When I look back at my life, I remember that even as a child I had a weird taste in movies. I could never appreciate mainstream cinema. As a young boy, my favorite film was Appu Raja. It had the right amount of everything - action, thrill,s comedy, emotion. I was in love with Appu the dwarf. Later I realized that Kamal Hassan had performed the dwarf’s role without any special effects. It had a Mera-Naam-Joker-ish innocence and documentary-like faithfulness.
Years later I watched Pushpak, another Kamal Hassan movie. It was a silent black comedy and I was left mesmerized. Despite the absence of dialogue, it conveyed every feeling so well - love, despair, ambition and guilt in the backdrop of a crowded city. Poverty and unemployment were the other essential ingredients. Pushpak was the name of Ravan's aircraft in Ramayana. The film rightly portrayed how one can spread their wings and fly (and fall, eventually!)
Today after developing a greater appreciation for cinematic crafts, I understand one thing. Behind every great actor there is an even greater director. Behind De Niro was Scorsese. Behind Liv Ullmann was Bergman. Behind Toshiro Mifune was Kurosawa. Behind Soumitra Chaterjee was Satyajit Ray. The list is endless…
On similar grounds, behind Kamal Hassan was Singeetam Srinivasa Rao.
This article is dedicated to him - the greatest innovator in South Indian cinema.
At close to 80 years of age, Rao is as old as Telegu cinema. Although Telegu is his mother tongue, this man has experimented in many languages including Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and English.
Apart from masterpieces like Appu Raja and Pushpak, Mr. Rao also directed the legendary Mayuri, based on the real life story of Sudha Chandran. She loses a leg in an accident and fights her way back as a dancer with an artificial limb. This film is widely acclaimed for its dance sequences. It inspired people to live their lives with dignity. Initially made in Telugu, the film was later dubbed in Malayalam and remade as Naache Mayuri in Hindi. Off course it won a National award.
Michael Madana Kama Rajan, another film by Rao, is widely considered to be the Tamil film industry’s best comedy ever. Here, Kamal Hassan played four quadruplets and Rao showcased the versatility of Kamal Hassan in a single film.
Rao is not just a renowned director. He has also used his writing skills as a columnist, lyricist and playwright. He even composed music in Kannada for a few of Rajkumar's films.
In the autumn of his life, Rao is active as a teenager. Having directed more than 60 films, each one with something unique and mesmerizing to offer, he is currently working on a Hindi film that portrays the life of Jesus Christ. Rao believes that the film's central message would be heard by Israelis and Palestinians. "Wherever there is conflict, pain, war, we would like to take the message of peace and love”- he exclaimed in an interview recently.
Change is the only constant, and if there is one man who has worked for change throughout his eventful and successful life, it is Rao. It is disheartening to see kids like Akshay Kumar receiving Padma Shri Awards while the real innovators like Rao being devoid of any real recognition. Mr Rao, no matter what, we the citizens of India and lovers of cinema will never forget masters like you and your masterpieces!