Telugu movie industry contributed immensely in spreading hindu roots among masses with movies based on Hindu epics. Much before Ramayana, Mahabharatha telecasted in TV, telugu movie industry produced many classics based on Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Bhagavatham and lives of numerous saints.
A SeethaRama kalyanam, Lavakusha, Sampoorna Ramayanam, Narthanasala and many more would remain forever in the memory of Andhrites. Apart from movies from epics, Tollywood also produced many classics that depict hindu culture in its pristine glory. One director who became a legend in this genre is K. Vishwanath.
Though critics argue that his movies revolve around brahminical lifestyle, they do present a picture of entire hindu socio-cultural canvas in which obviously brahminical tradition play an important role. In his movies one can notice an attempt to connect the refined hindu culture, preserved mostly within brahminical class, with the larger hindu society. He extensively used traditional music and dance, two prominent art forms central to hindu cultural expression, to make larger hindu society aware of richness of culture in its midst, though inaccessible to masses at large in the past.
He combined his effort to present the tradition using visual media with a message to reform within tradition. In fact, either of his efforts could not have been accepted without the other, reform a pre-requisite for broader acceptance.
When his first movie in this genre of cultural glory and reform, “Shankarabharanam” was released, not much enthusiasm shown by audience initially, but gradually it became a blockbuster without any established main actor in the movie. The movie is about a master of classical music, Shankar sastry, seriously devoted to his music and a dancer coming from a family of courtesans. The dancer is deeply devoted to Shankara Sastry music and he reciprocates her devotion to art unmindful of traditional barriers and social orthodoxy. Both face social ostracization in one way or other but Shankar sastry refuses to relent. The soul of this movie like most Vishwanath clssics of this genre is music by K.V.Mahadevan and beautiful lyrics by Veturi that convey sublime hindu philosophical depths. (Watch here, Watch here)
Next Magnum opus from Vishwanath is Saptapadhi, a movie that seeks radical reform within brahminical tradition and caste system (watch here). A classical dancer from a pious Brahmin family of priests falls in love with a dalit flutist (Watch here), but she gets married within her extended family arranged by her orthodox grandfather. Later, her grandfather realizes the mistake and personally gives her for marriage with the dalit boy she loves nullifying previous marriage. Entire village comes out to oppose her grandfather, also village head priest, movie ends with village head priest justifying his action quoting scriptures and tradition. (Watch here)
Then there is movie Sirivennala, another musical blockbuster (Watch here),showing the magnanimity of a prostitute towards a blind flutist. The movie moves around a blind artist, a high class prostitute who inspires the art in blind man (watch here) , and a women painter, who can’t speak, in love with the blind flutist (watch here).
Next in Vishwanath classics is “Swathimuthyam”, a story of a naive, immature,innocent person and a young widow whom he marries abruptly with tying a “mangala sutra” at a festival celebration without anybody’s consent (watch here, watch here). A “Swayamkrishi” movie that shows dignity of labor (watch here) and then there are movies like “Sagarasangamam” (watch here), Swarnakamalam (watch here), Sruthilayalu (watch here), Sootradharulu (watch here) all full of human emotions, with profound display of hindu cultural richness, and a message to preserve culture and reform.
The striking feature of Vishwanath movies is his focus on substance of hindu culture than its form. He has showed from his movies that hindu cultural richness transcends beyond mental and physical restrictions. A prostitute, a dalit, a cobbler, a widow, a physically challenged person, an orphan can resonate as much with hinduness as an orthodox Brahmin trained in tradition. Hindu culture has universal appeal to the hearts beyond physical forms seems to be the central message of his movies.
Another brilliance of his direction is his ability to subtly present feminine beauty in such a way that evokes feelings of awe and reverence. One could hardly find the gentle feminine charm and body language of say, a Jayapradha in Sagara Sangamam (Watch here) or a Sumalatha in Sruthilayalu (Watch here) perhaps in any other movie they acted.
Vishwanath in my opinion profoundly presented the divine beauty, “Sundaram” aspect of the triad “Sathyam, Shivam, Sundaram” brilliantly with traditional music and dance. All his movies in this genre are musical and lyrical blockbusters at box office. His movies won many national awards and he is aptly honoured as “kalatapaswi” by film fraternity.