Suddala Ashok Teja Interview by Telugu Cinema
Aug 27, 2004 – 8:10:00 AM
Though Suddala Ashok Teja wrote almost 1000 songs in films, he suddenly shot into fame with the national award; everyone started talking about him. I tried to locate him through the limited sources I have, and finally, with the help of a friend in Hyderabad, I was able to talk to him. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Sri: Hello, sir! First of all, let me congratulate you on the award! I know you are already getting a lot of calls on that, but we’re just expressing our happiness too!
SAT: Thanks a lot!
Sri: Most of us know you as a lyricist, but some of us are not aware of your father Late Sri Suddala Hanumanthu garu, who is also a great prajaakavi…
SAT: He was a freedom fighter and a great lyricist. Whatever I am writing today is all I got from him. He is the inspiration and motivation behind my success. It is his inspiration that made me write for films like osE raamulammaa!, daLam, and kubusam.
Sri: I think he wrote a couple of songs for Telugu films too. O paalabugga jeetaagaaDaa (maa bhoomi) comes to my mind. Did he write more?
SAT: That�s the only song which was used in films. People still remember him for that song! Actually, that song was not written for a film but was taken from his private songs. He never wrote for films particularly. He dedicated all his life for peoples� movement.
Sri: So being the son of a prajaakavi, how did your transaction with filmdom happen? What made you to come to this industry?
SAT: I had to run the family myself following my father’s death. And, with just my job at hand, it became impossible for me to do it, and I thus needed an alternative. My nephew was already in the field by then, and he helped me get a break in the films.
Sri: Can you tell me in more detail, please?
SAT: I was born and brought up in Suddala and Metpalli areas. I was a teacher in Metpalli before I came into the Telugu film industry. After my father expired, I knew I needed to do something more to make both the ends meet, and I realized that the teaching profession alone cannot help me do that. I was well versed with lyrics as I was into lyric-writing ever since I was a child. My nephew, Uttej, was already in films by this time. He said he will help me, and he got me the first chance in the Industry in the form of namastE anna. (The song pictured on Kota Sreenivasa Rao and Tanikella Bharani, comically penned in telangaaNaa accent is Ashok Teja’s first song.) Then I wrote for four other films before my fist major hit. I wrote for osE raamulammaa! and ninnE peLLaaDataa in the same year. After osE raamulammaa, there was no looking back for me.
Sri: In ninnE peLLaaDataa, naa moguDu raampyaarI pan icchi… ‘ I think this is the song you wrote � that’s sung in aTla taddi…?
SAT: Yes, that’s the song! The song was a big hit and also the songs in the film osE raamulammaa! were great hits. After these, people started noticing my work, and I became quite busy with that.
Sri: But then, didn’t you get labeled for being able to write certain songs only, because of your background? You got famous for all those osE raamulammaa! type of songs…
SAT: Nothing like that, anDi! Songs like nemali kannODaa… (okaTO number kurraaDu), allari allari choopulatO oka gilluDu modalaaye… (khaDgam), bangaaru kaLLa bucchammO… (muraari) …and the lady sentiment songs like adakutura neeku aDugaDugunaa… (kanTE kooturnE kanu) are all good hits. So, I can say I was not really labeled as only certain brand of a lyricist (laughs).
Sri: What inspires you write a song?
SAT: When a director comes up with a situation, we discuss about it for an hour some times about what type of a song we need for that situation. And, after that, it takes me another hour at the most to complete that song.
Sri: What do you prefer? Write a lyric for a tune or write a lyric and let the music director tune it?
SAT: It depends on various things, anDi! Sometimes, we write lyric first and then the tune gets composed. Sometimes it�s the other way round. But, usually, I’d like to listen to the situation before writing a situation-oriented song; a song should fit into the film as an integral part of the film and not as an odd manner. I also do not agree with the complaint that the values in the songs are going down. We do write good songs, but sometimes they get unnoticed due to too much of orchestration, sounds, or the singers who do not know proper Telugu.
Sri: Are you planning to bring all your works as a book?
SAT: I already published a book called aakupaccha cheera. It has 108 songs.
Sri: Yeah, but that’s nowhere near your complete works – the book has only 108 songs out of your nearly 1000 songs. And, they are just compilation of the songs and there is nothing about the background of each song. Is there anything you’d like to do in those lines?
SAT: C. Narayana Reddy gaaru brought out a book like that on his works, yeah. I would think about it, but at this time, I do not have any thoughts about this idea. I do have the complete list of the songs that I wrote, and I also have all those files. So, when time permits, I will definitely think about it.
Sri: Coming to the national award that you recently won: congratulations first! And then, in the last sixty years we got only three national awards for lyrics in Telugu Cinema, and you are one of them. How do you feel about it?
SAT: In the last sixty years we got only three awards, but it doesn’t mean that we lack good lyricists! We have very good lyricists like sirivennela (Seetarama Sastry) gaaru, etc. There are various different reasons for not getting awards for all good lyrics. I thought I missed it myself a couple of times in the past – songs like TapaTapaTapa chemaTa boTlu and okaTE jananam okaTE maraNam songs were probables, in my opinion. Of course, I am happy that I got the award this time. The credit goes to Chiranjeevi gaaru for recommending me to Vinay (V.V. Vinayak) for the song. The song came like a flow once I heard the situation. It is Mani Sarma’s music and Balu sir’s voice which gave more life to the song. I am really thankful to all of them, and I express it at this time!
Sri: Though there are many good songs among those you wrote, there are some songs which are more commercial and have less lyrical value? Why do you write such songs?
SAT: One cannot say no to the producers and directors. If you want to be in the field, you need to write all types of songs. If one says one is not going to do it, offers will slowly stop coming. One needs to compromise sometimes. ‘gongaTlO annam tinTU venTrukalu ErukOvaDam verritanam!’ What else can I say!
Sri: Talking about your father again, do you have any plans to bring back your father’s songs into records or something?
SAT: I do have a couple of cassettes of his songs recorded with his own voice. But these cannot be made as regular audios are they are recorded in regular tape recorder and not in a studio or something like that.
Sri: You can talk to the music directors who have studios and can reduce the noise and get clarity in the songs. And, the orchestration also can be arranged and added separately. Isn’t it?
SAT: I am not aware of these things. If that can be done, I will certainly do that thing. I will talk to the music directors on that soon.
Sri: Now, you became more popular with the national award. Do you want to do anything in particular in the name of your father?
SAT: Yes, I want to establish an award in his name. “Suddala Hanumanthu jaanapada award” or something like that – I will definitely do that. I want to make a fixed deposit and establish an award with the interest from the deposit. That will take some time, but I would definitely like to do it.
While we are taking he got two calls from the directors for their films. He asked them to come and meet so that they can discuss the situation and that he’ll write the song in the next couple of hours. Seeing his busy schedules, I wished him best of luck and taken leave, thanking him for the interview.
Compiled and Edited by NaChaki