Veteran film artiste Jonnalagadda Venkata Somayajulu of Shankarabharanam fame passed away on Tuesday, April 27. The artiste had acted in about 150 films in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Hindi, of which Vamsavruksham and Saptapadhi also became hits. rediff.com spoke to two of the people he had worked with:
Most actors come to films at a very young age and make a name for themselves. Usually, it is impossible to make a name for yourself if you come late into this field.
But Somayajulu proved everybody wrong. He started acting in films at a very late stage, but became extremely successful. His first film Shankarabharanam happened when he was a middle-aged man. Still, he became a name to reckon with.
N T Rama Rao was deified in Andhra Pradesh after he portrayed the roles of Lord Rama, Krishna, etc. So was Somayajulu.
I remember him telling me about an incident that happened after Shankarabharanam was released. He had come out of a theatre during the interval to smoke. When some people saw him, they were shocked. They ran up to him and said, 'Please don't do such things. You are a great man. We look on you as God. You should not have such vices.'
He immediately threw away the cigarette.
He used to tell me that all my films had my stamp as a director. Even if my name was not there in the titles, people would understand who directed it. It was a great compliment from such a dedicated man.
He was quite happy that the people of Tamil Nadu associated his name with the Tamil film I directed, Idu Namma Aal. He would always tell me the credit should come to me. But it was the way he performed, becoming one with the character. There was no hero or villain in the film -- only two positive characters.
As a director, directing such an extraordinarily gifted actor was one of the most memorable moments of my life. I will definitely miss him.
Dr M Balamurali Krishna (Carnatic musician):
I met Somayajulu at several functions over the past few decades. I can say I knew him very well. But if you were to ask me whether he was my friend, I would say no.
I was a musician and he, an actor, and as I was based in Chennai and he in Hyderabad, there was no question of us becoming friends. But I knew him very well.
Although I got to see Shankarabharanam, his first film, much later, I knew he had given a great performance. Otherwise, he would not have been given a National Award.
Shankarabharanam was a different kind of a film. It was like eating home food after eating from hotels for many years.
Later on, many movies of a similar kind came. Some even had Somayajulu acting in them. But none could match the appeal of Shankarabharanam. Somayajulu also could not repeat his performance. He was a specialist, portraying certain kind of characters, which nobody else could do. It is like saying there was nobody like him in the film industry.
When Shankarabharanam became an all-India hit and Somayajulu became a well-known figure, we started meeting at various functions. We met whenever he came to Chennai and whenever I went to Hyderabad. And whenever we met, we exchanged our love for each other.