(Founder of Surabhi)
Surabhi is a rare institution of family groups that leads nomadic life by performing dramas in villages. Surabhi has a track record of 127years. Most of the Surabhi plays are the compendiums from the Indian epics and mythiologies Ramayana, Mahabharatha and Bhagavatha . There was a time that Surabhi troupes could tremendously survived all over Andhra Pradesh. Sri Venkateswara Natyamandali (Surabhi) which is well known as the Surabhi Babji troupe is one of the survived groups to till date.
The puppet team of the Vanarasa family had become very popular. Their shows became a part of any important ceremony either in village festivals or ceremonies in big families of rich landlords. From a village near Jammalamadugu, there came a call to enact a puppet show during a wedding ceremony in a rich Reddy landlord's house. The village was Sorugu, which is now called Surabhi, and the landlords were Allapureddy Chennareddy and Kovvuru Ramireddy(the former's daughter is given to the latter's son) who were known in the taluq for their munificence and were known patrons of puppet shows. Here, Vanarasa Govindarao found a good opportunity to convert the puppet show 'Keechaka Vadha - A tale from the epic Maha Bharatha' to a theatrical performance. Thats the starting point. With the huge success of the show, the puppetry family cahnged into a classical theatrical family. As the early plays of the group were staged at Surabhi village and since most of the artists lived in the same area, the group came to be known as Surabhi. .
The contribution of Surabhi community to the promotion of Telugu theatre and culture is price less. It was this group that brought women to the stage fro the first time (Till 1885, the contemporary drama groups used to come up with the male artists performing female roles since the restrictions of the society didn't allow women to explore on stage. Since the Surabhi is a family system, women were motivated to perform the women roles on their own stage). It also popularised gramphone records, contributed actors to film, and took theatre beyond the geographical boundaries of andhra Pradesh.
The early plays staged by the group are Harischandra, Sarangadhara, and Sakunthala. The first to introduce ticket system, the gate collection in those days were as high as Rs.100. Thus the credit of making people buy tickets goes to Surabhi. by 1901, Surabhi began tours to coastal districts and even went upto Burma.
Surabhi was a simply a Padya Natakam (classical Telugu verse play) until Sri China Ramayyah introduced the gimmicks and trick scenes. In the long run Surabhi kept on enhance the trick scenes. Surabhi takes resource to a lot of gimmicks, recreating old world charm on stage. The audience witness to their delight, Lord Vishnu materialising on the stage to bless a devotee and Narada traversing through the air, rendering 'Narayana Keertana.' Gatotkacha pours fire in stage and Krishna dances on Kaliya, the five headed sanke. The present Surabhi is a small world by it self. With in-built democratic principles and administration. The families of artists live on the other side of the theatre structure in small apartments built for them. Women and children have always been integral part of its productions. There is a seperate workshop to produce sets and other necessary objects. The artists do moulding, curtain painting, cut-out designs, and other works by themselves.
© 2011 - Sri Venkateswara Natya Mandali