Every episode of the popular ’90s show, Tenali Rama, showcased a short story with a moral lesson. However, the tales were far from being preachy. Wit and humour were the USP of the show which was directed by TS Nagabharana.
The stories were based on works by writer Kamala Laxman, while late cartoonist RK Laxman made the illustrations for the show. “Tenali’s ability to solve problems with his wit and humour was a big hit among the audience,” says actor Vijay Kashyap, who played Tenali Ramakrishna. Tenali was appointed as the jester in the court of Krishnadevaraya, the emperor of Vijayanagara.
Anang Desai essayed the role of the king, and he loved the banter between Rama and him. “It was a big deal to be part of a show which had creative inputs by the Laxmans. It was a novel experience for me to shoot in the south,” says Desai. The unit shot for 55 days for 13 episodes of the show. They shot in Hampi for around 10 days and also in a village near Bengaluru. The palace and courtroom were created inside the Bengaluru Palace, Bengaluru. Desai feels the “the script and stories were strong”. “The light heartedness and mirth in the show helped. We imparted wisdom without sounding too preachy,” says Desai.
Recalling the experience of working on the show, Kashyap says, “Meeting the Laxmans was wonderful. RK Laxman was an intellectual and warm human being. The casting director and producer had seen my work and knew about me. I was supposed to shave my head, and grow a long ponytail for the role. The producer got worried if a barber would be available on the sets to shave my head regularly, so we dropped the idea. Eventually, we used a wig.”
Kashyap, who wanted to do research about the role, asked film-maker Shyam Benegal for advice. He says, “Shyam babu told me to read comic books on the character and take it from there. I asked Laxmanji the same question too.” Kashyap and Anang knew each other since their days at National School of Drama. “Vijay was my senior, and we also were part of a professional theatre group. We had worked on several plays together. We had a comfortable working relationship,” says Desai.