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Lessons in direction

Telugu film directors Geeta Krishna and K Viswanath during an interactionon Shankarabharanam completing 36 years at a function PHOTO: C.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

Telugu film directors Geeta Krishna and K Viswanath during an interactionon Shankarabharanam completing 36 years at a function PHOTO: C.V. SUBRAHMANYAM  

Budding directors can learn a lot from K. Viswanath’s classic film ‘Sankarabharanam’

Over three-and-a-half decades after its release, Sankarabharanam, the magnum opus of director K. Viswanath, remains fresh in the minds of the audience and continues to strike a chord among Telugu audiences and music lovers. It remains a classic example for aspiring film makers to take their first lessons at direction.

The very mention of the film brings back memories of Sankara Sastry (enacted by late JV Somayajulu), Manju Bhargavi and Tulasi (who played the role of the little boy). A director should be able to visualise the scenes in his mind, should have creativity and should have a say in all aspects of film making, be it in the selection of artistes, singers, locations and almost everything.

How did Viswanath manage to catch the attention of film goers for so long? There is a lot to learn from the film for those aspiring to become film directors. “The technical and aesthetic values, how the story was told with hardly any dialogues, Sankarabharanam mirrors the best screenplay in the world along with some other films like Maya Bazaar, Paatala Bhairavi and Maro Charitra,” says Kokila director A.S. Geetha Krishna, who is training budding film makers at his school in the city.

“Producers ran away on hearing the story but finally Edida Nageswara Rao agreed, and the rest is history. Initially, it was thought that Akkineni Nageswara Rao would fit the role of Sankara Sastry but the director decided on a new face J.V. Somayajulu. Though it would be better to cast established stars for the commercial success of a film, certain films require new faces to make the characters stand out and Sankarabharanam is the best example,” opines Geetha Krishna, who had worked as an Assistant Director to Viswanath for many films.

“The wrong choice of the lead character in Thyagayya by legendary director Bapu resulted in that film bombing at the box office. He cast J.V. Somayajulu, a well built man, for the role while the general impression of Thygayya is of an emaciated man. Budding directors need to learn from such mistakes,” he feels.

During an interaction with a cross section of his fans and critics for over two hours, on a visit to the city earlier this week, Viswanath, who completed 50 years in the industry,went nostalgic recalling the efforts which went into the making of Sankarabharanam.

“After Sankarabharanam a number of youth were attracted to classical music. Many had acknowledged that they were inspired by your films,” recalled Saraswathi Vidyardhi, who teaches students of Music at Andhra University. She wanted to know why the ace director made music emanate from the ‘dwaram’ (doorway) and household articles, when the little boy (Tulasi) touches them on reaching the house of Sankara Sastry. She also wondered as to how Sankara Sastry could complete a line from the song, even in his sleep, as the boy struggles to recollect the line.

“Music reverberates in a great musician’s home and it was my visualisation of the same. For example, the idol of a deity spreads a divine aura at some temples but the same idol may not evoke the same feeling at another temple. Manju Bhargavi keeps listening to him all the time and dances in her mind. Sankara Sastry, even in his sleep, visualises playing the tambura. I had asked SP Balasubramanyam to sing plaintively as though in sleep,” replied Viswanath.

Explaining why he chose to show both Manju Bhargavi and Sankara Sastry attain ‘Sivaikhyam’ at the same time. He said: “Sankara Sastry had worried about who would carry on his legacy and by passing on the baton to the boy (Tulasi) and adorning him with the ‘ganda penderam’ (anklet) he sees his desire fulfilled and Manju Bhargavi sees her life’s wish fulfilled in seeing her son accepted for his performance and dies satisfied.”

Actor Mishro wondered why the Hindi remake failed to capture the imagination of audiences in the north.

The film has to speak in the language and idiom of the audience. While sentiments like love are universal the language and symbolism are deeply rooted in the culture and are different for different regions. The Telugu audience could appreciate Shankarabharanam, even if they had no formal training in Carnatic music, it did get the same acceptance among others, Viswanath said.

Despite the overwhelming success, Sankarabharanam was not without its share of criticism. There were some who cried hoarse that Thyagaraja kritis were manipulated in some of the songs for the commercial success of the film. “There is nothing wrong in introducing commercial elements in the film,” adds Geetha Krishna.

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Printable version | Aug 1, 2020 11:11:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/lessons-in-direction/article7642344.ece

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