Sattiraju Lakshmi Narayana was a noted Indian film director known for his films in Telugu cinema, and Bollywood. Known professionally as Bapu, he was also an artist, painter, illustrator, cartoonist, and designer. His films Saakshi and Seeta Kalyanam were featured in international film festival at Tashkent (1958) and in London Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival in 1978. His 2011 film Sri Rama Rajyam was screened at the International Film Festival in India in 2011.
He has been awarded several film awards including national and Filmfare awards. He was also considered an eminent cartoonist and graphic artist. He also designed book covers and illustrations for leading publishers of India. He has won several awards for his work in different fields. He was awarded one of the highest civilian honours, the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2013.
Bapu was born on 15 December 1933 in Narasapuram, in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, India. He began working at an early age as a cartoonist for the Andhra Patrika in 1945. Later he did B.Com (1953) and BL (1955) from University of Madras.
During Second World War, when Bapu’s family was in Madras; the Japanese bombed Madras in 1942. Bapu’s family moved to Narasapuram and stayed there till the end of the Second World War in 1945. Bapu studied in Taylor High School, Narasapuram. There Venkataramana, better known as Ramana, was his classmate; and their friendship continued for life. They later studied together at Kesari High School, Madras.
In 1945, Ramana’s first short story ‘Amma Maata Vinakapote’ was published in ‘Bala’, a children’s magazine, which had illustrations made by Bapu. This set the beginning of their career as the well-known writer – producer – illustrator – filmmaker duo.
Bapu also began painting Hindu mythological characters, epics and stories, in his own unique style. He also devised a new style of Telugu cursive writing in his own simple handwriting style. He designed cover art for many magazines. Naadi, a Telugu magazine published from USA, published Bapu’s paintings and took him in the editorial board.
Career and Contributions as a Filmmaker
Bapu and Ramana jointly contributed to the Telugu cultural ethos through literature and cinema. In their movies, the cine-viewers expected a spectacular visual of nativity with an equally enthralling story-line. Their mythological films like Sampoorna Ramayanam, Ramanjaneya Yuddham and Seeta Kalyanam, and historical films like Thyagayya, Bhakta Kannappa and Shreenatha Kavisarvabhouma have been hugely successful.
The Bapu-Ramana combination created movie magic. Some of their memorable movies were Radha Kalyanam, Velugu Needalu, Bharyabhartalu, Bhogimanta, Mutyala Muggu, Sakshi, Mister Pellam, Pelli Pustakam. Mana Voori Pandavulu (1978), which was directed by them, won the Filmfare Award for Telugu Best Film. Ramana provided script and dialogue to suit Bapu’s visuals. Bapu also directed a Tamil film Neeti Devan Mayagugiran.
Bapu introduced the mega-star Anil Kapoor in his directorial venture, Woh Saat Din. Bapu also directed several Hindi films such as Hum Paanch, Prem Pratigyaa, Bezubaan, Pyari Behna, Mohabbat, Mera Dharam and many others.
Bapu, who had suffered heart attacks earlier, was admitted into a Chennai hospital after suffering a major cardiac arrest; and passed away on 31 August 2014. A state funeral was given by the Government of Andhra Pradesh, as millions of Indians mourned his death.
Bapu’s Telugu movies were about family issues and relationships, where he had vignettes of mythological characters aiding in the narration. His movies had women-centric themes which was a radical departure from the male-dominated films where women characters were relegated to the background and mostly to song and dance routines. He projected the Telugu nativity in his movies and had strong female characters with weak villains. He left an indelible mark, especially in Telugu cinema.
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah