Personality Theatre veteran Gummadi Gopalakrishna goes down memory lane of his journey on stage. GUDIPOODI SRIHARI

‘One man with courage is majority', a saying that suits Gummadi Gopalakrishna, the well acclaimed thespian of verse theatre. He drifted into the field of drama, standing up to his conviction as virtue by exposure to musical theatre, in and around his native village Meduru, in Krishna district. Gopalakrishna shares with us his journey from his village to Hyderabad to finally become one of the most accomplished verse theatre personality who received befitting honours like the prestigious NTR award, state governments Nandi awards for his outstanding performances as Srikrishna in Tulabharam ' and Poet Srinatha in play of the same title.

To further sharpen his skill, Gopalakrishna went to Vijayawada and met Achanta Venkataratnam Naidu, known for ‘Pratinayaka' roles in mythologies. “Achanta first tested my voice and after being satisfied he sent me to an adept harmonium artiste Chinta Venkateswara Rao. Then I was exposed to Harikathas and mythological plays staged by stalwarts that kindled hopes in me that I too would make a great actor one day.” Gopalakrishna moved to Hyderabad reposing faith in eminent theatre personality the late A.R. Krishna, to establish himself as theatre artiste. “Krishna gaaru by then launched a repertory taking artistes into its fold. He enlisted me too. Under his guidance I played Sakarudu in Mrichakatikam an adaptation of Sanskrit original and a role in experimental social play Ammoru , called ‘jeevannatakam' (live play) staged in a make believe village spawned across large campus in Chikkadpalli. For me it was a study of expressions in social and mythological plays. I then played Rama in mythological Ramabhakti Hanuman that earned parishat awards,” he reveals. He had a bitter experience that also served as eye opener. “A.R. Krishna one day asked me to render verse Mayameya... from play Satya Harischandra . I began rendering in high pitch with prolonged raga. He asked me to stop and quipped ‘the playwright (Balijepalli) would have committed suicide had he listened the way you present this. You should not render verses for applause, but for its essence'. I changed my tenor after ,” Gopalakrishna adds.

DVDs of his plays are lessons to budding NRI artistes to practice and present to gatherings in USA. He gave personal attention and trained them during his visits.

Since he turned serious actor, Gopalakrishna figured in all important mythological plays portraying roles in Srikrishna Rayabaram , Srirama Bhakta Hanuman , Srikrishna Tulabharam , Narada Samsaram , Satya Harischandra , Sati Dana Suram , a Yakshaganam of Shahaji and a Christian play donning role of a peasant.

The obverse side of Gopalakrishna puts before us a theatre organiser running his own Satya Sai Kala Nikethan. He added ‘bio- plays' of three iconic poets of the past in his presentations. “Biographies of these poets carry plenty of verses penned by them, what we needed was a few verses for continuity and drama. These are Allasani Peddana , Srinatha and Vemana , the poets between 15th and 17th century. They carry potential story lines, good for drama and message and fit into general vein of musical drama; these plays gave me a new identity as one who spreads flavour of Telugu language. These bio-plays of poets are my own,” he asserts. Srinatha won him Nandi gold. And Vemana is making waves after he improvised it after reviewing the first production.

Gopalakrishna is now busy converting Vemana and Ramanjaneya Yudham as TV plays for which playwrights Haranatha Rao, Akella and D. Vizai Bhasker are at work, he informs. A slot is already booked in a popular Telugu channel. Telugu verse drama is alive and kicking contrary to the opinion of many,” he says. It is feeding hundreds of artistes all through the year.