M.L. NARASIMHAM

Mullapudi Venkataramana continues the Bapu-Ramana saga adding an honorary doctorate to his laurels.

I couldn't refuse the offer when producer Challa Manmohan approached me. That it is an animation film and also on a mythological character close to my heart made me agree

It is difficult to separate one from the other. Beginning as an illustrator-story writer team and then turning into a film-director-writer duo, they have contributed immensely to the enrichment of Telugu cultural ethos through literature and cinema. When one mentions Bapu, then one bound to mention Ramana's name too and vice versa. If Bapu had received an honorary doctorate from Sri Venkateswara University last year his alter ego Mullapudi Venkataramana received the honours this year. All the other honours including the Raghupathi Venkaiah award the inseparable twins of Telugu cinema shared between them.Ramana's creations, Budugu (on the lines of Dennis the Menace), C. Ganaprasunamba, Radha, Gopalam and Apparao are a household name for the past five decades. They are immortalised today. Even the citation presented during the recent Sri Venkateswara University convocation reads "pure humour and satire have been the forte of Mullapudi Venkataramana. The Wodehousian humour, the tremendous creative originality and the innumerable puns he indulge make his stories ever fresh and spell binding." No wonder that Akkineni Nageswara Rao considers his biography, Kathanayakudi Katha written by Ramana some four decades ago as still the best among the half a dozen such works appeared in Telugu and English later. "I am happy that people are still interested in what I wrote four or five decades ago.When I entered films, I stopped writing short stories as writing for films are a totally different form and I have decided to concentrate on it." Though he first signed, N.T.R. starrer, Dagudu Moothalu (a comedy, original writing), the thespian's Rakthasambhandham (a remake) was released first. "Till then I was known as a film critic and a satirist. Some expressed doubts whether I can do justice as a dialogue writer for such a heavy subject. But producer Dhoondy and director V. Madhusudana Rao reposed faith in me and I did not let them down. The film earned me name," recalls Ramana. Besides films like Gudigantalu, Sri Ramanjaneya Yudham he also wrote for N.T.R's last released film, Srinatha Kavisarvabhowmudu directed by Bapu. He considers the best part of their association with the legendary actor was when N.T.R as chief minister commissioned them with the Telugu video lessons project for rural school children. "For over three years we were totally engaged in the project. From I to III std we squeezed in the entire syllabus in 30 hours of video lessons. Our aim was not only to lure the children to schools but also to teach the teachers how to guide the little ones patiently." The lessons became popular among the Telugu community in Mauritius, U.S.A and other countries.The little known fact is that Ramana started his film career with a dubbed film, Akali, assisting the project. And many years later, he found himself writing the dialogue and lyrics for a dubbed movie, Hanuman. He says, "I couldn't refuse the offer when producer Challa Manmohan approached me. That it is an animation film and also on a mythological character close to my heart made me agree. We made three films, Sampoorna Ramayanam, Sita Kalyanam and Ramanjaneya Yuddham besides six hours of Ramayanam episodes in the television serial Sri Bhagavatham." Presently the Bapu-Ramana duo is working on an animation project Krishna Leelalu for Colour Chips. "Even the West is showing interest in our mythological characters."Apart from the recent honorary doctorate, Ramana has another reason to celebrate. His association with Bapu on a career plane completes 60 years. "I first met him in 1942 in P.S. High School, Madras. We studied there in standards V and VI and then continued schooling at Kesari High School. We were regulars at the Sunday Balanandam programme in All India Radio. My first short story Amma Maata Vinakapothe was published in 1945 in Bala, a children's magazine published by Radio Annayya (Nyayapathi Raghava Rao). I was 14 then. Bapu illustrated the story. That was the beginning of our career as a writer-producer -illustrator- filmmaker duo," recalls Ramana. Naturally, cause for twin celebration!