Alluri Sitaramaraju’s heroic tale brought to life in riveting dance production

The story ends on an inspirational note, showing Ramaraju’s spirit rising, becoming the cornerstone for future fighters.
Alluri Sitaramaraju’s heroic tale brought to life in riveting dance production
Photo | Express

HYDERABAD : Contemporary writer Ponnaluri Radhakrishnamurthy once described the life of Alluri Sitaramaraju with the lines, “Aakasamuna megharaaju, Bhoomipai RamaRaju, asamaana tejassuto tama tama syaama sainyamula nadipinchu chundiri.” These evocative words were brought to life in a captivating storytelling dance production titled ‘Manyam Veerudu — Alluri Sitaramaraju’. Choreographed by the renowned classical dancer Padmashri Ananda Shankar Jayant and presented by the Union Ministry of Culture and Shankarananda Kalakshetra, the performance amazed the audience at Ravindra Bharathi with its colourful lighting, elegant costumes, soothing vocals, and stunning choreography.

The 45-minute dance theatre production, presented for the first time, featured the inspirational story of the great freedom fighter Alluri Sitaramaraju in a unique and extraordinary way. As the curtain rises, the tribals are seen happily farming (Podu Cultivation). In the middle of this peaceful scene, the British arrive, reading out the Forest Act with arrogance and rudeness, declaring, “This forest doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to us.” This opening scene sets the stage for the unfolding atrocity that follows.

The entry of Ramaraju is depicted very dramatically. The introduction of Ramaraju occurs as he tries to protect the people from British violence. The music played a vital role in this dance production, featuring I Swetha Prasad on vocals and music composition, and I V Renuka Prasad on jathi composition and nattuvangam. The music in this scene features a significant jathi with the Telugu word “tarimi,” meaning to throw away or kick away. This word, used effectively by Renuka Prasad, symbolises Ramaraju’s entry into the scene and the transition from a peaceful farming state to a scene of conflict and change.

The choreography transitions to depict Ramaraju training the villagers and tribal people through various methods like Kalari, yoga, using bow and arrow, horse riding, etc., emphasising his role in empowering and leading them in their fight for freedom. The voiceover by Jayant Dwarkanath and choreography work together to create a powerful connection with the audience, highlighting the inspirational journey of Alluri Sitaramaraju.

Ananda Shankar Jayant
Ananda Shankar Jayant Photo | Express

Asked about the concept, Ananda Shankar Jayant said, “This concept is something that I thought of during the Azadi Ka Mahotsav that the government of India was planning. They were organising a whole lot of events, and many of us were creating productions focused on freedom fighters. I felt that Alluri Sitaramaraju, who comes from this part of the Telugu land, needed to be highlighted. That was how this idea came to be. It took us almost a couple of years to bring it to life. I did a lot of research, a lot of back-end reading. My friends Krishnaprasad and K Padmavathi helped immensely in researching.”

“Once the music came in, we had to rearrange and reorganise the flow. The choreography itself took a little more than a month. I realised that it required a different look and feel. Of course, the costumes were different. We decided to embellish the idea because the story is so little known and has a somewhat linear way of presentation. Essentially, it’s about a rebel against oppression. So, how do you flesh it out? How do you make it visibly exciting? How do you make it orally exciting? How do you make it visually palpable? This was my challenge. We did a whole lot of choreographic design, musicality, and costuming. We had to make it easy for performance, while also giving a bit of the ‘jhalak,’ as I would say, of a tribal feel,” she added.

Transitioning to the next scene, it showcases the brief love story of Sita and Ramaraju. In the background, the voiceover and dance convey in a very simple way that he becomes Sita Ramaraju, taking her name to establish his identity. This brief scene transitions to Act 2, where the rebellion begins. The date marking the start of the Manyam Rebellion is mentioned. The choreography uses “alarippu,” with a guerrilla-style movement depicting the hidden way the rebels would attack the British. The British, armed with guns, contrast starkly with the villagers fighting with sticks and bows and arrows. The scene intensifies with the sound of a gunshot, introducing firearms into the conflict. Mithun Shyam, who portrayed Alluri Sitaramaraju, and the Kuchipudi team, along with the story, did justice to the dance parallelly. The formations are one of the highlights of this production.

The mood shifts to one of sadness, showing the injured and despondent villagers. Ramaraju raises their confidence, bravery, and valor, protecting them like a father and inspiring them like a guru. The villagers, inspired by Ramaraju, ask how they can fight against guns. The context is established that they need to outsmart the British, using cunning strategies.

To lighten the somber mood, a scene in Kuntalavarali raga is introduced, where the villagers lure the British with swinging ribbons, adding a new visual twist to the production. The villagers start training with the stolen guns, and the production depicts almost two years of fighting, with three consecutive battles shown. The final fight shows Ramaraju surrounded by the British and shot.

The story ends on an inspirational note, showing Ramaraju’s spirit rising, becoming the cornerstone for future fighters. The final line, “less than 25 years later, the tricolour rose to new light,” connects Ramaraju’s sacrifice to India’s independence in 1947, underlining the continuous fight for freedom.

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