A lifetime of inspiration: Yaddanapudi Sulochana Rani

A lifetime of inspiration: Yaddanapudi Sulochana Rani

Some books make us want to know the author. The person whose pen produced those words that mesmerised us, characters and lives that engaged us and...

Some books make us want to know the author. The person whose pen produced those words that mesmerised us, characters and lives that engaged us and twists and turns that enamoured us. Books are full of tales that we visualise, we live, that we are immersed in.

This curiosity of the reader is what makes an author someone important, beyond being a mere writer of a book. Someone readers see as a magician who can present to them a world that they couldn’t have imagined otherwise.

For more than a couple of decades, an author in Telugu literature garnered that space, the position of a writer who evoked curiosity beyond the stories she told. Yaddanapudi Sulochana Rani was an icon whose work started and sustained a veritable trend in Telugu literature. Yaddanapudi's passing was, strangely enough, as quiet and away from public eye, as was her life. She breathed her last, far, far away from the millions of her fans, in the distant US and left behind a unique legacy that no other woman writer could match, decades after her peak writing days.

‘‘Above all, be the heroine of your own life,’’ Nora Ephron told women in general and women writers in particular. Yaddanapudi was one such heroine, a professional who claimed her own space in the commercial realm of the publishing world first and then in commercial cinema and television.

As tributes from millions of fans, critics and fellow writers pour in at the sudden death of the Queen of Novels, it becomes clear that Yaddanapudi was very famous for her works but even more special for her contribution to the cause of women writers.

Writing at a time when post-independence euphoria evaporated and a socio-political angst set in, Sulochana Rani’s novels told the story of ordinary people and ordinary lives, of middle-class, conservative families, a background that she was familiar with. Though the themes were essentially family dramas with a love story woven in, her books had always had an underlying social message, reflecting realities contemporary to that particular book.

It appears that Yaddanapudi herself never realised the kind of impact her writings made on the collective psyche of Telugu readers. She created characters that broke the very stereotypical milieu that she herself created, men sometimes suave and arrogant, rich and good-looking, rather the Telugu literary equivalents of Yash Chopra’s gentlemen heroes and some other times men of hard work and ideals. The women, ordinary in their social profile but extraordinary in character and role in the story. Ask any fan about the protagonists of Sulochana Rani’s novels and don’t be surprised if a volley of descriptions, a very familiar and recurrent set, is reeled out.

Even as feminist movements ebbed and rose across the world and in the country, Sulochana Rani quietly sent a whole battalion of women characters on a march, independent and epitomising gender power, without a flag and a banner.

Not a single female lead in her novels ever played the second fiddle, settled for cheap thrills or compromised on her integrity. The female protagonists established a whole line of role models for the innumerable adolescent readers who eagerly awaited the new edition of the weekly that serialised her novel.

The glorification of the mother, sisters and soul sisters, loyal daughters, loving friends, many were the faces of the female characters in her novels, each a carefully delineated pen picture of a woman independent in spirit and belief. She was sympathetic to the underdog, the victim, in society – often has the protagonist involved in some charity activity, displaying their soft side - and in a family where people wronged by others always got a special place in her stories.

Sulochana Rani was said to be a merchant of dreams, especially for women for whom access to literature was limited, reading was something new and fertile imagination a denied opportunity. She gave them a narrative, a canvas on which were painted people like themselves but with a chance to enact their own dreams.

The label that may have stuck to her over the decades is that she created feel-good stories that enabled young women and housewives of dry personal lives to imagine love, dare to explore emotions and seek a better emotional experience.

However, the dozens of characters that she created and sent out into the world through the pages of her almost 80 novels showed the keen insight that the Queen of Novels had into the human psyche, the complexes and the baggage that people carried and the many convoluted situations that those emotions created in life.

What made Sulochana Rani different from the many other women writers who did outstanding work and whose work qualifies to rank among the best in Telugu literature? As a whole generation of senior writers just started resting their pens after a long battle to get their own spot in the Telugu literary sun, Sulochana Rani burst upon the scene and promptly became the Queen, setting terms for publication of her writings and commanding a market that hitherto depended on male writers to give it fodder. She glamourised women writing and with her prolific work in the decades of 1970s and early 80s, marking a new trend in Telugu publishing world, commanding both a respectable remuneration and a new respect for her success as a woman writer to reckon.

It is this success that made her stories popular choice for filmmakers of that era who discovered that middle-class family sagas made for memorable films and drew audiences across the board. Whether it was the potential for her novels to be turned into films or the possibility that filmmakers saw in her work, Sulochana Rani’s novels read like screenplays, with the story unfolding in clear cutscenes, dramatic chapter-ends, crisp dialogue, well-etched characters and emotional high tones.

A record number of her novels were turned into extremely successful films, with popular heroes competing to play the roles in her novels. So much so that many readers of that time often reported that they could actually put a particular favourite actor in the novel and visualise the entire story mentally. Her success later continued on the small screen.

Her style may seem slow to new readers of today, fed on tons of racy thrillers and gimmicky writing. Her characters may seem rather tame to activists who cry blood in the name of movements and isms. Her stories may seem removed from the grassroots reality of that era, but it is undeniable that Sulochana Rani has gained unprecedented popularity, fame and respect as a woman writer who raised her own space in Telugu popular literature on to a pedestal. She was among the first crop of writers who turned professional, produced commissioned works, wrote prolifically and created a big market for her works.

Was she anything like her heroines? Was she beautiful, regal or very traditional? Did she sit in a big, serious study to write or was she a normal wife and mother to her child? Did she cook and do chores like ordinary women? These were questions that bothered her inquisitive fans. It is said that fans lined up outside her home to just catch a glimpse of the woman who threw open wonderful, emotional vistas and gripping family sagas and breathless love stories for them.

Sulochana Rani was a stoic, sweet-tempered person whose composure belied the vibrant imagination of her mind, a successful professional who carried her success with equanimity and humility, someone who shunned awards and publicity but accepted fame with a smile. Sulochana Rani was as much a heroine of her own life as were the woman protagonists of her books.

By: Usha Turaga-Revelli

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