PART - 2

 

SERVICES

With the lunch box in hand and much relief and excitement in his heart, Rama Rao arrived in the Registrarís office on the morning of the first day. Like the others, he took off his coat, hung it to the chair and got down to work with all the enthusiasm at his command.

Come lunch time and the oldest peon in the office brought him coffee and snacks. Having neither asked for it nor paid for it, Rama Rao was puzzled. He showed the peon his own lunch box and asked, "Why have you brought all this for me?"

The old man gave him a mysterious smile and said, "My young master, this is a practice in this office. I arrange for coffee and anacks for all the people working here. Now you are one of us. Thatís why Iíve brought these for you too."

The mystery stayed unsolved, but only until that evening. In the registrarís office, the employees used to hang their coats to the chairs the moment they arrivedin the office. The senior most peon was apparently in charge of what went on in the office. Even before a customerís documents reached a sub-registrar, the bargain would have been struck about the "price". Once the papers were signed, the peon would pick them up and go out with the customer, collect the bribe behind a wall.

From bribes thus collected all day, he would arrange for snacks and coffee for all. He would then distribute what was left among the employees, in keeping with their status. The district registrar got the biggest chunk followed by the joint registrar, sub-registrar, head clerk, clerks and then the peons, in that order. The Head peon would work it all out neatly and put each oneís share in the pocket of his coat.

At the end of the day, every one would quietly pick up his coat and leave, as though they were oblivious of what had transpired. When Rama Rao picked up his coat, he discovered to his amazement that one of his pockets contained hundred-odd rupees which did not belong to him. He flew into a rage. "Nonsense," he screamed. " I wonít accept this." There was a big commotion in the office. They were surprised to see a man who was refusing to accept what came to be known as "collection money."

The first dayís experience in his first regular job was a shattering experience. He was shocked by what he saw; A bunch of educated people accepting bribes as a matter of routine without feeling a tinge of guilt. He was deeply disillusioned and didnít know what to do.

Soon after, a letter arrived from Madras, this time from a young, Calcutta-trained film enthusiast called BA Subba Rao. Subba Rao got an opportunity to direct a film called palleturi Pilla (Village Girl), his first venture. The eager director was looking around for a he-man to play the lead in the film. He happened to see Rama Raoís photograph in LV Prasadís album and was impressed by his looks. The letter said he would like to consider giving Rama Rao the heroís role. Could he please come down to Madras at the earliest? Of course, all the expenses would be paid for. The letter was accompanied by a note from LV Prasad: Good chance, take it.

This came at a time when Rama Raoís morale had hit the rock bottom. Soon the word spread like wild fire in the office. The younger lot in the office, flabbergasted by Rama Raoís refusal to accept "collection money", persuaded him to go with them on a picnic to a nearby beauty spot called Kondaveedu. They all stayed at the place for three days. They politely told Rama Rao that he was perfectly unsuitable for a sub-registrarís job. If he did not accept bribes, how on earth was he going to live on a lowly salary? It was no job for an honest man like him. He wonít be able to send his son to a good school, let alone buy a decent sari for his wife. Now that he was being offered a heroís role-a dream come true for any young man Ė why not grab it?

For the once Rama Rao was in two minds. Several doubts nagged him about his future. He was now in his 25th year. Even though he detested the open corruption in his office, at least he had a government job.There was a certain sense of security-something any youth of his kind from a middleclass family would crave for.

Now, should he give up all those and go to Madras? Where was the guarantee that he was going to make it in films? What if he didnít make the grade? What would be the fate of his family? If he failed to make it in films, he could not possibly go back to government service because, having crossed the crucial 25th year, he would be considered over-age for a government job. Should he, therefore, keep the bird that was already in his hands or give it up and go into the bush to look for two-a doubtful venture?

P. Chalapathi Rao, the joint registrar in Rama Raoís office was a kind man. He knew the ways of the would and Rama Rao respected him for his academic brilliance and wouldly wisdom. He was among the people who went to the picnic to kondaveedu. Chalapathi Rao was fond of Rama Rao and somehow believed that a bright future awaited him in Madras.

Chalapathi Rao argued thus: A government employeeís career was like the tail of a sheep. Beyond a point it never grew. Here was a good opportunity that came your way. It was possible luck would favour you, too. God had blessed you with good looks, education and culture and an ability to act. Fate now beckoned you to Madras. Luck might not lag behind. Victory favoured the brave. Now that a good oppoutunity was knocking at your door, be wise and open the door of your fortune.

Rama Rao was at last convinced. His brother Trivikrama Rao too did his bit. "Why hesitate at a crucial moment like this in life? Go ahead and take a chance." On a good day chosen by an astrologer friend he boarded the Madras Mail. His colleagues in the office and those who took part in his stage activities bid him a fond farewell.

 

 

 

JOURNEY TO MADRAS

 

After arrival in Madras, Rama Rao dumped his luggage at Neo Modern Home (Rs 4 a day) and headed straight to L V Prasadís office. He asked Prasad point blank: "Sri, is there any defect in me?

" Prasad replied, "No defect at all, Mr Rama Rao."

Rama Rao didnít ask why he was offered a small role and not the heroís. all that he then said was, "Sir,
I am an educated man. I donít want to be a burden to anybody. I can make out my own livelihood with
my hands back home on my farm if it came to that."

Prasad understood and tried to soothe the young manís ruffled feelings: "there are not defects in you. Itís just luck, you know. If luck favours, you, you will be a top star. I have all my hopes and faith in you."

" If itís a matter of luck," Rama Rao told himself, "I can take the challenge and try it out. If things donít work out here, I can always go back home. I can work hard on my farm and support my wife and son."

When BA Subba Rao told LV Prasad that he would like to consider Rama Rao for a heroís role just after having a look at his photograph in the album, Prasad thought Subba Rao was jumping to decisions without careful thinkings. Prasad told him: "Rama Rao is raw, a novice. Why do you want to take a risk by offering him a heroís role, that too in your first picture?

Subba Rao said he wished to meet Rama Rao, got his address and wrote the letter which now brought the young man to Madras.

Those were the days when the men who were playing heroís roles had a certain feminity about them. They lacked the he-man image. Being an addict of western movies since the Silent Era, Subba Rao always liked the idea of a he-man playing the heroís role in his first directorial venture.

As Subba Rao sat in his first floor office and looked out of the window, he saw a handsome and wellbuilt young man enter the gate about 200 yards away. Dressed in a white dhoti and lalchi Ė or kurta, the collarless and full-sleeved loose shirt-in pucca Andhra style, the young man oozed dignith and self-confidence as he strode toward Subba Raoís office.

The young man entered Subba Raoís office and addressed him thus, "Sorry Sir, but where is Mr BA Subba Raoís office?"

The short gentlemanís eyes lit up. He said, "Yes, I am subba Rao. You are Mr NT Rama Rao, isnít it?"

" Yes sir."

" Please sir down."

" Thank you sir. I got your letter and here I am at your disposal. What tests do you want to take; voice test, screen test?"

Subba Rao just smiled and said, "Mr Rama Rao, I donít believe in this test business. I have seen you and heard you. Thatís enough. You shall be the hero in my film. Now letís go to Mr Prasad." His dream of a he-man playing his hero had at last come true.

As a matter of fact, Prasad thought Rama Rao was a bit heavy for a heroís role. Palleturi Pilla was Subba Raoís first film and Prasad was concerned that Subba Rao was determined to gamble on a virtually unknown entity as the hero.

" Donít be in such a hurry," Prasad suggested to Subba Rao. "The audiences do not know who you are. Now you want to take a new man as youíre hero. Itís a great risk that could affect your future. Think it over."

Prasad then suggested, "Why donít we see how he behaves in front of the camera? I want to give him a small role in my film, Mana Desam. See how he fares in it. After that you can decide."

But Subba Rao had no intention of changing his mind. He smiled and said, "Sir, you are giving me advice like my elder brother. I appreciate your concern and anxiety. With due respect to you, I have already made up my mind about my hero. I would like to sign a contract with him and only then send him back. If things donít work out, I can always cancel it. But I donít want to send him back empty-handed."

A sum of Rs 1116 was offered to Rama Rao as fee for playing the first heroís role of his life. He gladly accepted it and an agreement was signed and off he went home to Vijayawada, resigned the sub-registrarís job exactly three weeks after he took it, and came back to Madras to launch himself into the screen career Ė a career that was to make him rich and famous.

 

 

 

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