'Viswanath garu was our own Satyajit Ray’

Telugu storytellers open up on the unparalleled legacy of the late filmmaker
'Viswanath garu was our own Satyajit Ray’

While the merit of many mechanical creations is mostly judged based on their relevance and utility at a particular time point, one of the greatest delights of being an artist is how their art continues to influence people decades after their creation. K Viswanath, for instance, belonged to a completely different generation but his work keeps inspiring artists to date. Here are some artists expressing their reverence for the Kala Tapasvi:

Hasith Goli, Filmmaker:

‘The quote with which one of his greatest works, Sagara Sangamam ends, "There is no end to the art " is very appropriate to remember now. That is exactly how I felt when I learned about Viswanath garu's demise. He shares a similar philosophy with the ending of another epic Sankarabharanam too, that the art shall propagate.  

Remembering the only time I had a chance to speak with him, I asked him about the heart-churning, long-living ideas and the guts he had to execute them, and he simply said "as the god pleased". He clearly meant his unmatchable work, the roaring applause, and everything else is just a feather at the feet of the eternal. Such is his humility after creating what no other filmmaker can. He has left a legacy in cultural cinema by making it commercial for decades and it is everyone's responsibility to take it forward or at least try our conscious best to do so.’

Vivek Athreya, Filmmaker:

‘The very first film I remember watching in my life is Swati Kiranam. For the longest time, I believed that’s what cinema is and unknowingly, his films felt like home. If you notice, his influence keeps showing up in my writing too. The character of Mitra in Brochevarevarura is derived from the character played by Bhanupriya in Swarnakamalam. Likewise, Saptapadi and Padamati Sandhyaragam were two of the major inspirations for me to make Ante Sundaraniki

If I have made a mark for myself and my work, Viswanath garu is one of the major influences. I was introduced to his work by my family and I am familiar with the lyrics of all songs from Swati Kiranam, which is a film that taught me how to see a film metaphorically. For instance, we read the story of Vinayakudu’s birth on Vinayaka Chavathi every year. It was caused by Shivudu’s ego. There are parallels between the characters of Mammootty and Radikaa in Swati Kiranam with Siva and Parvathy.

At a time when classical music was slowly perishing, Viswanath garu’s Sankarabaranam influenced people to learn Carnatic music. I have witnessed this influence firsthand in my own house. If we are still talking about art in Telugu cinema, it is because of him. Likewise, so many people began learning dance after Sagara Sangamam. Viswanath garu reminded us that we have a rich and great culture with his films. I am tearing up as I speak about him. In 1981, he made a film like Saptapadi, which made a potent point about the caste system, and he even received backlash for that. The subject remains equally relevant even today, after 40 years. Just imagine his thought process. He is a gutsy filmmaker. Viswanath garu is Telugu cinema’s Satyajit Ray.’

Swaroop RSJ, Filmmaker:

‘As a filmmaker, I believe in social responsibility, and would always think about blending such social concerns with a commercial angle. And looking at Viswanath garu's filmography, we will learn that he has discussed numerous social issues through his films—not just the common issues but also some of the most pressing ones too. I am currently watching a series called The Good Doctor in which the protagonist is an autistic doctor. Viswanath garu made Swathi Muthyam in 1987 with an autistic protagonist.

My favorite film of his is Swati Kiranam. When I first watched the film, I wasn’t mature enough to understand the deeper themes but when I watched it two years ago, I was astounded by how it managed to crack issues like prejudice and ego. I still remember being blown away by the beautiful climax and even thinking about it now gives me goosebumps. It is just brilliant writing. The most important thing is that he managed to communicate these messages through massive stars like Chiranjeevi garu, Mammootty garu and Kamal Haasan garu, and the reach is wider.

Venu Udugula, Filmmaker

I was introduced to the works of Viswanath garu, with Subha Sankalpam being the first, when they were shown in my residential school. It was wonderful. They would play 3-4 films for us every month and Sankabaranam would always be on the list. I would initially wonder why they were showing such an old film. 

Filmmakers have had different approaches to portraying the diversity in Indian culture and society, but among them, K Viswanath had a unique method. He is one of the front-runners among filmmakers who changed the path of Telugu cinema and the stories that are told. Every director has a strong inspiration and after I studied all his films, I felt there was an influence of the legendary V Shantaram. However, Shantaram was more inclined toward the left ideology while K Viswanath was not. His films were quite progressive and one could sense concern and respect towards our Indian culture in his works.

I believe his biggest success is how he managed to create a mark for his films at times when films with ANR and NTR were the trend. Even big stars like Chiranjeevi, Venkatesh and Kamal Haasan would consider acting in a K Viswanath film to be a honour. What could be a bigger honour to a filmmaker?

Sai Madhav Burra, Writer

I was quite young when I first watched Sanakarabaranam and I could understand the depth of his films only after I attained a certain level of maturity. He is a director who bestowed a level of poetry to the craft of cinema. Making a film you like to make is one thing, and making a film the audience likes is one thing. But making a film you like in a way the audience also likes it is a different thing—Viswanath garu belonged to a completely different level. Even though the audience had a completely different taste, he was capable of changing it. He is the kind of filmmaker who took the sensibilities of the audience to the next level. He is a filmmaker who taught the audience how to think.

I had the privilege to interact with him multiple times. When I sat near his feet, it felt like I was sitting near Lord Shiva’s feet. He would share his filmmaking experiences to guide us. K Viswanath garu can never be replaced.

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