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A man of all seasons - Veturi - 1
Srinivas Kanchibhotla

vaeNuvayi vacchaanu....

The wellspring might have died down, but not before enriching vast tracts of land - arid and arable alike. The spout might have stopped, but not before quenching the thirst of tens of thousands of situations (sahitee pipaasa). The river might have run dry, but not before reflecting itself in numerous other tributaries. That probably is the greatest thing about thoughts and ideas - they do not die down, even if the source goes out; they grow with the audience (listeners/viewers), going through the same age process, meaning different things and expressing differently at different ages. And after one set of audience moves on, the ideas reincarnate themselves dressing up to suit the next set, waiting to be interpreted, understood and enjoyed in a whole different way. It is no cliche that art is ageless and timeless. And if it so happens that one artist had his hand muddied in great works of art that spanned ages and generations, then the artist, like his art, would become immortal, and his creations, eternal.

jayantitae sukRtinO rasa siddhaa kaveeswaraah
nAsti taeshAm yasah kaayae jaraa maraNajam bhayam

Seldom are lyric writers, poets. There might be great thinkers and philosophers, who reflected their ideologies and their -isms in their words, but rare is the breed of writers who operated on the simple and elemental love for the word. Pull up any lyric for any situation, the beauty of the language and the reason why they fell for it in the first place, shines through, with need and situation of the song coming in a distant second. In the 60 year history of telugu cinema, only 2 writers can lay claim to being ardent devotees of the word, fervent worshippers of the language, and in being so, blessed as to become the masters of the craft (pada daasulu - pada 'baasu'lu). One is Devulapalli Krishna Sastry and the other, whose career bridged the age old and the new age, Veturi Sundarama Murthy.

There were lot many accredited writers before Veturi, and lot many since, who have penned exceptional lyrics to great many situations, that could warrant the classification of those lyrics as poetry - the highest accolade, the greatest accreditation that could be awarded to any lyric. Again, sans Devulapalli, there is nary a writer who was hell bent on turning <u><i>every</i><u> song into poetry. The situation can be crass, the picturization could be even vulgar, but for better or worse, the lyric that was turned in was poetry, alright ('perugutunna sOku meeda meegaDanta andukO', 'eeDu vacchaaka iTTaa vacchaa, modaTi gicchuLLu ninnae gicchaa'). Veturi burst on to the scene at a very important juncture in telugu movie history, when business started to dominate aesthetics and commercialism was beginning to exert command and control over art, and the old guard started to cool its heels, either unwilling to come to terms with the revamped requirements, or unable to cope up with the mounting pressures. It was a time that everybody could see it coming, (no) thanks to the onset of the star system. The situation that needed the lyrical word became more and more scarce and the requirement for generic situations - duets, sad songs, sibling celebration - started to take root. The worst part of this scenario was that songs became interchangeable - the same song, tune and words, unchanged could be used for an entirely different movie altogether, and it wouldn't have made an iota of difference. How did it matter if the song 'chengaavi rangu cheera kaTTukunna chinnadi', which was meant for 'bangaaru baabu', was used in 'daSaraa bullODu', as long as the heroine was running around in 'chengaavi rangu cheera'? The purpose of song became unhinged from the plot, the characters, their traits, the situation, and even, any meaning - all the pre-requisites that were lifeline to any song. This 'independence' of the song, which was considered as the beginning to the end of the great era of telugu songs, came as a blessing in disguise by the time Veturi rolled up his sleeves and announced his visit. He used the radical nature of the song as an independent platform, where he could play around with the words, bringing out the various hidden, beautiful facets of the language to the fore in hitherto unsung ways and expressions. And if there is one single important contribution of Veturi to telugu movie song, it is his dogged dedication to serve the cause of 'telugu nuDikaaram' (chamatkaaram, sarasata)

yad bhaavam tad bhavati
yad sandarbham tat saahityam

Probably this was the greatest strength, and weakness, of Veturi that he let the context get the better of his word. Noble situations were serenaded with exemplary lyrics, while pedestrian situations were feted with mere playful words. His words matched the situation, never overpowered it, nor, and this is important, looked down upon it. And the latter part is important when having to deal with producers and directors, whose idea of song never went beyond costumes, locations and sets. More on that later. But on those celebratory occasions, when a tasteful producer and an aesthetic director, together with a soulful music director, demanded his best, words like

mAnasa veeNa madhugeetam
mana samsaaram sangeetam
sAgara madhanam amRta madhuram
sangama sarigama swara pArijAtam

alivaeNi aaNimutyamaa
naa paruvaala praaNa mutyamA
aaviri chigurO adi oopiri kaburO
swAti vAna laeta enDalO
jAli gunDe poola danDalO

alalu kalalu egasi egasi
alasi solasi pOyae
pagalu raeyi murisi merisae sandhyA rAgamlO
prANam prAnAm kalisee melisae jeevan rAgamlO

How many such hundreds, if not thousands, of such beautiful lyrics that breathed life from Veturi's pen! Even in his twilight of his rich and ripe career, he let context challenge and dictate his words. In a career that spanned around 35 years, his words at the start of his career

jhummandi nAdam
sayyandi pAdam
tanuvoogindi ee vaeLa
chelaraegindi oka rAsa leela

carried the same vigor and vibrancy as the latter day's

madhura nATya sambharita nartana
koochipooDilO takadhimitOm
viswanAdhula yaekavaeerayae
tamuLa paDuchula valapu kadha

A man is known by the company he keeps. Going that route, just look at the fuitful and productive associations that Veturi was involved in, much the delight and fortune of both ends of the production-supply chain - Veturi-Viswanadh, Veturi-Rajan-Nagendra, Veturi-Vamsi, Veturi-Ilayaraja, Veturi-Chakravarthy, Veturi-Jandhyala, Veturi-K.V.Mahadevan, Veturi-Ramesh Naidu, Veturi-K.Raghavendra Rao, Veturi-Usha Kiron Movies. Every association yielded great bounty, every association churned his mind and mined his ideas, every association reaped the golden harvest. Some, in those relationships, have passed on, some, gave away, but the confluence of that collaboration lives on perennially (jeeva nadi). Though it is quite difficult to summarize a brilliant career, here is a start, with the most successful of all, Veturi - Viswanadh.

Cont'd in part 2



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