A versatile litterateur

Ganapathiraju Atchutarama Raju  

Little did E.E.Garland realise that the shy boy, whom he goaded to perform the lead character in W.M. Thackeray's play for the school's centenary celebrations in 1936, would one day become a noted theatre artiste, playwright, poet and writer. The boy in his maiden attempt won a silver cup, and the CBM High School found a new contributor for their school magazine. Since that day the lad, who is now is 74, had never looked back.

Meet Ganapathiraju Atchutarama Raju, an all-rounder and a consummate creative intellectual. Hailing from a middle class Kshatriya family from East Godavari district, Atchutarama Raju had his upbringing in this city. From childhood he was inclined towards literature and the treasure trove of rare books collected by his grandfather and father helped him improve his literary skills.

The CBM High School principal recognised the latent talent in him early and rightly encouraged him to take part in debates, acting, recitation and other cultural activities. After the success in his maiden play, Atchutarama Raju became an active contributor for the school magazine. His stories `Kukka' (dog) and `Prayachittham' (penitence) for the magazine were appreciated by the principal and other staff members.

"Rev. Garland occupies a very special place in my life. It was he who actually inspired me to take to literary pursuits and whatever success I have had so far I dedicate it to him for his timely motivation," he says with emotion.

He continued his theatrical pursuits in his college days also and while he was the president of the students union of Mrs. A.V.N. College, he acted as Henry V in the Shakespeare's play that won him the best actor award. But it was only during his graduation days at P.R. College in Kakinada, he did take up serious acting. He authored the play, `Tikkana', and also enacted the lead role.

After passing out from this college with a degree in mathematics, Atchutarama Raju proceeded to pursue law at the Madras Law College. Over there he was a regular at the Egmore Museum Theatre and his role as `Chanakya' in the play `Chandragupta' and the lead role in `Shahjahan' was highly acclaimed by critics.

Though he took up law as a profession, theatre and Telugu literature were always his first love. Doing justice to his profession he soared high in his literary pursuits simultaneously. Apart from penning plays like `Khadga Tikkana', `Brahmamudi' and `Vinayakudi Pelli', he authored three novels, `Kasi', `Munni' and `Runam' that were highly appreciated. He also placed himself in the company of contemporary Telugu poets with his `Aananda Hela' (bliss play) and `Amaram' (immortality).

Writing and acting were not his only contribution to this field. To nurture and groom talents he floated Visakha Nataka Kala Mandali in 1950 which was re-established as Visakha Nataka Kala Parishad in 1968 and is functioning till date. He also served on the programme advisory committee of AIR for some time. He is a senior member on the Board of Studies of Theatre Arts in Andhra University. He also had an eventful tenure as the adviser of the Central Sahitya Akademi on its regional board for five years and has been heading the local Lalita Kala Parishad for over 30 years.

For all his efforts and contributions to the field of theatre he was conferred a doctorate (Kalaprapoorna) by AU in 1993 and is the recipient of titles like Kavi Bhooshana, Kala Saraswati, etc.

In spite of all his efforts to retain the glory and tradition of theatre arts, he feels that the interest is waning among the present generation. "Television seems to be playing the role of a villain in this context. This medium is weaning youth from the traditional arts," he asserts.

Referring to a question on his trials for mainline cinema, he said, "I had two offers, once in 1945, when I was working as mathematics teacher at C.B.M. High School. C. Pullayya, the then top director and producer, offered me a role but I could not take it up as I had just joined as a teacher at the behest of my beloved principal, Rev. Garland. The second time the same director offered me the lead role for `Vindhya Rani' but again failed to take up the assignment as there was a strong objection from my parents." Though Atchutarama Raju could not join films, he quenched the thirst for it by taking part in radio plays. He enthralled the listeners with his melodramatic baritone voice until he was operated for larynx cancer in 1991.

This lawyer, theatre artiste, writer and poet was also a politician. He was elected as the Member of the AP Legislative Council in 1968 from the North Circars graduate constituency and effectively discharged his legislative duties. He had a brief stint with trade unionism, too. He toured Russia as part of the Indo-Soviet Cultural Association in 1987. He is a life member of the Indian Red Cross Society.

Though his larynx has been removed, Atchutarama Raju is agile and active as ever. He is regarded as the moving encyclopedia for his immense knowledge of the city of Vizag and Andhra Pradesh.