This is the birth centenary year of Kuchipudi exponent Vedantam Raghavaiah, better known in film circles as the director of the Telugu movie Devadasu, starring Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Savitri.
To mark the milestone, a photo exhibition on the life of Vedantam Raghavaiah was organised by Lasyakalpa Foundation in association with the Department of Language and Culture, Government of Telangana, at Ravindra Bharati.
Speaking on the occasion Daggubati Purandeswari (a student of Kuchipudi and daughter of well-known actor N.T. Rama Rao) hailed the contribution of Vedantam Raghavaiah. She says, “The credit of performing the traditional Dashavatar dance in a Telugu film for the first time goes to him. He was given a gold medal by the British colonial rulers when he was very young.”
Senior Telugu star Raavi Kondala Rao remembers how Raghavaiah started as an actor and dance master in Tollywood before taking up the job of assistant director. He learnt editing techniques too. “Raghavaiah had phenomenal memory and would always come to the sets without the script. He knew every dialogue perfectly, and the acting required for all scenes. During shoots, he would act out most of the scenes himself to demonstrate to the actors how he wanted it done. Sometimes he would enact scenes in 10 different ways and ask the actors to choose the one that suited them best for the final shoot,” says Ravi Kondala.
Vedantam Raghavaiah, who belonged to a traditional Kuchipudi dance-drama family in Andhra Pradesh, had directed over 30 Telugu, Tamil and Kannada films.
Dr Tadepalli Sarma, member, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, who himself hails from Kuchipudi village and has been propagating the dance form by organising festivals all over the country, says “Raghavaiah was able to get most of the actors whom he directed to effectively utilise the expressive gestures of hand, eye, and face rooted in traditional Kuchipudi dance-drama. He was so creative that he was able to think about the Navarasas (nine emotions) portrayed in Kuchipudi dance dramas, while working with cinema.”
Nowadays, Kuchipudi has been reduced to solo performances by dancers, seeking personal acclaim. Because of this, there are hardly any ‘dance-drama’ performances which were once the soul of Kuchipudi.
Recently, while receiving the ANR National Award 2019 at Hyderabad, well-known Bollywood actress Rekha also spoke about Vedantam Raghavaiah, who was her uncle. It was her mother who took her to watch her first Telugu movie, Suvarna Sundari, directed by Raghavaiah.
Celebrating Life, a book on Vedantam Raghavaiah compiled by Prof. Anuradha Jonnalagadda, is releasing on Sunday (December 22) at Ravindra Bharati. “One can clearly see the influence of ‘Kuchipudi Yakshagana’ music and dance in all films directed by him. The themes of most films at that time were mystical and mythological. After the 1970’s, the trend in Telugu movies started changing, and slowly, the beautiful elements of Kuchipudi dance-drama started vanishing,” says Anuradha