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April 25, 1998


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India rubber

Ch Sushil Rao in Hyderabad
Lawrence Raghavendra. Click for bigger pic!

There was this young boy, a car cleaner. You know, the kind who looks up at those jhatak posters of Rajnikanth and Rambo, gets carried away and begins dreaming of making films himself?

Now, if you told you that is just what happened, wouldn't you think we were pulling your leg? Well, if so, Lawrence Raghavendra is a fictional character and all movies claimed to be made by him, aren't. And all that you read below isn't true either.

Lawrence, while once working as a car cleaner for fight master Super Subramanyam -- yeah, it gets more unreal all the time, doesn't it? -- accompanied the boss to a film shoot. Carried away by the music little Lawrence did a nifty twist right there. Superstar Rajnikanth who was passing by caught sight of the neat dance... And five years later, the former car cleaner is as busy as any superstar, even directing the actors he held in awe as a child.

"It has happened to me so fast, I just be can't believe it," says Lawrence now. Nor, we are quite certain, can you.

After that kind of miraculous rise, megastar Chiranjeevi still could shock Lawrence by offering him the job of choreographing the dances for Hitler, which, predictably, was a hit. Now Lawrence has directed Chiranjeevi in Master. And now he's also the hero of Speed Dancer ...

"His dances in the film are superb. He is doing what no one in the industry has attempted so far. It is a tribute to his talent that he dances so well on one leg in the film," says Chiranjeevi.

As a child Lawrence was quite sickly, having a growth in his brain that saw to it that he rarely went to school. For several years his parents kept his ailment a secret from him. So he spent much of his time before the mirror dancing.

"I could think of nothing but dance," he recollects. But when he began bunking school and dancing at home, his parents were really worried. Things weren't helped when the docs gave the thumbs down on the boy's chances of survival.

With Monica Bedi in Speed Dancer. Click for bigger pic!
This was about the time Lawrence realised what was going on in his head and, acting on someone's advice, decided to solicit divine aid at the temple of Raghavendra Swamy in his village near Madras. So, either due to the doc's wide prognosis or ultra-corporeal influences, he can now claim "a miracle happened in my life". In thanksgiving, he added the resident diety's name to his name.

Having virtually kicked up studies, he found the job as a car cleaner with the aforementioned Super Subramanyam.

"When the music blared from the studio where Rajnikanth was shooting, I spontaneously began to dance. Rajnikanth came to me and gave a recommendation letter so that the Dancers Union would give me membership," Lawrence says.

Soon Lawrence found himself playing assistant to director U Narayana Rao. He first appeared in a song in Donga Police in 1991, also doing some dances with Prabhu Deva, famed for his supple body and kinesthetic skills.

So Lawrence kicked in unison with the rest while Prabhu Deva twisted himself into knots up front in Gentleman for Chikupuku chikupuku railey... Lawrence also appeared in dance sequences in Muta Mesthri, Rakshana and Allari Priyudu.

"It was while we were doing the Gentleman song that I began wanting to become a dancer beyond compare, a better dancer than my master Prabhu Deva himself," says the dancer-choreographer-actor-director. And few things give him more pleasure than the increasing comparison with his master.

"I do not know if he thinks about me. He never expressed anything when I was working with him. After I left him, I became so busy that I have not had the opportunity to meet him," Lawrence says. But, of course, he secretly does hope that Prabhu Deva sees him as a challenge.

Just while Lawrence was beginning to concentrate on being a good dancer, producer T V D Prasad shocked him anew by offering the role of a hero in his next venture.

"It was unbelievable. I thought he was joking. Otherwise, why would anyone want to cast a person with a dark complexion, chubby cheeks and an unkempt beard as a hero? It slowly dawned on me that the producer indeed meant what he said." So now Lawrence, former car cleaner, was finally a film star.

A still from Speed Dancer. Click for bigger pic!
Of course, in Speed Dancer plays a dancer opposite Monica Bedi. The highlight of the film is a song in which Lawrence ties up one leg and dances on the other.

"It's amazing how he does it," marvels Chiranjeevi.

Things may have come too fast, too easy, for Lawrence, but somehow he hasn't lost his head. He continues to mingle with his troupe in much the same way as he did when he was one of the guys, no matter than now his titles include dance director and star.

"When it comes to work, he shows he is the boss. Nobody can fool around with him and he will not take things lightly," says a close friend of Lawrence.

For Lawrence, it was a challenge to direct Chiranjeevi, an accomplished dancer himself.

"When I was a child I used to watch all his movies. I liked his dance. I greatly admired him for his dance in Khaidi. When Chiranjeevi wanted me to direct him in Hitler, I just couldn't believe it," says Lawrence.

Like Rajnikanth, Chiranjeevi too was fascinated by Lawrence who was doing a group dance sequence. Chiranjeevi instantly decided to ask him to choreograph dances for his film.

Chiranjeevi had gone into self-imposed exile for one-and-a-half years and didn't want to take any chances with his comeback film. He had no reason for worry -- the film clicked, the dances contributing not only to its success but also helping Chiranjeevi maintain his image as a good dancer. Pleased with Lawrence's work, Chiranjeevi asked him to choreograph dances for Master, his next film too. That too was a hit.

"I am always thinking of dance. I an constantly composing dances in my mind. Sometimes I might come up with a new idea even while shooting," says the man with rubber bones and bouncy feet.

Any big plans for the future, we ask, not quite certain what is left for him to do in this industry.

And expectedly, Lawrence replies: "I don't have any big aim though I do want to construct a temple of Raghavendra Swamy. I also want to help the poor. For I know what it is to be poor..."

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