Andhra Nataka Ratna- Ballari Raghava
Tadipatri Raghavacharyulu or Ballari Raghava was one of the greatest Telugu drama artists. He was born on August 2, 1880 in Tadipatri, a village in Anantapuram district. His father was Narasimhachari and mother was Seshamma.He finished his Matriculation in Ballari High School and graduated from Christian College, Madras. He was married to Krishnamma, daughter of Lakshmanachari of Kurnool. Besides being a versatile actor, he was also a busy lawyer and an ardent social worker .All his earnings were spent in development of the art that was his passion and for the uplift of the down-trodden. As a man he was incomparable.
Raghava practiced law after graduating from Madras Law College in 1905.Very soon he became rich and popular as a criminal lawyer and well known for his cross examination tactics. The British Government recognized his talent and appointed him as a public prosecutor and also awarded him the title “Rao Bahadur”. From his childhood, he was very interested in drama and started his acting career at the age of 12. His uncle Dharmavaram Ramakrishnamachari, who was a pioneering dramatist in Telugu, initiated him on the stage. He founded Shakespeare Club in Ballari and played Shakespeare dramas. Raghava portrayed main characters in various dramas in Sreenivasarao Kolachalam’s group called Sumanohara in Bangalore. Harischandra, Padukapattabhishekam, Savitri, Brihannala, Ramaraju Charitra, Ramadasu, Tappevaridi( Who’s mistake), Saripadani Sangatulu, etc. were his famous dramas. He acted as Ramadasu, Hiranya Kashyapa, Duryaodhana,Yama, Arjuna , Othello, Makbeth, Hamlet and Chanakya etc.He visited various countries like Sri Lanka, England, France, Germany and Switzerland and gave seminars and lectures on Indian drama art. He was also invited to America and Russia, but he was unable to go to these countries.
Raghava was an accomplished actor of extra-ordinary caliber he is known for supreme mastery of expression. Expressive eyes set in a mobile face; he could modulate his visage and resonant voice to suit the emotion appropriate to any role. He was very famous for delivering the dialogues spontaneously in a very appropriate manner even while facing the most awkward unexpected situations in a drama scene. The following incidents highlight his extraordinary skills.
Once he was playing a particular scene in which his character Chanakya gets insulted by the King Nanda. At that time unexpectedly a dog entered the stage. Everyone on the stage got perplexed except him. He addressed it instantly and said ‘ O my friend do you also intend to humiliate me further’. The audience applauded him for his presence of mind.
On another occasion Raghava was playing the role of the king Duryodhana getting insulted in Maya Sabha( Building of illusion) got built by his rivals Pandavas. He was so much involved with his role he slipped and was about to fall. He gets recovered and delivered this particular dialogue while entering the real swimming pool ‘Earlier I thought it was a pool. Now I presume it’s a pool.’
Raghava was equally at home in plays in English, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi; his three main centers of activity were Bellary, Bangalore and Madras. At Bangalore he founded the Amateur Dramatic Association of Bangalore in 1909. He advocated and developed the naturalistic style in acting. He was very particular that women should always play the female roles on the stage.
Eminent people like Mahatma Gandhi and artists like Ravindranath Tagore were impressed by his dramas. He was very popular among the common people as well. He encouraged women to participate in drama. His students who later became very popular included female artists like Kopparapu Sarojini, Kommuri Padmavathi and Kaikinada Annapurna, male artists like Vasudevarao K.S., Apparao Basavaraju and Banda Kanaklingeswar rao etc . He flirted with film industry briefly. In 1936, he played Duryodhana in H.M.Reddy’s “Draupadi Maana Samrakshanam.” He also acted in Raitubidda and Chandika. However, he quit the film industry quickly. His Film Raitu Bidda was burning issue of the times, oppression of the peasants by the Zamindars. Raghava brought a realistic touch to his portrayals and was a huge success on stage. Somehow he couldn’t fit into film acting.
Raghava was influenced by a spiritual master Pandit Taranadh who established an ashram on the banks of Tungabhadra River and contributed a lot to this ashram. He used to provide financial help to anyone in need. He was against traditional extravagant marriages. He lived a simple life, in spite of his tremendous wealth. He believed that music should be down played in drama and social dramas related to social reforms should be given more importance. He advocated that drama should bring some social benefit to the society, in addition to entertainment. He continued his interest in drama until his last day on April 16th, 1946. A prestigious award “Ballari Raghava Puraskaram” was instituted in his memory and is awarded to talented artists who contributed to drama and cinema.
Note: Information gathered from various sites.
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