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A RARE PERSONA Bhanumathi Ramakrishna
A RARE PERSONA Bhanumathi Ramakrishna

Veteran actor Bhanumathi who passed away on December 24. And here's a humble tribute to a domineering genius

A multifaceted personality, she is perhaps the only person in the world of cinema who combined so many talents. The eventful life of Dr. Bhanumathi Ramakrishna, who has dominated the scene in a male-oriented industry for over six decades, came to an end on December 24 at 11.42 p.m, after a brief illness. She was 81.Born on September 7, 1925, in Doddavaram village, near Ongole, in a family of musicians and litterateurs, Bhanumathi was trained in classical music at a very early age by her father Bommaraju Venkata Subbaiah. She, along with her father, went to Madras hoping to cut an album for HMV but destiny willed it otherwise when C. Pullaiah took her for the role of Kalindi in her debut movie, Varavikrayam (1939). She was barely 13 then. "Since the role had no hero and I had a few songs to sing, my father agreed to let me act in the movie. Playback singing was just emerging. So I rendered the songs first and then went for lip sync. I did not act, just moved about as I do in my house and my acting won rave reviews," Bhanumathi said once. From Varavikrayam to Pellikanuka (1998) she has acted in more than 100 films in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and Kannada. "More than an actor, stalwart writers such as Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao appreciated her as a singer and musician," says veteran film scribe B.K. Easwar who as a co-author of her autobiography, Nalo Nenu published in Vijaya Chitra, knew her from close quarters. "She has a peculiar modulation in rendering the songs that made her a singer par excellence in her time. She has a stylised acting. Give her any character, you will see the artiste and not the role, yet the audience went gaga over her. It was not so in the beginning of her career. Till Swargaseema (1945) you find subtleties in her acting. She was a director's actor. After that film, even the popular directors (of the period) mould to her style. She is indeed a versatile singer and musician."

Versatile singer too

Despite being a singer, Bhanumathi had to depend on playback singers for two of her Hindi starrers. In Nishan and Mangala Shamshad Begum and Geetha Roy sang for her. In the latter she too rendered a couple of songs. After that, she sang for herself in all her Hindi films. "P. Leela was the most popular singer when Bhanumathi first signed Missamma," recalls veteran film historian `Film News' Anandan. "In fact, B. Nagi Reddi told her that Leela would sing for her. Bhanumathi put her foot down and said that she will not let anyone sing her songs. But it was a silly folly of a unit boy that led to a misunderstanding with Chakrapani, and she had to opt out of the film after a couple of days shoot, paving way for another most talented actor Savithri." Bhanumathi's real-life hero emerged during the making of Krishna Prema. P.S. Ramakrishna Rao was an assistant director under H.V. Babu, the director of the movie. She married Ramakrishna on August 8, 1943. The marriage took place like the climax scene of a love story. The couple made many memorable musical hits under Bharani Pictures' banner (named after their only son). Rathnamala directed by Ramakrishna was the first to be made followed by Laila Majnu, Prema (Kathal in Tamil), Chandirani, Chakrapani, Vipranarayana, Gruhalakshmi, Baatasari, Vivahabandham, and Anthaa Mana Manchike, to name a few. "She holds the record for being the first woman to produce, direct, write and act in a dual role in a tri-lingual movie (Chandirani - in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi) with N.T. Ramarao as the hero and release it simultaneously throughout the country on the same day.

Unparalleled record

"Unparalleled in the history of world cinema," recalls Anandan. It was her directorial debut too. "My husband was busy at that time. So I had to take up the mantle. Since dubbing was not in vogue in those days, we had to shoot three separate negatives for each language. It was an uphill task no doubt but the entire unit cooperated," Bhanumathi once told this writer. It went on to become a big hit. Since then she has directed 20 films including an all-children star cast - Bhaktha Dhruva Markandeya. Much later, in 1990, she has chaired the jury at the International Children's film fest in Hyderabad. "In those days we used to call her `Ashtavadhani' as she was the writer, actor, director, producer, singer, music director, editor and studio owner," says Anandan who met her just a week before she passed away. Awarded honorary doctorates by the Andhra and Sri Venkateswara Universities and Kalaimamani by the Tamil Nadu Government, Bhanumathi Ramakrishna was the principal of Tamil Nadu Government Music College for three years. She made a television serial of her popular stories, Athagaari Kathalu in Telugu and also a bilingual serial based on her autobiography, Nalo Nenu, which won her a national award. She is a recipient of Raghupathi Venkaiah award from the A.P. State Government. An ardent devotee of the Sringeri Peetham, she once said, "The most important thing in one's life is contentment, because it does not come so easily. Today, when I look back, I feel there is nothing left to be achieved, thanks to the blessings of my father, my husband and god." A devout person, she has left behind a rich legacy of her films, music and literary works. We miss the domineering genius. M.L. Narasimham

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