Saluri Rajeswara Rao was born in Sivaramapuram near Saluru village of Vijayanagaram District in 1922. His father Sanyasi Raju used to be a ‘mridangam’ player in the troupe of the legendary violinist Sree Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu. Rajeswara Rao, a child prodigy, started performing on the stage from the age of four. His father made him train under Sree Dwaram Vekataswamy Naidu for tabla and harmonium. In 1935, Vel Pictures selected him to do the role of Lord Krishna in the film ‘Srikrishna Leelalu’ (At that time, most of the films were being shot in Calcutta, and so Rajeswara Rao thus went to Calcutta too for the movie).
Subsequently, he did films like ‘Keechaka Vadha’ and ‘Uttara Gograhanam’. Incidentally, his father played mridangam in all these films. At the same time, Rajeswara Rao was a student of Sree K.L. Saigal for ghazals, of Pankaj Mallik for orchestration, of Faias Khan for Hindustani Classical music, and he eventually returned to Madras and started his own orchestra.
At the age of seventeen, he debuted as music director with the film ‘Jayaprada’ (1939) but it was the film ‘Illalu’ (1940) that brought him much name. Gemini Vasan (S.S. Vasan) gave an offer to him a permanent music director position for his films with a salary of Rs. 400/- per month. He did films like ‘Balanagamma’, ‘Chandralekha’, and others for that banner.
‘Chandralekha’ which was made in Telugu, Tamil, and Hindi languages got him instant recognition all over India. The film’s drums dances inspired many songs later for so many years. After he came out of the Gemini contract, he did films like ‘Malleeswari’, ‘Vipranarayana’, and many more memorable films.
Saluri Vasu Rao speaks about his father…
I am very fortunate to be his son. He is a very kind and humble person. In all his life, I never saw him getting upset or yelling on anyone that I know. He is a musical genius, I can say. He did a lot of experiments with music even at a tender age! He always used to call everyone with one’s full name. I never heard him call anyone with a short name, in fact. And, regardless of one’s age, he always addressed anyone with the respectful suffix gaaru. For example, I have a friend whom I call Chakri for short, but he used to call Chakri as Chakradhar gaaru, though this guy is my friend and was thus about my age.
He is very jovial by nature. I remember a funny incident in this context: A producer who wanted to save a petty amount asked to come in an auto-rickshaw instead of a taxi to the recording theatre. My father reached the recording studio an hour and a half later in an auto-rickshaw followed by a taxi. By that time, everyone was waiting outside the recording theatre not knowing why he has not come yet.
He replied that he was unable to get an auto-rickshaw near his house and thus went to the auto stand in the taxi, waited there until he could catch an auto-rickshaw to come to the recording theater since that’s what the produced wanted him to do!
He always used to get annoyed by producers who wanted him to imitate other music directors. A couple of incidents which I remember about the film Krishnaveni and a film with Rajendra Prasad as a hero.
My dad worked for the film ‘Chilaka-Gorinka’ which was Krishnam Raju’s debut film. Krishnam Raju liked my dad a lot and wanted him to be the music director for his first production ‘Krishnaveni’, a remake of Puttanna’s directorial venture ‘Sarapanjara’ (1971) with Kalpana as the female lead.
V. Madhusudhana Rao was the director of the Telugu version. One song was recorded… I think it was the title song “kRshNavENii, teluginTi viribONii!”, but from the beginning, they wanted my dad to imitate Vijaybhaskar who did the original film.
My dad tried to convince them a couple of times but they kept on insisting to such an extent that he got so irritated that he calmly walked out of the recording room. People thought he just stepped out for the toilet or something and that he would be back. However, the canteen boy saw him walk out, and ran to meet up with my dad and ask what tiffin he’d like to have the next day, according to the practice then among canteen managers. My father coolly replied that another music director might be there tomorrow and he doesn’t know what that music director might like and thus suggesting that the canteen boy should contact the producer about it! This made them realize.
Another incident happened after ‘Roja’ was released in 1992. The conversation between the producer and my dad happened this way, roughly:
Producer: The music for our movie should be like that of Roja.
Rajeswara Rao: Oh, sure! So, is the director Mani Rathnam again?
Producer: No, we’re considering Relangi Narasimha Rao gaaru or Kotareddy gaaru.
Rajeswara Rao: Oh, so, is the hero Aravinda Swamy anyway?
Producer: No, sir, it’s Rajendra Prasad.
Rajeswara Rao: Is P.C. Sriram handling the camera?
Producer: No, sir, it’s Srinivas Reddy…
Rajeswara Rao: Is the heroine Madhubala? And, you’re making the movie in the Kashmir region, right?
Producer: Rajini is the heroine… and the movie will be shot in Hyderabad.
Rajeswara Rao: Great, and so, now tell me how music like ‘Roja’ will fit in such a setup?!
The producer was, of course, upset and he left without having any words to say!
I can keep talking about his simplicity and truthfulness and humbleness at length, but I’ll stop here. Yes, we do miss him a lot even now – he’s a one-of-a-kind person that can never be replaced.
(Vasu Rao, son of Saluri Rajeswara Rao, is also notable music director for films such as Naaku Pellam Kavali, Dabbevariki Chedu?, Bhama Kalapam, Surigadu, Manmatha Leela-Kamaraju Gola, Ladies Special, etc )
Article by: Sri Atluri
Compiled and Edited by: Nachaki
Bala Nagamma (1942)
Chenchu Lakshmi (1943)
Paaduka Pattabhishekam (1945)
Ratna Mala (1947)
Vindya Rani (1948)
Apurva Sahodarulu (1950)
Navvite Navaratnalu (1951)
Pempudu Koduku (1953)
Raju Peda (1954)
Vipra Narayana (1954)
Bhale Ramudu (1956)
Charana Dasi (1956)
Maya Bazaar (1957)
Chenchu Lakshmi (1958)
Appu Chesi Pappu Koodu (1959)
Bhakta Jayadeva (1961)
Iddaru Mitrulu (1961)
Bharya Bhartalu (1961)
Chaduvukunna Ammayilu (1963)
Puja Phalam (1964)
Bobbili Yuddham (1964)
Manchi Manishi (1964)
Amara Shilpi Jakkana (1964)
Doctor Chakravarti (1964)
Desa Drohulu (1964)
Dorikite Dongalu (1965)
Palnati Yuddham (1966)
Rangula Ratnam (1966)
Sangita Lakshmi (1966)
Aatma Gauravam (1966)
Pula Rangadu (1967)
Bhakta Prahlada (1967)
Vasanta Sena (1967)
Bangaru Panjaram (1968)
Aadarsa Kutumbam (1969)
Chitti Chellelu (1970)
Pavitra Bandham (1971)
Bala Bhararam (1972)