K.Vishwanath – A Hindu reformer in cinema?

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.


About krishnarjun108

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5 Responses to K.Vishwanath – A Hindu reformer in cinema?

  1. Jabbar says:

    Nice Article – Jabbar, Indianapolis

  2. I agree on several points made Krishna garu. But I would only limit this argument to culture and arts. K Vishwanath couldnt make any movies that would bind Dharma to life. This was probably deliberate, but if it is not, I would call it his greatest failure. I sense that it is not because in Saptapadi there is a clear argument on Dharma. The narrative breaks down heavily at such points. The arguments made are mostly reductionist.

    K Vishwanath’s argument was fundamentally a neo-liberalist argument. The topics of how society should deal with human, how human should deal with human generally take the route of neo-liberalist argument. This is evident in movies like Saptapadi, Sankarabharanam (when Tulasi comes to Sankara Sastry’s house). This is also evident in how he uses Mantra Pushpam in Sutradharulu while depicting an infatuation between temple priest and the lead female (vijayashanti). The same however couldnt be said about Saptapadi ayigiri nandini usage. The case there seemed to be more forced referencing.

    On Culture, however, he goes on more or less conservative argument. Preservation of culture is something he really stands for. As he depicts in both Swarna Kamalam at several places, culture and art is something that has to be experienced by self for preservation. However, he doesnt describe what he thinks is the best way to preserve art and culture.

    On other religions, many places in movies Subhalekha etc., where he goes on a different route of humanism. However, these instances are not very clear. I hoped that post 90s, he would come up with an argument on conversions etc. There were none which was a bit disappointing.

    Dharmic side of his arguments have mostly been wavering. This is where I find myself dumbstruck. Heres a superbly educated and well versed man who find it necessary for Hindus to work on culture and art for preservation while he doesnt feel the same in case of religion and dharmic concepts!

    But yes, he is one of his kind. He is not paralleled even after 20 years of his more or less, exit from direction. The depiction of various ideas is amazing to say the least. I would go so far as to call him Hindu Culture Reformer in Telugu Cinema. Someone who will not happen in future.

    • Thanks for the comment, He brings up his argument on dharma and tradition in saptapadi climax, quotes references from scriptures and philosophy to defend the idea of marriage with a dalit, i wouldn’t say it’s liberalism but a re-look at own tradition.
      it’s difficult to give a perspective on dharma in modern context, the society no longer organized in that way, one can give an idea of dharma from the epics, as you know telugu movie industry already produced many classics on epics before him, even his contemporary bapu made classics like sampoorna ramayanam.
      before making the masses understand dharma in modern context, first they should understand about something precious in the tradition, vishwanath attempted to highlight that.
      Coming to his failure of how to save tradition and defining dharma in modern context, every hindu is clueless about that including biggest ideologues and gurus, but narration in his movies gives a mental picture of something sublime and precious. That’s his biggest success in my opinion

  3. Subhash says:

    Parama Sutti gaadu Vishwanath… brahmins ni glorify chestadu. Imagine Brahmin peddalu agreeing for a remarriage with a Dalit… not even in 21st century will they change or accept. Brahmins are the root cause of so many social evils in our country for in India they were primarily responsible for dividing humans by caste system, calling them Mala, Madiga etc. They never let anyone else learn or got educated. This guy glorifies them. I have nothing against them as humans and I have many brahmin friends with whom I openly share my views.

  4. Prasad says:

    You are able to share with your brahmin friends and they are still your friends. Try it with other castes and you can experience the results yourself. Mala and Madiga are called not just by brahimins but more by other castes like Reddys and Kammas as well. You seem to be a brahmin basher.

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