Theatre

Rise of drama in Telangana

Artiste Viswanatha Sastri.  

While Telugu drama was flourishing in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema right from Thirties, even before Telugu talkie was born, there was less ‘drama' activity in the Telangana region as it was under Nizam's rule. Those were also the days of Telugu Bhasha movement led by some great names like Suravaram Pratapa Reddy, Burgula Ramakrishna Rao, Madapati Hanumantha Rao, Kaloji, Dasarathi, C. Narayana Reddy and others. The theatre movement was not much in evidence, despite drama scripts written by Tirupati Venkatakavulu, Kallakuri Naryana Rao, Muttharaju Subba Rao and others. One of them was Rotte Chandrasekhara Sastry who launched, the first theatre — Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Natya Mandali at his place Dharmapuri in Karimnagar district six decades ago. His son Viswanatha Sastry, a septuagenarian now, is continuing the movement in the foot steps of his eminent father. Both of them are scholars in Sanskrit and Telugu and good singers too.

Viswanatha Sastry was one of the six recipients of the Pratibha Puraskarams given by the state Government during the Telugu Theatre Day celebrations held at Ravindra Bharati this year.

In a brief interview, Viswanatha Sastry reveals his mission to follow his father's foot prints who initiated him in art of drama. Another person who taught him drama is Kasarla Venkata Subbiah, a scholar. “My father studied ‘Natya Sastra' thoroughly and was the harbinger of verse theatre in Telangana.

All the plays he was staging have become my staple food. He showed me how to enact a role, explaining the difference in social, folk, historical and mythological styles”. He says he too is involved in training and promoting new artistes, like his father.

“I entered stage when I was 14 years old year playing a small role in the play Lava Kusa. After that I did female roles for eight years and shifted to main roles in mythological, social and historical plays. .”

He says he is always social conscious and penned and staged Jayam Manade on China's war with India and Desam Kosam, a patriotic subject. “I have directed and produced Sanskrit plays like Vikramorvaseeyam. Yet these plays and artistes never moved beyond Telangana”,

In recognition of Viswanatha Sastry's services to the theatre and in appreciation of his talent, many literary and cultural organisations felicitated him. “P.V.Narasimha Rao conferred on me the title of ‘Nata Ratna' after watching my portrayal of Bilvamangala in Chintamani. Renowned poet Diwakarla Venkatavadhani called me ‘Apara Pisapati'.

Explaining how popular he and other artistes in his theatre were, Viswanatha Sastry narrates: “Surabhi Theatre Company arrived at Dharmapuri, led by Narayana Rao, to stage Chintamani, but did not find response from the public. We wanted to go all out to help Surabhi. We proposed to them to include me and a couple of our known artistes in the play and give publicity.

They did so. The response was tremendous. I played , my uncle played Bhavani Sankara and my brother also figured in another role. It fetched them good money”.

Viswanatha Sastry is a worried man now as interest in theatre is almost dead.

Yet, he says, they are still staging a play at least once in a year only to prove that drama is still alive. Being a scholar in Sanskrit, Viswanatha Sastry has been giving religious discourses too.

Dharmapuri is an agrarian land and is said to be also a land of scholars sticking to tradition and culture.

Viswanatha Sastry says a day does not pass without feeding the poor. It is part of our Nityaanna Danam system.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 3:36:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/Rise-of-drama-in-Telangana/article14691478.ece

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