(Last Updated on : 20/03/2013)
Drama in Telugu Literature was one of the least developed forms in Telugu literature and got off to a rather late start. Many indigenous (desi) dramatic modes such as yakshaganam, veedhi natakalu, and bhagavatha melalu were in vogue in Andhra, but these did not develop into sustained theatrical movements. Till about the 1860s, there is no history of dramatic writing in Telugu. Korada Ramachandra Sastry's Manjari Madhukareeyam (1860) is the first original drama to be written in Telugu, but most of the early plays that appeared in Telugu were translations either from Sanskrit language
or from English.
Translations from Sanskrit began with Kokkonda Venkataratnam's Narakasura Vijaya Vyayogamu (1872), followed by translations of work of several renowned Sanskrit dramatists, such as Kalidasa
and Harsha. Alongside appeared Telugu translations of English plays as well. In 1890, Kandukuri translated Comedy of Errors under the title Chamatkara Ratnavali, and it was staged by his students. Among the other Western playwrights to be rendered into Telugu were Goldsmith, Sheridan, Moliere, and Gibbon. The influence of these translations on Telugu drama was rather limited, but the newly formed English Dramatic Associations aroused keen interest in play performance among Telugus. Besides, Parsi and Dharwar drama troupes touring Andhra around 1880 staged plays in Hindi that were enthusiastically received. This also gave a boost to dramatic writing in Telugu. Some of the important Telugu dramatic associations to be founded around the turn of the century were Sarasavinodini Sabha, Sumanorama Sabha, Surabhi Company, and Hindu Nataka Samajam. These contributed immensely to the emergence of Telugu drama into a distinct genre and the popularization of performance in Andhra.
The early phase in Telugu drama is marked by an adaptation of mythological plots for theatrical performance. Lord Rama
's exemplary life, Lord Krishna
's pranks, and the strife between the Pandavas
and Kauravas of Mahabharat
were among the popular themes. The most important writer of this phase was Dharmavaram Ramakrishnamacharyulu
, the founder of Sarasavinodini Sabha. He wrote over 30 plays and actively participated in the performance of these plays. He blended the conventions of Sanskrit classical drama with those of the Western theater and produced several stageable plays. His Sarangadhara (1897), with its tragic closure, breaks the conventions of ancient Indian aesthetics and marks a revolutionary change in Telugu drama. In 1897, Vedam Venkataraya Sastry
brought yet another innovation in his play Pratapa Rudreeyam by introducing character-specific speech for the first time. Prominent among the other writers of this period are Kolachalam Srinivasa Rao
and Vaddadi Subbarayudu.
Telugu drama entered a new phase with the staging of Gurazada Venkata Appa Rao
's Kanyasulkam, the first social play in 1892. The play had several successful performances in the state before it was published in 1897. Gurazada's work can be placed in the tradition of Prahasanam, one of the ten dramatic modes used in Sanskrit literature. Drawing from these sources, Gurazada wrote the first full-length social play dealing with one of the most urgent issues of his time-bride price, the practice of selling minor girls to old men. Gurazada's play becomes a landmark in the evolution of twentieth-century drama in several ways; the theme is secular and not mythological, characters are fully developed and lifelike, and the language used is the simple, everyday idiom. Above all, the gentle and sophisticated humour; Gurazada brought to dramatic dialogue and situation made it an unprecedented success both on stage and in print. The trend started by Gurazada, however, found no immediate followers, and the Telugu social play as a sub-genre took long to emerge. Kallakuri Narayana Rao revived the social play almost two decades later in his Varavikrayam (1921) and Madhuseva, (1926).
In the first two decades of the twentieth century verse dramas continued to dominate the scene, and mythological plays retained their prime position. Among the most popular plays of this period are Chilakamarthi Lakshminarasimham
's Gayopakhyanam (1909) and Panuganti Lakshmimarasimha Rao's Paduka Pattabhishekam (1909) and had several successful performances all over the state. Some of the most popular mythological plays based on the Mahabharat
tales include Pandavodyoga Vijayam (1911) by Tirupathi Venkata Kavulu, Satya Harischandreeyam (1922) by Balijepalli Lakshmikantham, and Sri Krishna Tutabharam (1922) by Mutharaju Subba Rao.
Another form of verse drama that developed into an important trend during the twentieth century is the historical drama. Around this time, a number of historical plays apparently dealing with centuries of Islamic rule were actually camouflaging resentment against the British rule. Sripada Krishnamurthy's Bobbiti Yudhdham (1908), Kolachalam Srinivasa Rao's Rama Raju (1920), and Duvvuri Rami Reddy's Kumbha Rana (1921) exemplify this trend. Kopparapu Subbarao's Roshanara (1921), a very successful yet controversial play, triggered a sectarian stir and was banned. The era of historical plays, which began around 1910, thus came to a halt by 1925.
The historical drama of the earlier period began to acquire echoes of political innuendo, and political drama emerged as an important trend in the 1920s and 1930s. There was a strong sentiment to re-create a national history to create a national identity in the face of the anti-colonial sentiments. Some of the earliest plays to contain political messages in poetic dialogue were Kallakuri Narayana Rao's Padmavyuham (1919) and Damaraju Pundarikakshudu's Gandhiji Vijayam (1921). Damaraju's Panchata Parabhavam (1922), Somaraju Ramanuja Rao's Tilak Rayabaram (1921) and Budhdhavarapu Pattabhiramayya's Matrudasya Vimochanam (1924) exemplify this trend. There was a rereading of the history of Andhra as well, as seen in Grandhi Venkata Subbaraya Gupta's Andhramatha (1913) and Kavuluri Hanumantha Rao's Andhra Patakam (1939).
The next set of political plays came around the time of the Quit India movement
(1942), with which the Indian independence movement entered its final and most forceful phase. The years 1943-46 witnessed the publication of a large number of plays revolving round the theme of political liberation- Vedanlakavi's Telugu Talli (1940), Utukuru Satyanarayana Rao's Sapa Vimochanam (1943), Jasti Venkata Narasayya's Congress Vijayam (1946), and Pattigodupu Raghava Raju's Delhi Kota (1946) dramatize the political struggle for freedom and celebrate the liberation of the Indian people. The purpose of these plays was to spread the message of liberation to common folk and consolidate the nationalist movement.
The progressive movement in the 1940s provided further impetus for the political drama. The Praja Natya Mandali (people's theatre movement) provided the forum for the performance of revolutionary plays. This movement adopted folk forms such as burrakatha (storytelling) to reach out to the masses with their political messages.
Modernism in the Telugu drama basically implies secular dramatic themes, use of contemporary dialogues and technical experimentation. Moreover the impact of Western Literature was an important feature. Rajamannar's Tappevaridi (1929), written under the influence of Ibsen, is considered the first modern play in Telugu. It called age-old traditions into question and underscored the need for a re-evaluation of traditional socio-cultural institutions. The stage became a forum for an intellectual debate of social problems in this phase. In the 1940's and 1950's, the theme of the various dramatic works further widened. They addressed more contemporary social issues such as class structure, gender discrimination etc. However, following the 1960's, Telugu drama underwent a steady decline due to the growing popularity of television and film.