A Director Whose Muse Was Music: Remembering K Vishwanath and His Films

From Sankarabharanam to Sagara Sangamam, K Vishwanath, who passed away on 3 February, has left behind a rich legacy.

Hindi Female
Edited By :Nikhila Henry

As a child who grew up in a joint family which reveled in all things cinema, art, and music, K Vishwanath was a name introduced to me, when I was a toddler, through the LP record of Sankarabharanam (1980) which would regularly play in the gramophone hall of our quaint house.

The mighty rendition of the title song by SP Balasubramaniam was the calling card of the film which ran to packed houses not from day one but from day seven of its release.

Such was the power of the film’s music and poignant story that it drew in the audience even though the film had a middle-aged unknown actor – Somayajulu. The story on the relationship between art and artists, which transcended gender, was lapped up by the Telugu and Tamil film audiences; this breakout film became K Vishwanath’s calling card thereon.

Vishwanath passed away on 3 February 2023.

Telugu and Tamil cinemas have always thrived on music, dance, and dramatic performances. So what made K Vishwanath’s films stand out?

From Sankarabharanam to Sagara Sangamam, K Vishwanath, who passed away on 3 February, has left behind a rich legacy.

Mega star Chiranjeevi with K Vishwanath.

(Photo: Twitter)


Dance, Music and the Director

In the mid-1960s, K Vishwanath began his career with social dramas, like everyone else, but it was the 1976 super hit Siri Siri Muvva that gave him the space to explore the musical drama genre. Siri Siri Muvva also saw the relaunch of a gifted dancer and beauty unparalleled, Jayaprada.

Vishwanath’s films did well in Tamil also because he worked out of Madras (as Chennai was then called) and his music directors – KV Mahadevan and Ilaiyaraaja – hailed from here. It was post the 1990s that he gave superhit albums with M M Keeravani – the music director who won the Golden Globe for his work in RRR – as well.

From Sankarabharanam to Sagara Sangamam, K Vishwanath, who passed away on 3 February, has left behind a rich legacy.

Still of Somayajulu from Sankarabharanam.

(Photo: Facebook)

As a filmmaker, K Vishwanath certainly understood rhythm and beat better than his peers and his stories were studded with rooted characters set in smaller towns.

All K Vishwanath films have actors performing their soulfully best roles. For intance, Chiranjeevi in Swayam Krushi (1987) and Aapadbandhavudu (1992). As a “Kalatapasvi” (translated as the one who meditates on art) he found his muses in real life trained classical dancers like Manju Bhargavi, Jayaprada, and the man who brought to life the best of K Vishwanath’s characters – Kamal Haasan.


Kamal Haasan, Art, and Artists

With Kamal Haasan, K Vishwanath created what will always be his best film till date – Sagara Sangamam (1983); interestingly, he had a penchant for film titles beginning with the letter S. The number of films between the two legends as director and actor were only three, but the range of stories and cinematic heights those three films touched, reveal a wide spectrum.

K Vishwanath’s favorite theme was to turn the mirror towards what 'success' meant to his lead characters.
From Sankarabharanam to Sagara Sangamam, K Vishwanath, who passed away on 3 February, has left behind a rich legacy.

A still of Kamal Haasan and Jayaprada in Sagara Sangamam.

(Photo: Movie Stills)

An artist’s life is replete with struggle and sacrifice and is seldom without inner suffering or the need for recognition. An artist is also someone whom the world may never get to know.

The number of times Balu (Kamal Haasan’s character in Sagara Sangamam named after Vishwanath’s favorite cousin and his other muse, SP Balasubramaniam) loses his chance to shine as a classical dancer, is a tale that wrenched our hearts, but not without Ilaiyaraaja soothing the wounds with his highly refined music.

Sagara Sangamam took the already heightened cinematic sensibility of K Vishwanath to a more polished level of filmmaking that was tough to replicate.
From Sankarabharanam to Sagara Sangamam, K Vishwanath, who passed away on 3 February, has left behind a rich legacy.

Poster of Sagara Sangamam.

(Photo: Facebook)

The scene which has an overwhelmed Kamal Haasan holding Jayaprada’s hands beset with emotion, when she tells him he'll also perform along with other great dancers is the most remembered even today. The film spoke of art as binding the artist to the world around him.

In Hindi too K Vishwanath shone bright and found a robust performer in Rishi Kapoor who owned his Dafli Wale song in in the film Sargam (1976). K Vishwanath’s films made the music that lay deep in the heartland of his home state reverberate throughout the south and in Bollywood.


What It Was To Work With K Vishwanath

K Vishwanath went on to act in Tamil and Telugu films (Kamal Haasan cast him in his Kuruthipunal in 1996). In one of the films where I was the executive producer, I had to negotiate for extra dates from him as the shoot schedule prolonged thanks to the never-ending ego war between producer and director.

Now, this was a director I loved, a filmmaking legend I grew up watching and his films shaped my understanding of several layers of good cinema. I was quite anxious as to which way the conversation would go but K Vishwanath proved to be kind and tough at the same time.

He explained his terms without a manager and his voice was as calm as his demeanor, and he helped ease my anxiety by giving me options to shoot with him.

The grace with which he handled the conversation, the respect he gave me for the position I held, the empathy he showed towards the completion of the film, and once we crossed the work talk, how he went back to chatting on my favorite films of his, will make him a true legend in my eyes for reasons beyond his filmography.

On the news of K Vishwanath’s death, the song that played in my head was the climax one from Sagara Sangamam. The scene in which Balu dies in the arms of his friend Raghupathi. Here, SP Balasubramaniam chants a sloka to SP Sailaja’s crescendo finish to the iconic Ilaiyaraaja song – Vedam Anuvanuvuna Naadam.

To the man who will be that Naadam (music) to our movies – farewell Vishwanth Garu. Your movies will make you live on.

(Sujatha Narayanan is a filmmaker and film critic.)

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Topics:  Death 

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