in the same effort."

Radhika agrees with her. "Instead of accepting stereo-typed and routine characters in films, it is better to create good opportunities in serials. I derive job satisfaction thus." Her experience in cinema enabled her to produce quality serials. Veteran actress, K.R. Vijaya, too, shares the same view. "There is no hero domination and there is more scope for natural acting."

The small screen has wooed veteran actresses like SowcarJanaki and Anjali Devi too.Janaki anchored a cookery programme in a Telugu satellite channel and also acted in a couple of Tamil serials. Anjali Devi produced and acted in Shirdi Sai - Parthi Sai Divya Katha, a devotional serial. Sarada (Mathrudevatha), Jayachitra (Sukhadukhalu), Vijayanirmala (Pellikanuka and Annayya) and Jayasudha (Janani and Gayathri) have also tried to create a place for themselves on the small screen.

For former heroines like Latha and Ambica, acting in serials is like a nine-to-six job. Latha who became popular as the vicious and plotting mother-in-law through the mega serial Pavithrabandham, says, "I have an agreement that I will work between nine and six. That way, I can satiate my urge for acting as well as take care of my children back home. Moreover, the money comes in like a salary either after the schedule or at the end of the day."

Her co-star in Andala Ramudu, Akkineni Nageswara Rao insisted on taking her for the role of Nagamma in Matti Manishi. "It is a meaty role and I am pitted against the thespian. I take it as a compliment that he had insisted on me playing the role," adds Latha.

Another senior actress Ambica is starring in the daily serial Daagudu Moothalu, which will be telecast shortly. "I feel once a star, always a star. When I felt my two sons have grown up and can take care of themselves, I have decided to make a comeback. After a couple of movie assignments, I found serials offered more scope. . And the work is done ata fast pace," laughs the actress with her two sons in tow on the sets of Daagudu Moothalu.

After their brief stint in films, actresses like Yamuna (Vidhi and Pavithrabandham), Kinnera (Vidhi and Vasundhara) and Sitara (Mounaraagalu and Harathi) proved successful on telly. Indraja and Haritha also belong to this category. Divyavani (Kalavari Kodalu) is the latest entry.

"In the glamour-ridden film industry, the life span of a heroine lasts very few years. In the serials, there is no such problem," says Yamuna. "But it is this extension of their screen persona on the television that ultimately kills a serial," says writer-actor Omkar. "Look at some of the serials containing popular stars that went off the air mid-way through. There is a vast difference in the treatment of serials and cinema. Their larger-than-life image should be restricted to the big screen. While acting in serials, movie stars should shed their image and work like newcomers. Only then, they can click here."

An avid viewer of television serials, C. Nirmala, a housewife, says, "A.N.R.'s debut serial, Matti Manishi disappointed me because instead of exploiting this fine performer, in most parts, the serial has the legendary actor just listening to others listlessly. That is the undoing."

On his part, the veteran actor had time and again said that he would act till his last breath, and the medium does not matter. He had grown with the stage, then migrated to cinema and now has extended his career to television. Krishna, too, is happy to go straight into the homes of his fans and admirers to entertain them.

"I wonder if Annayya is going to be the same old cinematic fare. What we are expecting from the actors is not an extension of their screen role. We hope they experiment with their talent and come up with something novel," says N.S. Laksmi, an academician.

FIRST MOVE: Radhika made an early debut on television. Seen with `Subbalekha' Sudhakar.

Television had earlier attracted others like Sarath Babu, Bhanuchander and Suresh. They took advantage of their screen presence and acted in Telugu as well as Tamil serials. Rajkumar, Raja Raveendra, Narasimharaju, `Subhalekha' Sudhakar and Achyuth have already made a mark. Brahmaji joined their company with Ramudu Manchi Baludu. Jandhyala's Mudda Mandaaram fame Pradeep was the first to concentrate on making serials for Doordarshan. Some of these actors and actresses are occasionally starring in films, too, thus enjoying the best of both worlds.

With the arrival of the stars, the cost of production of serials has gone up as some of them are paid as much as Rs. 30,000 per day. "Since they are experienced, the work is done on a fast pace with just one or two takes. That adequately compensates," says Prashanth Jadhav of Balaji Telefilms, the makers of Pavithrabandham and Kalavari Kodalu.

Do these stars guarantee a hit? "It is the script and narration that matter. If that is poor, no amount of star power can save a serial," says Omkar. D. Narayana Varma who wrote for successful serials like Amma and Anuragaalu agrees with him. Both the serials have no stars to boast of yet were hits with the viewers.

However there is a hue and cry from the film industry about popular stars acting in serials or appearing in television shows resulting in a steep drop in the movie collections.

SETTING TERMS: Yesteryear glamour queen Lata is much in demand today. Seen with writer-actor Omkar.

The Malayalam and Tamil film industries unsuccessfully imposed restrictions on stars participating in television shows and serials. Ironically, Mohanlal and Mammootty had no hit to their credit in the past year whereas the serials they have produced were big hits (they did not star in them).

The Tamil producers consider television serials as a big threat next only to video piracy. But the scene is different in Telugu, which is witnessing a boom period in film production with the arrival of newcomers. And television is giving room not only for the not-so-successful movie artistes but also for the once-popular-but now out-of-turn stars.

Will they be able to recapture their magic on telly and make television viewing more attractive is something one has to wait and watch.

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