The community, consisting of warriors who allied with the British during the First War of Indian Independence had migrated from Maharashtra and spoke a dialect of Marathi called Are. The death of its earliest-known ancestor, Vanarasa Sanjeeva Rao, forced his three sons Ramayya, Venkayya, and Krishnaiah to make their livelihood by performing puppet plays in Telugu in the Rayalaseema area. They came across an orphan boy, Pakeeranna, whom Venkayya adopted and named Govindappa. In later years he became famous as the founder of Surabhi Theatres.
Govinda Rao did not like the family profession. He ran away to Nandyal in Kurnool district and joined the Jyothi Subbaiah Nataka Company. He was brought back to Surabhi with the assurance that the family would henceforth stage only regular theatre. During a wedding in the house of patrons, Ramireddy and Chennareddy, Govinda Rao and the elders enacted Kichaka vadha i.e. 'Killing of Kichaka' in 1895 with great success. They started performing in the district and Govinda Rao called the group Sarada Vinodini Nataka Sabha.
In its early days, Raptati Subbadas, who was an actor and Harikatha exponent, wrote, directed, and played the lead. It was renamed as the Sarada Vinodini Sangeeta Nataka Sabha. It attained huge popularity on all its tours, which included coastal Andhra in 1901, Madras presidency and Mysore in 1902, Burma and Malaya in 1903. Govinda Rao was a good organizer. Starring excellent singer-actors like Chinna Ramayya, Anjanamma, Papabai, and Venkubai, and featuring the latest equipment and Subbadas's training, the troupe gained fame. It applied the colour schemes of shadow theatre in make-up such as chalk, lampblack, red, and yellow ochre. Unlike in other professional companies, women played female roles were a definite point of attraction. The elaborate trick scenes remain the main reason for their popularity even today.
Maya bazar, Sri Krishna lilalu i.e. Sri Krishna's Lila', Balanagamma, Chintamani, and Sati Anasuya i.e. 'Virtuous Anasuya' are their most prominent plays. Subbadas, Viswanatha Kaviraju, and Malladi Venkata Krishna Sarma wrote especially for the Surabhi associations. The first Telugu talkie, Bhakta Prahlada i.e. 'Prahlada the Devotee' in 1931 cinematized their mythological production verbatim, using their acting personnel. They also performed in the first Tamil sound feature, Kalidasa in 1931.
Govinda Rao was a great philanthropist. He donated huge sums to schools, other theatres, and temples. The Andhra Nataka Kala Parishath started under his patronage. In course of time the three brothers had established three separate groups, while Govinda Rao had allowed each of his children to set up independent units. This number grew to thirty-six by 1960. However, only four are active in present days.
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