Telugu cinema loses its Kala Tapasvi
His decorated filmography comprised landmark films that remain some of Telugu cinema’s greatest works
The demise of Kala Tapasvi K Viswanath, widely regarded as the finest filmmaker ever produced by Telugu cinema, marks the end of a glorious chapter. His decorated filmography comprised landmark films that remain some of Telugu cinema’s greatest works—both for their artistic merit and the moral values they firmly stood for.
Beginning from the fittingly titled Aatma Gowravam (1965) to Subhapradam (2010), all his films, in one way or the other, have pronounced the importance of human values and underlined the repercussions when these values go missing. Viswanath’s fascination for the human psyche and all its intricacies always found a way to seep into his narratives, be it through light-hearted means in films like Swati Muthyam (1985) and Subhalekha (1982) or through serious films like Swathi Kiranam (1982) and Saptapadi (1981). On a broader level, his most celebrated work, the iconic Sankarabharanam (1979), in fact, is a confluence of two recurring themes in stories, the evils in the society and how love & art can help one overcome these man-made barriers. The film won the Prize of the Public at the Besancon Film Festival of France and received a Special Mention at the Moscow International Film Festival.
“He is perhaps the only director to wear a khaki uniform on the sets, right from his first movie,” says senior film journalist and historian ML Narasimham. “In several interviews, including the one he gave me in December 1990, K Viswanath attributed this habit to the uncertainty he experienced at the time of his debut. ‘There was a purpose behind wearing the khaki uniform. I had left my job as a sound engineer by the time I got the offer to direct a movie. Had the movie clicked, it was well and good. But if it had not, then I would be jobless. At least, I could be a taxi driver for my livelihood, and hence the uniform.' Such a need never arose. He continued with the success streak right from his first directorial, Aatma Gowravam. However, the uniform remained with him, bringing with it a sense of discipline on the sets.”
Viswanath might have been a taskmaster but his associates only have the fondest things to share about him. Chiranjeevi, who worked with the master filmmaker on Swayam Krushi (1987) and Aapadbandhavudu (1990) has always been vocal about his reverence for him and maintained that he was a father figure for him in the industry. After paying his last respects to Viswanath at his house, Chiranjeevi said, “Neither do I have words to appreciate his directorial skills and greatness nor do I feel I am eligible to talk about him. But if I have to say a few words, his films resonated with and entertained everyone, from the uneducated to scholars, and even became blockbusters. There can be no other filmmaker like him in the future.” The actor also spent a few minutes talking to Viswanath’s elderly wife, consoling her for the loss.
Radikaa Sarathkumar, who acted in Swati Kiranam and Swati Muthyam, says TNIE, “He was one of the greatest path-breaking directors of Indian cinema, and he made some iconic movies. He always believed in making movies that aligned with his belief system. K Viswanath sir was a child at heart and very fun-loving. When you work with him, it is a real treat. The way he interacts, and his working style always bring the best out of an actor. I always say that he was the calm in a storm."
Maestro Ilaiyaraja, who worked with the director on films like Swarnakamalam, Swathi Muthyam and Chinnabbayi said, “The news of K Viswanath garu, one of the most important filmmakers in India, reaching the god’s feet made me very sad. I pray to God may his soul rest in peace.”
Another feat achieved by the filmmaker back in the day, which is practically impossible in the prevailing mainstream filmmaking culture is how he brought in the biggest of the superstars like Chiranjeevi, Mammootty, and Kamal Haasan into his world and style of filmmaking, never trading his integrity for the sake of better commercial prospects. This was made possible by the sheer respect he commanded. "Actors would consider acting in his direction to be a honour. What better describes the respect he commanded?" filmmaker Venu Udugula asks.
Even as an actor, K Viswanath was a magnificent presence on the screen, often portraying well-respected characters. Some of his most popular acting roles came in Santosham (2002), Aadavari Matalaku Arthale Verule (2007), Mr Perfect (2011) and Uttama Villain (2015).
The filmmaker’s demise was condoled by several prominent names across the film industry, with Pawan Kalyan, Brahmanandam, Radikaa, Suresh Babu, Allu Aravind, Chandra Mohan, Boyapati Sreenu, Kota Sreenivas Rao, R Narayana Murthy, Venkatesh, and Trivikram Srinivas, to name a few, paying their last respects.
Vishwanath received Padma Shir, Dadasaheb Phalke award, five National Awards and seven Nandi Awards. He is survived by his wife and four children. His art and legacy too will remain etched in the history of Telugu cinema.