Playwright, novelist and personality development trainer, Yandamoori Veerendranath continues to reinvent himself. S.B. VIJAYA MARY flips through a few pages from his ‘Diary’
“Do you know I cut my own hair?” he says patting his hair near the temples. “I have not visited a barber in the last 45-50 years,” he adds. A bewildered reaction prompts him to explain. “We were poor and that was my attempt to save my father one and a half rupee. And I read somewhere hair oil is just a luxury and not a necessity, so I gave up that as well to save some more money.”
Now, Yandamoori Veerendranath can afford to go to the best of the saloons and oil his hair as well. He can even afford a BMW, which his son wanted to buy for him, but he prefers to drive his Maruti 800 and still cuts his own hair.
“Being content in life is the highest philosophy,” he states.
Content he’s been with what he’d achieved and earned — as a banker, playwright, novelist, film director, personality development trainer, columnist and now an actor. And a coveted Sahitya Akademi Award for one of his plays, Raghupati Raghava Rajaram. Before one could ask how the evolution of roles happened, his irreverent admission stumps you: “I get bored very easily. I cannot do anything for more than 10 years. Television took its toll on fiction-writers like me and most of my contemporaries retired. That’s when I shifted to Personality Development, and now your paper made me a columnist in English, I’m perhaps the only bi-lingual columnist in the world,” he says taking in the greenery that surrounds his house in Banjara Hills. One could hear the chirping of birds from the aesthetically done garden below. Pausing a moment to savour the sight and the sounds, he points to the canopy of trees that are lined along the street and recalls, “Twenty years ago, I watered all these trees personally, people would laugh at me then... aren’t we enjoying them now...?”
In the ’80s, for the Telugu readers who were hitherto fed on either romances or feminist writings, Veerendranath’s fiction gave much food for thought; there was drama all right, but reading his book was like on a roller-coaster ride or an edge of the seat experience. Often dealing with a single subject (game of chess in Vennello Aadapilla, black-magic in Tulasi Dalam etc.) a la Arthur Hailey and Irving Wallace — who he admits were his inspiration — his narrative was contemporary which brought in young readers. His Vennello Aadapilla published in 1982 was written solely to “poke fun at the clichéd romances during those days,” confesses Yanadamoori. It was just a four-page story initially, but ended up as a full-fledged novel. The first print of the copies were sold out in a single day, which was a record in Telugu literary world. The writer received 40,000 letters, mind you they were not emails.
That was a phase which also saw him flirting with the Telugu film industry. Not only were his novels made into films, Yandamoori himself directed a couple of films, one of them was with Chiranjeevi, called Stuartpuram Police Station (a remake of Ardh Satya), which fared badly at the box office. He’s brutal in evaluating the reasons for his failure as a director. “I was over-confident, impatient, arrogant…I thought people will see Chiranjeevi in whichever way I present. How can Chiranjeevi be in a role that Om Puri did…” he questions himself.
But his novels made into films found success. However, Yandamoori, recalling those days, says regretfully, “Instead of just taking my remuneration and sitting at home I used to accompany the units wherever they were shooting and became an unofficial dialogue writer for them. I wasted ten years like that, instead I could have written so much more... A Magasaysay or a Booker would have been mine,” he rues.
It comes as a surprise that after so many years of association with the film industry, Yandamoori now, at 62, has decided to debut as an actor. He appeared in the recently released Diary, in a surprise role. But, he’s set to play a lengthy role in Village lo Vinayakudu and he’s looking forward to the shooting that’ll take place in his native town Razole. “I can use this money for the Saraswathi Vidya Peetham that I run near Kakinada.”
That many institutions and corporates engage his services to train their wards for personality development is common knowledge. But, what only a few would probably know is he was neither articulate nor could converse in English till his Intermediate. “Somebody who studied in a place like Jammalamadugu till Intermediate in Telugu medium, what can you expect? But I reached the highest position in Andhra Bank where I was in charge of branches from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. That’s where I realised the need to converse in English and started working towards it. Within a year or two I mastered the language,” he says. But knowing English is one thing and lecturing and holding workshops is another. And that bit of transformation happened, thanks to the well-known hypnotist B.V. Pattabhiram. “I was going through this phase where I was depressed after my films flopped and was floating without direction. Pattabhiram who’s also an expert in personality development invited me to speak to his class one day. I thought I’ll give it a try and went shivering in my pants… I was very nervous, But somehow managed to talk to the students and eventually gained confidence to prepare my own modules and methodology.”
A maverick to the core, Yandamoori did not stop his son, who was a state rank-holder in Intermediate to pursue Commerce instead of the mandatory Eamcet path.
The proud father again did not stop the son when he wanted to quit his World Bank job, and again did not stop him from marrying a girl outside his community either. “I was not a good father but a responsible father. I wouldn’t mind even if my son wants to drive an auto, but he should be a perfect auto drive,” he puts it simply.
One couldn’t help ask him if he’ll ever write a novel again. “Certain kind of innocence is needed to write fiction, and I crossed that stage.
Moreover, anybody with brains would want to write for films now, not novels,” he says wryly.