Sathiraju Lakshminarayana, popularly known as Bapu (15th December, 1933 – 31st August, 2014), was an artist, a cartoonist and a film director. Bapu’s works are famous for their simplicity, aesthetic sensibility, humour and authentic representation of the Telugu speaking community, and the Indian culture & its values. Bapu and his childhood friend & alter ego Mullapudi Venkataramana, created and produced large volumes of works that are cherished by many across the world. Today Bapu-Ramana is a household name, especially amongst the Telugu speaking people. Mullapudi Venkataramana or Ramana (28th June, 1931 – 23rd February, 2011) was a prolific Telugu writer and a producer of films.
Bapu was born on the 15th December, 1933 in Narsapuram (West Godavari, Andhra Pradesh, India) to Sri Sathiraju Venugopalarao and Smt. Suryakanthama. He was the third of five children. His father was a barrister at the Madras High Court. As an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, Venugopalarao called his third child “Bapu” and that became young Lakshiminarayana’s nickname for the rest of his life.
In 1942 during World War II, due to bomb threats, the family moved to Narsapuram and returned to Madras (now Chennai) in 1945. Bapu met Ramana while doing radio shows for children with the Balaananda Sangham. Bapu completed his schooling at P.S. High School, and Ramana completed his schooling at Kesari High School. Both Bapu & Ramana contributed to the children’s magazine Bala. Bapu's first published illustration was at the age of 12 in 1945 for a poem written by his friend Ramana who was 14 years old. This was the beginning of their long lasting friendship and collaboration.
In an interview Bapu commented that his father was concerned about the excessive time Bapu & Ramana would spend together talking about stories and artwork. He advised Bapu to take up artwork as a hobby and not as a profession since it would not help him financially in the future. As per his father's wish, Bapu graduated with a bachelor degree in commerce from Loyola College and with a bachelor degree in law from the Madras Law College. After his father passed away in 1953 at the age of 49, Bapu pursued his true passion - creativity through art. He held good positions at reputed advertising companies such as J Walter Thompson, but soon left them to pursue uninterrupted freedom for his art style.
He, along with Ramana, teamed up and started to produce works that numbered in the thousands. Ramana was a staff writer at Andhra Patrika Weekly and Bapu would illustrate the stories for several publications. The illustrations were outstanding. Writers of all genres desired to have their works illustrated by Bapu and the publishers sought him out to illustrate and design the cover pages of their books. Bapu began developing his own writing style, which later became the popular "Bapu font" for Telugu alphabets. When young Bapu was introduced to Sri D.N. Narayana, a famous Telugu filmmaker, he jokingly remarked "Aren't you the one who writes Telugu letters crookedly and still make them look beautiful?"
Bapu's artwork extended from illustrations to cartoons, caricatures, graphics, logos, portraits, and paintings. He specialised in water colour artwork. When Bapu was still doing illustrations, a writer introduced the term "Bapu Bomma" in his story. From then on the main male and female characters of the stories that he illustrated were referred to as "Bapu Bomma". Budugu, a lovable child character who has an opinion on everything - from politics to raising a family to culture, was created by his best friend Ramana and illustrated by Bapu. It became a classic Telugu literature.
In 1956, Bapu married Smt. Bhagyavathi (1st September, 1938 – 24th May, 2013). Ramana married Smt. Sridevi and the two families settled in Madras. As a joint family, they lived together - Bapu & Bhagyavati with three children, and Ramana & Sridevi with two children.
Bapu’s versatility was vibrant from his early days. As a keen observer of details and with a mind that was ready to experiment with different styles, his virtuosity was marvelous. Beautiful simplicity defined his style. Now, his murals of the Ramayana adorn the temple complexes of Bhadrachalam and Kotapakonda in Andhra Pradesh. He was honoured as the AasthanaChitrakaar (Painter Laureate) of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthaanam in 1979. Bapu was awarded the Padma Shri award in 2013, which is the fourth highest civilian award given by the Government of India, for his contribution to Indian art and cinema.
Although Bapu was not an individual who practiced traditional Hindu rituals, he was an ardent devotee of Lord Rama. In fact, he considered Lord Rama as his guru.
From his early days, Bapu received guidance & inspiration from several people, and he would publicly acknowledge them. He was especially indebted to Sri Gopulu, who was a cartoonist, a commercial artist and who later became an art director at an advertising company in Madras.
In public, Bapu was a reserved individual and a man of very few words. But his close family, friends and associates knew him well as a man who cheerfully enjoyed talking about music, movies and art. Bapu was a great fan of Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, Marx Brothers and P.G. Wodehouse. He enjoyed watching movies of every genre and language – Indian, Hollywood, European, English, Japanese, Korean and Chinese. His taste for music ranged from Indian classical to Pakistani ghazals and Western classical. Bapu had an extensive library, filled with the works of the people he admired. In an interview, Bapu reminisced that when he was young he would visit second hand bookshops at Madras's Moore Market with his pocket money, and buy art & related books.
Bapu-Ramana’s first venture into films was in 1967 with Saakshi (Witness). They made 50 feature films in Telugu, Hindi and Tamil and won several awards. Ramana would write detailed scripts, screenplay and dialogues, and Bapu would prepare detailed storyboards for each frame and direct the films. Most of their films evoked some aspect of the Ramayana (Indian mythology) as its underlying theme. Both Bapu and Ramana were of the opinion that there is "no better hero than Rama, no better heroine than Sita and no better supporting character than Hanuman".
Bapu's childhood friend Ramana passed away in 2011 while making their last feature film Sri Rama Rajyam, and his wife Bhagyavathi passed away in 2013. Although it was difficult for him to cope with the losses, he continued to paint until the end of 2013 and actively discussed ideas for film projects. His mind was “still bursting with creative ideas”, as he would say. In his last days, he reposed himself with the stories of Lord Rama who inspired him from his young age.
On the 31st of August 2014, he passed away in his sleep.