‘An Australian stuntman who was 67 told me the secret of youth. “You don’t grow old, you grow lazy”. I am yet to fully understand and practice this mantra. It seems like Maruthi Rao garu knows this mantra already’ articulates Cine Actor Kamal Hasan on Gollapudi Maruthi Rao.
Truly so, this man from Visakhapatnam, nearly 78, cannot be labelled as ‘old’ or ‘elderly’ by any standards, except perhaps for the years he has seen on earth. Even at his age, here was a techno-geek; surrounded by a laptop, i-pod, two mobile phones, a digital diary… yet he was absolutely homely like an elder uncle regaling his visitors with stories of his youth.
Gollapudi Maruthi Rao did his schooling and college in Visakhapatnam. He was born on 14th April 1939, to Subba Rao and Annapoorna, in an ordinary family. His young days were full of childhood antics in the old city of Visakhapatnam. When asked about his youthful days, he was eloquent about old-time Visakhapatnam when venturing towards The Andhra University (where he completed his B.Sc. Hons. in Mathematical Physics) was scary after dusk. Back when the Seethammadhara and Madhurwada hills were popular picnic destinations and when the area near Jagamdamba was desolate enough that there were ‘pauv-puttalu’ (sizeable anthills were snakes are supposed to dwell) around.
The actor fondly recollects teachers (even mentioned names) of the C.B.M. High School and AVN College where he studied. ‘I can still sing the hymns I had learnt in school back then’, he avers. He spoke of Ghouse, the tailor who, though a Muslim, would make rounds prior to Sankranti for orders… ‘he used to remind me that Sankranti was approaching’ he recalls… stressing on the fact that caste or religion was no issue back then, ‘only politicians and dirty politics have made one conscious of one’s religion’ he laments.
He left Visakhapatnam to take up the sub-editor post at the Andhra Prabha, a Telugu daily and was the part of the team that launched its inaugural Chittoor edition. After that he joined the All India Radio (AIR) as first Transmission Executive, to finally leave as an Assistant Station Director after nineteen years. But all throughout this litterateur and playwright was busy penning masterpieces and acting on the stage.
Maruthi Rao garu’s interest in the theatre was kindled in his school days itself. As a young lad, he created his own theatre group called ‘Raghava Kala Niketan’, through which he produced, directed and acted as the main lead in many plays written by famous Telugu playwrights. He continued his affair with the theatre even while in the university, wherein one of the plays by Bhamidipati Radhakrishna, titled ‘Manastatwalu’ was presented at Talkatora Gardens, New Delhi in the 5th Inter-University Youth Festival and later for Andhra Association, New Delhi when Shri V.V.Giri was its president.
Acting apart, writing was his prime passion. His first short story “Aasa Jeevi” appeared in “Renadu”, a local paper. That was only the beginning; he went on to write many plays, stories, poems, screenplays, movie scripts, columns…a passion which he has today extended to the internet as well. His weekly column can be accessed at ‘www.koumudi.net’.
During his stint in the AIR, he received accolades and awards for his notable plays like The Best Radio Play Award for ‘Anantham’. His nationalistic play, ‘Vandemataram’ on the Chinese Aggression was produced, directed and presented by him at Chittoor, Tirupathi, Madanapalle, and Nagari. The proceeds from the performances were given to PM’s Defence Fund. His first screenplay was for the movie, ‘Dr.Chakravarthi’ in 1963. He left the AIR to act in movies, and his very first movie ‘Intlo Ramayya Veedhilo Krishnayya’ was very well received… till date, he has acted in about 250 plus movies, and teleserials.
He still writes, acts and leads a very active lifestyle. His appearance and enthusiasm for life belie his age. A total family man, he married Sivakama Sundari in 1961. A sweet lady and perfect companion to this gregarious man, Sivakama came from an illustrious family of scholars and musicians. They had three sons – Subbarao, Ramakrishna & Srinivas. Subba Rao and Ramakrishna run an IATA approved Travel Agency- Maruthi Airlinks (P) Ltd.
The love and respect the actor begets from the film fraternity is evident by the reverence and value given to the Gollapudi Srinivas National Award, conferred by a trust initiated by him. Awarded by the Family Trust instituted to perpetuate the memory of his son – Gollapudi Srinivas, it felicitates the Best New Director of a feature film each year with a cash prize of 1.5 lakhs and a gold-plated memento designed by the celebrated director Bapu. The trust also conducts a Lecture by an eminent personality on one aspect of cinema, with an honorarium of Rs.15000/-. Srinivas was tragically carried away by a freak high tide wave while directing a shot of his début venture, “Prema Pusthakam” in August 92.
The 11th recipient of this award, Aamir Khan (for ‘Taare Zameen Par’), who usually doesn’t attend any film award functions, even those felicitating him, personally came and received this award. The actor did state that he agreed to receive the Gollapudi award out of respect for the organisation.