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In pursuit of human empathy

In pursuit of human empathy
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A Welsh poet, WH Davies famously penned, “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare” in the year 1911, comes to mind in...

A Welsh poet, WH Davies famously penned, “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare” in the year 1911, comes to mind in this context. The poet is lamenting about the mechanisation of the society, which kept the man leashed to it, and in its gradual onslaught reduced the man to dreary desert, where finding a word of empathy, and a gesture of sympathy towards mankind becomes almost impossible. In his play ‘Paluke Bangaramaye’ (Word became rare), written some 40 years ago, playwright Dadi Veerabhada Rao, has effectively demonstrated the evils that plague the young republic and beset the society with their hydra like heads, ever rising to the greater inconvenience of the mankind.

The place of action is young India, a republic that is only a quarter century old, and the hopes and aspirations of the citizens of the nation suffering a setback, and the standards of life nosediving to the depths of apathy. Cinema is also catching up as a medium of entertainment. And this play has taken its title from a famous Keertan of the seventeenth century by Bhakta Ramadasu, “Paluke bangaramaayenaa, pilichina palukavemee” (Your word has become rare, why are you not replying to my calls?) says the musical savant addressing Lord Rama, in one of his famous compositions. Young writer Dadi Veerabhadra Rao has taken a cue from the lyric and titled the play ‘Paluke Bangaramaye’, which in its imploring tone, immediately strikes a chord with the readers and audience, taking them on a path of acclimatisation. This is the first score of success, the young writer achieved in christening the play.

Cinema in those days and now also is considered a sure way of making a fast buck, which then could be used for a political career, industrial investments, etc. An aspiring producer, opens the play venting his ambition of making a hit film, which will automatically open ways for his political dream. In the process of a soliloquy, the 'would be producer', invokes the writers with robust of the body of literature, for drawing guidance and inspiration to his dream in mercantile trade.

Thus responding to his invocation, comes on to the stage Gurajada Apparao, Chilakamarti Lakshmi Narasimham, Adavi Bapi Raju, Mokkapati Lakshmi Narasimha Sastry, and Munimanikyam Narasimha Rao, and their ace characters Gireesam, Ganapathi, Konangi, Barrister Parvateesam and Lady of Grace – Kantham, (respectively the principal characters of the writers in that order) also appear in tandem, belting a song, shaking a step and crooning a jingle.

The stage is now set for the producer to state his ambition of making a film to mint money, which will put his political ambitions on track. The characters are signed for a film, and as they wait for the dodging producer to come, who really does not have so much money to spend on the production costs, etc. The characters ask him what is the story, who are the cast, and what is the name of the movie that he is about to launch. Finding him entirely nonplussed and clueless on the subject of making a film, the characters and aspiring actors suggest a storyline to the dim-witted producer.

First Konangi, a revolutionary firebrand of Adavi Bapi Raju, narrates his pet theme. That is about unemployment rampant in the country, the educated youth ending up frustrated, they are not only on a suicide mission but also wants to kill all the family members once for all, instead of the slow death that is caused due to hunger every day.

Second story is about the humorous character of Chilakamarthi “Ganapathi”, who quiet remarkably tells a story of acute hunger and poverty of the millions of masses, bringing a graveyard scene, and a largely apathetic legal establishment, who wrangle over the IPC sections rather than the plight of the accused, whose crime is only eating dead bodies in the graveyard, unable to control his hunger. This stark aspect of Ganapathi’s persona brings the desired effect of seriousness to otherwise, lighter veined plot progressing so far. And here comes the last story by Gireesam, the flamboyant orator of the play ‘Kanyasulkam’, who narrates a story that identifies the political system and rank opportunism as the prime reason for all the ills of the society, and urges the people to rise to the occasion to change the nature of state, and quality of governance, which are an anathema to the political lot of any colour and hue in the country.

In the penultimate phases, the play ‘Paluke Bangaramayenaa’, deals with the characters of the classics of yesteryears, who refuse to partake in the so-called cinema of an aspirant producer and caution him about the responsibility to portray the social evils and ways of emancipation to the people. Chastened and once bitten twice shy novice producer, realises that filmmaking is a social art and it is not a money-making activity. This message by the writer a few decades back is more relevant in the present glitz and gloss of celluloid. The producer in his thanksgiving session, expresses gratitude for the guidance and direction by the stalwart writers and their characters, illuminating him about how to make a movie, and assures that he would be producing a socially responsible work of art, and declares the name of the movie as ‘Paluke Bangaramaye’.

This play has been staged more than 150 times, including at Rashtrapathi Bhavan, New Delhi, and received all around acclamation and awards. It was recently showcased at Kalabharathi, Visakhapatnam by Jayakala Niketan, directed by K Venkateswara Rao and the cast includes Chalasani Krishnaprasad, Bagadi Achchayya Nayudu, Goureesvara Rao, actress Lahari from Guntur, has attracted the capacity audience. The gritty performances by the vital characters, made the two-and-a-half hour play a visual treat.

Dadi Veerabhadra Rao had also served as a Minister in NTR government, and thus he is a valuable resource, both in the fields of politics, culture and literature. And this contribution from North Coastal Andhra, in the 1970s, continuing the line of social message, initiated by Gurajada, makes Veerabhadra Rao, a rightful inheritor to the thought and action of the father of Telugu modernity – Gurajada Venkata Apparao.

By: Rama Teertha
The writer is a bilingual poet, writer, critic, columnist and an orator.

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