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In Conversation With Srinivas And Padmaja Balabhadrapatruni

Nirmala Garimella

In a conversation with Lokvani, Bala and Padmaja talk about the origins of Burrakatha, an ancient performing art form from Andhra Pradesh

Can you tell is more on how it is presented and its origin?

 Burrakatha is an entertainment art form that originated in the villages of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. It involves presenting a story pertaining to mythology, history or a social issue through song, dance, poems and some comic relief.  The performing team consists of one main performer and two co-performers. While the main performer presents the main content of the story typically by singing catchy tunes, the co-performers provide instrumental support by playing a percussion instrument called "burra" to provide the rhythm for the main performer's songs. The co-performers also provide comic relief and conduct a sort of question and answer session with the main performer to make the story and content much easier to understand for the audience. The performers may also add simple dance movements to make the presentation a little livelier.

Some background on how you got interested in Burrakatha?

 A few years ago, we were discussing the challenges Maanavseva was facing in reaching out to the women folk in the rural areas of India, and in getting them to shed their inhibitions and getting themselves screened for cancer. We were brainstorming for ideas as to how to capture villager’s attention and increase their awareness of the importance of such preventive screenings and checkups, the idea came up that they will perhaps get the message if it is presented in a medium they understand.  Burrakatha as a communicating medium was also suggested by Indian industrialist and entrepreneur Sri Grandhi Mallikharjuna Rao (popularly known as GMR) during conversations with him. Burrakatha is an art form unique to Telugu rural areas and the rural folk not only can connect to the message but also enjoy the presentation.

 What  will you be presenting at the event?

 MaanavSeva will be presenting a "Burra Katha"  emphasizing the need for the society to step up and support such causes such as "breast cancer",  how the community can help the cause not only monetarily but also in other ways such as volunteering, fund raising etc. The Burra katha will also be touching on the need for educating especially the rural women folk to shed any inhibitions or taboos and get themselves benefited by the preventive health screenings.

The first version of  Burrakatha was authored by Atlanta based Sri Phani Dokka who is multi-talented in film making, scripting, acting, singing and writing. It was modified with enhancements by Smt.Padmaja Balabhadrapatruni. The songs were set to tune by Srinivas Balabhadrapatruni.

 Who else will be performing that evening?

 Sri Ravindra Mekala, Smt.Uma Yeluri and Sri. Chandra Manchiraju will be performing the burra katha.

On Swara Seva Segment by Madhu Chary:


The old songs are chosen  they represent the golden musical age of Telugu cinema.  Stalwart music directors like Saluri Rajeswara Rao, Pendyala Nageswara Rao, Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao, K.V.Mahadevan, Rajan Nagendra, Ilaya Raja provided enchanting music, very soothing to hear, yet the background music never dominated the song.  They are composed in proper ragas.   The lyrics are penned down by Samudrala Raghavacharya, C. Narayana Reddy, Acharya Atreya, Arudra, Veturi Sundarama moorthy and so on. They represent the cream of telugu song lyricists. The music directors and lyricists won many awards and their songs still linger in the hearts of telugu people even after over 60 years. The songs are rendered so beautifully with wonderful expression by legendary singers.. We wanted to provide a nostalgic atmosphere remembering old melodies in the event and hence the focus on old songs where you have a perfect blend of music, melody, literature and rendering.


Which movies or singers will you highlight?


We picked majority of the songs from movies belonging to 50s, 60s, 70s and very early 80s. These movies are run away, highly successful movies with melodious music. Some movie names are Appu chesi pappu kudu, Mooga manasulu, Rangula ratnam, Shankarabharanam, Mutyala muggu etc.  The primary singers we covered in the program are the legendary singer Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao, Gaana Kokila P. Suseela, extremely versatile S.Janaki,  PB Srinivas and the ever green S.P. Balasubrahmanyam.  These singers are know for their expression


Who are the singers and their background?


The singers include Shilpa Uppuluri, Mahima Cielappagari, PrahladCielappagari, Phani Dokka, Valli Amaravadi, Radhika Dixit, Aparna Repaka, Seshi Sompuram, Madhu Chary, Jagdish Bisa, Sudha Achanta, Sastry Pulya, Bharadwaj Parakala, Anurag and Ritvik.


We also have prime guest Mr. Meer Abdulla in our midst, an actor and producer of the hit movie of the 80's Padamati Sandhya Ragam.


Shilpa and Mahima both sang in few Telugu movies.  Phani Dokka is a well-known writer, singer, Astavadhani and short film producer whose short film won AP Nandi Award this year. Several other highly regarded singers have classical back ground and they are part of many carnatic classical concerts in New England area. Quite a few of them are also music teachers.  Others are movie/song enthusiasts and they sang at several local events organized by Telugu association and other community events


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