My guru of culture and art

By DECCAN CHRONICLE | Swathi K Sahadev

7 February 2023

He was not just a movie maker for those born in the early 1980s. He was our guru and window to culture, tradition and classical art

The later part of 1970s saw a crop of mass, commercial movies in the Telugu industry and then there came a messiah with a gem called Shankarabharanam. I always remember my parents recalling their experience of watching this magnificent movie. This was like a silent avalanche that hit the audience in the most unexpected way. They didn’t know how to react and everyone in the theatre walked out overwhelmed in silence.

He was not just a movie maker for those born in the early 1980s. He was our guru and window to culture, tradition and classical art. It is so easy for one to digress into being preachy and making an over dramatic movie while talking about traditions, but he never took that path and just focused on classical art and culture and at the same time also spoke about social evils. Movies like Saptapadi, which spoke about caste discrimination and Subhalekha, about the evil system of dowry are just a couple of them. It was a talent that he naturally possessed, to make a movie that so was easy to watch while addressing such difficult topics.

The most important aspect of Viswanath garu’s movies were the female leads. They were critical to the story line and not just an ornamental cast in the movie. They were strong independent characters with defined identities. Be it Bhanupriya in Swarnakamalam as the young girl who didn’t understand the beauty of classical art but finally fell in love with it, Radhika in Swatimutyam as a widow who remarried and shunned the society, Sumalatha in Subhalekha who took a stand against a social evil & walks out of her family, Jayaprada in Sagara Sangamam as the married woman who is the pillar of support to a young man, MoonMoon Sen as the woman with modern thoughts and lifestyle, or Manju Bhargavi, the dancer with an admiration and worship for a carnatic singer.

It would be impossible to talk about Viswanath’s movies without mentioning S P Balasubramaniam or Sirivennela Sitarama Sastry. The songs were unparalleled when it came to melody or lyrical value. The trio were a reincarnation of Saraswati Devi. The emphasis on language was paramount and it pushed a generation or two to put in efforts and appreciate telugu. Most of my friends and I felt we were telugu pandits when we were able to decipher the meaning of his songs. After watching his movies, I always regretted not learning classical music or dance. He was a guru to many in my generation. Not many movies or books or personalities would ever make such a lasting impression in one’s life & he did it with not one but several of his works.

It is an immense loss that he left the world today, one that cannot be replaced.  But I am sure Nataraja Swami and Saraswati Devi showered flowers and embraced him as he entered heaven!

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