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The World of Music and Lyrics in K Viswanath’s Cinema

This article is part of 6 in the series Appreciation of K Viswanath's Cinema


— I —

In the preface to his classic Tabbaliyu Neenaade Magane (My Son, You are Orphaned), Dr. S L Bhyrappa remarks that although the story in his novel unfolds in rural Karnataka, it can as well unfold in any village in Bharata. This statement holds equally true for K Viswanath’s movies. The reason they have enduring and universal appeal transcending linguistic and other barriers is because they’re deeply immersed in what’s known as Bharateeyata (the translation “Indianness” doesn’t do justice to this term).

When this cultural honesty is rendered on screen, it produces such classics. Indeed, “honesty” is the operative word because as we’ve seen in the earlier episodes of this series, K Viswanath is never apologetic about the way he depicts the ideal of Indian womanhood or the differences of Jati or other societal corruptions and similar negative elements. The same attitude operates in the courage he exhibits by choosing and glorifying classical themes with zero compromise: by excluding the typical elements in commercial cinema.

Years ago, Dr. S L Bhyrappa remarked thus on this phenomenon of compromised filmmaking:

Don’t make films with the assumption that the tastes of the audience are of a low standard. You offer something that is of a refined taste. Let people themselves ascend to your standard. But the real question is: do you have the strength and capacity to offer such refinement?

The repertoire of K Viswanath’s cinema shows that the answer in his case is a resounding yes. Apart from the other dimensions examined in the previous episodes, this answer is reinforced especially in the melodious, meaningful and elevating jukebox of Viswanath’s songs and their lyrics. While the previous episode examined this musical and lyrical aspect in a broader fashion, this essay will explore a few lyrical and musical gems individually.

A common refrain of an excuse cited by filmmakers, lyricists, and music directors for not delving into classicism is this: people won’t understand if “tough” classical language and tunes are used. This in reality, is an indirect admission of either their own inability or a disdain for classicism.

On the other hand, Viswanath has used the same classicism with aplomb and succeeded both artistically and at the box office. The reason for this success owes to his attitude of cultural confidence: whether “ordinary” people understand classicism or no, let’s at least offer it and see where we stand. A hallmark of a great and confident artist is the fact that he/she puts his/her neck on the line: an axe may fall on it or a garland. And as history is witness, Viswanath’s classicism has endured.

— II —

In numerous interviews over the years, K Viswanath has “confessed” that he doesn’t know the names of and can’t identify the raga of songs in his (or others’) movies. That sounds incredible because even the “folk” tunes in his movies have more than a heavy tinge of classical ragas. And when we listen to the songs in Sankarabharanam, Sagara Sangamam, Sirivennela, Swarna Kamalam, etc, we tend to suspect whether Viswanath is telling the truth.

But because we have no reason to disbelieve him, we need to look for the reason elsewhere. And this reason can be nestled in one word: “feel” or “Rasa.” Or K Viswanath’s feel for classicism. It’s this feel that allowed the talent of Telugu cinema stalwarts: lyricists like Veturi Sundararama Murthy, Sirivennela Sitarama Sastry and dialogue writers like Jandhyala to attain full bloom. As also the special touch that music directors like K V Mahadevan, Ilaiyaraaja and M M Keeravani lent to Viswanath’s films.

Indeed, if our filmmakers endowed with this artistic sensibility and sensitivity create movies, any melodious bit becomes part of a Raga, any beautiful movement is part of a Karana (dance movement-phrases or transitions), and any catchy or striking statement, an alankara (literary and/or expressive embellishment): whether they’re theoretically defined or undefined. This is in keeping with the time-honoured dictum in Soundaryam alankarah (beauty is itself an ornament) and VAgvaichitrya (any unique, innovative or striking expression is an ornament). And it’s here that the categories of Marga and Deshi blend seamlessly. This is truly the philosophical pulse of Indian art.

The lyrical and musical classicism in K Viswanath’s cinema can be categorized under two broad heads:

  • Using classical pieces (like Kritis) directly and contextualizing them in a contemporary situation.
  • Injecting classicism into original lyrics penned by the lyricists in his team.

This episode will examine a few representative and outstanding samples belonging to both categories.

— III —    

One challenge posed before any filmmaker intending to use classical pieces in-toto is that of anauchitya (non-aptness/irrelevance). K Viswanath’s movies have surmounted this by creatively blending them as elements essential to the plot.

As an immediate example, we can cite “Samajavaragamana,” the Thyagaraja Kriti set to the Hindola Ragam, included in Sankarabharanam. The lyric of only the Pallavi and Anupallavi is Thyagaraja’s. The two other caranams (stanzas) are penned by Veturi Sundararamamurthy. But unless we watch the entire song—of note is S Janaki’s brilliant and deliberate rendering of apaswara—we miss the crucial element in the plot: of the break up of the marriage alliance.

Samajavaragamana Song

Similar examples from the same film include bits of Bhadrachala Ramadasu’s compositions of Yeteeruga nannu, Paluke bangaramayena, Sadashiva Brahmendra’s Manasa Sancharare, Mysore Vasudevacharya’s Brochevarevarura, and Manikyaveenaam incorrectly attributed to Kalidasa.  

When we turn to Sagara Sangamam, we have S Janaki’s zesty rendition of Thyagaraja’s Balakanakamaya set to the Athana Ragam, and choreographed excellently where Manju Bhargavi and Kamal Hassan perform in parallel. I must venture to say that Ilayaraja gave a rather vibrant flavor to this Kriti: when it used to be sung in traditional concerts till then, the typical artist followed a (boring) textbook approach to render Thyagaraja’s playful, beseeching lyric.

Balakanakamaya Song

We can also cite the equally creative use of Thyagaraja’s other renowned Marugelara set to the Jayantasri Ragam in Saptapadi. While there’s a tinge of Bhakti/Karuna (devotion, pathos) Rasa in the lyric and the tune, Viswanath artistically adapts it to deliver a semi-Shringara (romantic) Rasa without losing sight of the original Bhakti rasa. The leading lady offers Puja to Sri Rama with the same lyric while simultaneously conveying her love for her man. This is a good example of cinematic slesha (pun).

Marugelara Song

Then there’s the evocative and beautiful use of Sri Narayana Tirtha’s Alokaye Sri Balakrishnam set to the Huseni (with shades of Jinjhuti) Ragam in Shruti Layalu. The song sequence forms the perfect launch-vehicle for the young classical singer-dancer Shanmukha Srinivas and marks a decisive turn in the film’s plot.

Alokaye Sri Balakrishnam Song

One must also mention the soothing use of Annamacharya’s Padam, Vinnapalu Vinavale in the Malayamarutham Ragam in Subhalekha. Viswanath opens the movie with this song, used as a Suprabhatam of sorts with Malayamarutham being a morning Ragam.

Vinnapalu Vinavale Song 


In summary, there’s hardly any K Viswanath film after Sankarabharanam that doesn’t have at least snippets (if not the entire) of traditional classical compositions. We can close this listing by briefly considering a few more: Neyyamulallo, Gandhamu Puyyaruga, Brahmamokkate, Inni Rasulayuniki, and Nagumomu Ganaleni.

What’s also notable in the picturization of these traditional Kritis is how Viswanath never loses sight of his trademark emotional richness and interplay of characters. Even more remarkable is the fact that although he has conceived and interpreted these compositions differently from the original composer, he hasn’t distorted them. On the contrary, he has revived and revitalized these compositions and has ensured that they remain ever-relevant. This method indeed is one of the best forms of paying reverential tributes to our past masters.

Despite this, one is forced to recall the criticism that K Viswanath faced for his romantic picturization of Samajavaragamana and Marugelara. The critics were drawn from the pool of the unswerving, and blindly orthodox “traditional” classical musicians who claimed that he had committed sacrilege against Thyagaraja Swami. This criticism was pretty strident against Samajavaragamana for committing the grave “sin” of adding romantic lyrics like “Madhura lalasala madhupa laalanala Pedaviloni madhuvuralu vratamu pooni jataku cheraga.”

To borrow from Viswanath’s own Sankarabharanam, these critics are the true symbols of the ChhAndasas, those who obstinately adhere to the word and not the spirit and meaning.

— IV —

The formidable challenge and drawback in using set or traditional compositions of past masters in cinema is the constraint of space for artistic or creative maneuvering. One cannot tamper for example, with the original lyric and raga in which it is composed. At best, a filmmaker can conceive its portrayal via creative interpretation using the plot and scene as a vehicle, which as we’ve just seen, K Viswanath has accomplished quite well.

By the time Viswanath shot Sankarabharanam, the audience profile had been alienated from said classicism. With socials, crime, suspense, and action genres growing in popularity, the possibility for including Padyams, Harikatha, etc was eliminated. Therefore, the only way to portray or use classicism in cinema was to make the classical art form itself the protagonist. Which in turn demands exacting standards.

But the greater challenge lies in conceiving originality in lyric and music and dance in movies based on classical themes and delivering a fine aesthetic experience. Add to this difficulty a cultural and social milieu in which the classical element is not only absent but is derided and ridiculed.

In K Viswanath’s cinematic corpus, this element of originality shines forth brilliantly in lyric and music.

We also need to consider the fact that in the realm of cinema lyrics, it’s extremely tough to imbue Kavya (poetry in the classical Indian sense) especially when depicting contemporary life and times. This factor is equally valid for the use of classical Ragams in composing film songs. In both cases, the lyricist and the music director are typically hemmed in by severe curbs: of the commercial demands of the producer, the ill-informed director, the length of the song (typically in the range of five minutes), made-to-order lyrics, and audience expectations.

But as the record shows, in Viswanath’s case, he gave absolute freedom for the creative powers of his lyricists and music directors to take wings. The proof of this fact becomes evident when we examine in fair detail some representative samples of that this freedom has produced.

— V —  

SANKARABHARANAM

We can begin with the iconic title song of Sankarabharanam, set to the same raga. It is another gem showcasing Veturi Sundararamamurthy’s lyrical and poetic prowess and musical knowledge.

Using the Sankarabharanam Ragam as a base, Veturi in a short space, brings out the Indian conception of music as a means to realize Advaita, describes the glory of the Raga variously as an ornament of Shiva and as the ninAda (resonant melody) emanating from Mahati, the Veena of Rishi Narada. The wordplay in “sankaragaLa nigaLamu” (the necklace around Shiva’s neck) and the imagery in “ragaratnamAlika taraLamu” (the pendant in the gem-studded garland of ragas) convey a beautiful, imaginative description of the Ragam as an AbharaNam (ornament). Also of note is the phrase “rasagangalo tAnam” meaning the Ragam is a melodious tAnam (elaboration of a Ragam) in the Ganga of Rasa. The word tAnam also means “bathing.”

The music director K V Mahadevan has truly matched step with Veturi. Apart from using different starting notes for each caraNam, his mastery over the nuances of the Sankarabharanam Ragam can be discerned in the Kalpanaswaram section towards the end. At the risk of committing blasphemy, it can be said that Mahadevan has brought out the essence and the Bhavam of the Sankarabharanam Ragam far more effectively and pleasingly in about six minutes than several classical singers rendering it for over thirty minutes.

Omkara naadanusandhanam Song


rAgam tAnam pallavi is the next song we can consider. Veturi’s mellifluous lyric pays rich tributes to classical music, its masters, and various compositions that have stood the test of time. It’s also notable that in keeping with the lyric, Mahadevan opted to make it a Ragamalika instead of composing it in a single Raga.

For instance, when the phrase “Kshirasagara Sayana” occurs in the song, the Ragam subtly shifts to Devagandhari, in which Thyagaraja’s fabled Kriti “Kshirasagara Sayana nannu” is set. This feat of introducing the rAgamudrika (seal of stamp of the Raga) is also evident in his use of the Saranga Ragam in “KrishNAtarangAla sAranga rAgAlu,” and the Kedara Ragam in “sasya kedArala sarasa gandhArAlu.”


We can round off Sankarabharanam with the outstanding Sankara nAdaSarIrAparA, now the stuff of legends. Another pearl from the magical Veturi—Mahadevan duo, this composition is tuned in the Madhyamavati Ragam with shades of the Megh Ragam interspersed within. It easily ranks as a classic by any standard, and merits a separate study. Madhyamavati is an auspicious (Mangala), lilting Ragam typically used as the last piece in a Carnatic concert. But in the hands of K V Mahadevan, it simultaneously acquires a defiant, vigorous, and plaintive flavor, conveying a mix of Vira (Heroic) and Karuna (Pathos) Rasas.

Sankara Nadasharirapara Song

However, one tends to be partial towards Veturi’s pen when he progressively builds up the protagonist Sankara Sastry’s righteous anger against a heartless society and the futility of instilling sense into it. He beseeches Sankara or Shiva, the Lord of Music, first with moderate syllables beginning with prANamunIvani…and ends by throwing the gauntlet to Shiva in nIvADanu nEnaite. Then he quickens the pace and fury with a nonstop harsh-syllabic frenzy in dhikkarIndrajita…kshudruleruga nI rudravIna nirnidragAna…and finally dares Sankara in the singular to “wake up and become blessed” by listening to “my music.”

This first stanza is truly a tour de force of the gamut of Veturi’s learning and lyrical dexterity. The mastery in the wordplay in kandarA nIlakandharA is a sheer delight to behold: Shiva’s abode in a cave (kandarA) in the Himalayas and Shiva whose neck (kandharA) is dark blue. We must also necessarily invoke the superb use of (Shiva’s) nirnidra gAna, in which Veturi couches high philosophy. While the word “nirnidra” ordinarily means “sleepless,” in the context of Shiva, it means that state of constant wakefulness also known as Turiya.

The second stanza though is notable for its brilliant imagery and allusions blending Shiva as the both the Lord of Music and as Nataraja, the Lord of Dance. Where the brilliant lightning becomes the smile on his happy lips, the thunder the anklet on his dancing feet, and reaches a climactic finale when the distraught devotee asks Shiva to drown in the tidal wave of his music.

SAGARA SANGAMAM

As with Sankarabharanam, we can first consider Om Namah Shivaya, the opening song of Sagara Sangamam. Tuned by Ilaiyaraaja in the Hindolam Ragam, Veturi returns with a superb lyrical hymn to Shiva. This time, his canvas is broad, encompassing the entire cosmos like Shiva.

It is a brilliantly difficult composition that includes elements used in classical dance pieces. Rendered with gusto, S Janaki flawlessly traverses an astonishing range of octaves, replete with Gamakams (ornamented notes).

The highlight of the first stanza lies in its musical swerves, crests and troughs roughly beginning at the “prakruti parvati” phrase. Then the pitch peaks at the Gamakam-rich “a-kAra” when it touches the “tApasa mandAra” phrase, followed by the brilliant use of silence at the “nee mouna me” (Your Silence) phrase before the stanza ends.

Om Namah Shivaya Song

Veturi Sundararamamurthy outdoes himself beginning with the creative use of the word “pUrnodaya” in the Pallavi, reminding us that Poornodaya Creations produced Sagara Sangamam.

But the beauty of this paean to Shiva as Nataraja lies in numbers.

  • In pancabUtamulu mukhapancakamai, the Five Elements are embodied in Shiva’s five faces: IshAna (Sky/Ether), sadyOjAta (Earth), tatpurusha (Wind), vAmadeva (Water), and aghOra (Fire).
  • In Arurutuvulu AhAryamulai, the Six Seasons become his ornaments; and the Seven Steps that he walks with Parvati become the Saptaswaras (the Seven Notes of Indian classical music). The use of Swaras (sa ga ma da ni…) at this juncture displays a good degree of creative However, given that Hindolam is an auDava (pentatonic) Ragam, Ilaiyaraaja could’ve perhaps used a sampUrna Ragam (containing all seven notes).
  • In Nee drukkule atu ashtadikkulai, Shiva’s sight itself becomes the Eight Directions; and his speech becomes the Nine Rasas.
  • But it is in number Ten that the Kavi couches high philosophy; in nI mouname dashOpanishattulai, Shiva’s Silence becomes the Ten Upanishads, invoking in our minds his form as Dakshinamurthy.

The second stanza though, doesn’t match the imaginative grandeur of the first. It invokes Shiva’s dance-beats (laya) as the journey of Time itself and sets up a rich imagery of a cosmic Yagna with his sons as Ritwiks. Veturi uses numbers here as well: the Three Eyes signifying the Three Times (morning, noon and night or past, present and future), and the Four Vedas, the enclosure for his Yagna.

That said, perhaps the lyric would’ve been near-perfect had the order of the two stanzas been reversed. In any case, Om Namah Shivaya offers an extraordinary model for aspiring poets, and others who want to understand how classicism can be achieved even in popular entertainment avenues with all the aforementioned constraints.


Ve vela Gopemmala is another good example of a composition where everything comes together. Based primarily on the Mohana Ragam, this is an undeniable melody notable for Ilaiyaraaja’s trademark orchestration. But the highlight lies in its conception and execution: a semi-classical poetic lyric in praise of Sri Krishna’s exploits and achievements with perverse choreography. This becomes evident for example, in Ilaiyaraaja’s use of “beat” style percussion.

Ve Vela Gopemmala Song

The lyric beautifully dances to the occasion: in the Pallavi, Sri Krishna is described as a movva gopala, the anklet-wearing boy, Gopala in a movie whose central theme is classical dance. Veturi’s wordplay is noteworthy primarily in vennela veNuvulUdADe mAdi vennalu dochADe, kannatODu lenivADe kannetODu unnavADe, and gItarThasAramicchi gItalennomArchene. In the last phrase, Veturi executes a great pun using the word gIta, which means the Bhagavad Gita as also one’s fate.


Needless, no discussion on Sagara Sangamam is complete without mentioning the climax song and dance sequence of the Vedam song, composed in the Hamsanandi Ragam. Viswanath’s conception of this sequence is pretty artistic in how he juxtaposes the dance performances of the Guru, Kamal Haasan and the disciple, Sailaja.

Vedam Song

This pathos-laden song has since become almost like an anthem to classical dance traditions. As with the other songs in this film, Veturi creatively brings in the Ragam name into the lyric. This song at once is both a tribute to classical dance and a hymn to the ancient and sacred Guru-Shishya tradition. The phrase, gurudakshiNaipoye jivam, where the pupil’s life is itself the Gurudakshina, captures this sentiment evocatively.


SIRIVENNELA

When we turn to Sirivennela, we find Sitarama Sastry exploding on to the cinema-lyric dais with aplomb with his maiden Vidhata talapuna tuned excellently by K V Mahadevan in the Abheri Ragam.

Apart from S P Balasubramhanyam and P Susheela’s excellent rendition, the flute work by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia is a highlight and a treat. Beginning with a leisurely, meditative Shadjamam, the good Pandit sets the mood for the song by capturing the Ragabhavam with a light AlApanam expanding the Rishibham, and builds up the tempo with a pa-ma-ga phrase.

The use of Abheri in this song is very understated when we notice that the composition merely approaches the tArasthayi but doesn’t linger there for long. Thyagaraja’s Nagumomu, the definitional Kriti in Abheri, shows perhaps the best use of the Ragam touching the tArasthayi in the phrase “jagamele paramatma.”

This lyric while essentially talking about music—its nature, beauty, sweep, significance, and philosophy—is notable for its poetic diction and the superb imagery it paints before our eyes. When we consider the song in totality, we observe that it’s essentially a series of adverbial phrases describing music: anAdi jIvana vedam, AdipraNava nAdam, sarasasswarasurajhari, sAmaveda sAram, and so on.

Vidhata Talapuna Song

But the most vivid imagery lies in the prAgdisha vINiyapaina dinakara mayUkha tantrula paina…phrase where the Easterly direction becomes the Vina, the sunrays the strings, and the sky the stage.

Equally notable is the phrase kanula kolanulo pratibimbincina viswaroopa vinyAsam as an artistic device where a blind flutist is talking about the variety in Creation reflected in the lake of the eyes.

It’s such brilliant lyrical and poetic ability for which the moniker “Sirivennela” became permanently prefixed to Sitarama Sastry’s name (henceforth referred to as Sirivennela).


Adi bhikshuvu is another classic tune set to a simple, lilting melody in the Mohana Ragam that has a relaxed, flowing feel to it. It is a nindAstuti (praise through blame) on Shiva where the poet turns the very qualities for which Shiva is worshipped on their head. Which is also a compositional distinction: a nindAstuti that has neither an energetic nor an angry tenor to it.

The poet invokes the conception of Shiva as the Adi Bhikshu, the First Beggar who’s incapable of giving anything. He immediately intermixes this conception with Shiva as the smashAnavAsi—the resident of graveyards—who can only offer ash, symbolically, the greatest lesson and boon.

Adibhikshuvu Song

Sitarama Sastry must also be commended for permeating Puranic episodes via suggestion. In the third stanza, he chides Shiva for burning down Manmatha for his crime of trying to arrange a wedding between Shiva and Parvati; and brings in the episodes of the destructive demons that Shiva has blessed. The phrase “ubbu Shankarudu” is notable. While the poet holds this as a fault in Shiva, tradition praises Shiva with the term “AshutOsha,” the one who is easily praised.


OTHER NOTABLE COMPOSITIONS

In Swarna Kamalam, Ilaiyaaraja and Sirivennela offer us Ghallu Ghallu, based primarily on the Abheri Ragam and mixed with notes of the Shudda Dhanyasi Ragam. While the tune adheres to the typical standard we can expect from Ilaiyaraaja, the lyric is notable for its use of poetic devices as well as relevance to the storyline.

In the nalla mabbu challani challani chiru jallu, and ella lannave erugani phrases, the lyricist employs the ChekAnuprasa—the consecutive use of the same word/sound conveying different meanings.

The entire song is set in a sawal-jawab (question-answer) fashion, which Sirivennela accomplishes through suggestion and renders lofty values in the phrase, nataraaja swaamy jataa jooti loki cherakunte viruchukupadu suragangaku viluvemundi: of what value does a Ganga have who lies hidden in the matted folds of the hair of Nataraja? Her value lies precisely because she breaks free from those folds and cascades down on the earth.

Ghallu ghallu Song

The same film also has another commendable composition in Siva pUjaku, set primarily in the Malayamarutham Ragam, yet again in the sawal-jawab format. The is the manner in which Ilaiyaraaja brings about a dance-movement feel in the chalitacaraNa janitam in tune with the lyric is noteworthy.

Sirivennela’s imagery-rich lyric shines forth in the first caraNam, where he urges the danseuse to not aspire for a marriage with the hooded night owing to the attraction of the shining stars (literally: stars shining on the hood of the snake-like night). But instead to become a danseuse on the Easterly stage whose dance sprinkles the dawn light, which makes dhAtri, Mother Earth, happy.

Shiva Poojaku Song


From Swarna Kamalam, we can turn to the folksy Govullu Tellana, from the movie, Saptapadi. Written by Veturi Sundararamamurthy, this song makes good use of suggestion to convey various facets of the Varna-Jati (incorrectly known as “caste”) social system. The word Varna also means colour, which is the sense in which Veturi uses the word. The result is a rich mélange: of cows coloured nalla (black), yerra (red), and tella (white), of the reddish-brown dust at Godhuli, and of a Krishna whose skin is coloured black.

Equally, the phrase pillanagroviki niluvella gaayaalu allanamoviki taakite geyaalu is quite outstanding. When the flute, which has wounds all over its body, gently touches the lips, we get melodies.

Govullu Tellana Song


When we turn to Swati Muthyam, we have the subtly erotic manasu palike mouna gItam, written by Sirivennela and tuned by Ilaiyaraaja in Abheri, which I recall reading somewhere, is an “orphic” Ragam.

With a superb takeoff rendered by S Janaki, the brief instrumentals before the lyric begins, remind us of the Kannada classic gaganavu ello bhUmiyu ello in the same Ragam. Ilaiyaraaja in keeping with the mood uses “soft” notes and keeps it in the mandra-madhya sthayi, progressively heightening the pitch till it reaches an abrupt high and terminates the note instantly like a climax of sorts. The interlude of silence after this termination is also pretty creative.

Manasu Palike Mouna Geetam Song

Some lyrical highlights include the usage, tanuvu sumadhanuvu: the body as the bow of flower. Which is consonant with the said eroticism: Manmatha or Kama, the God of Desire/Amour, wields a bow made of flowers. As also the Puranic reference in shirasupaine ganganai marula jalakAlADani sagamu mEnaa girijanai…where the lady is akin to Ganga on her man’s head, cavorting with him in the watersport of erotic game, and like Parvati, is the other half in his body.


In Shruti Layalu, we have the wonderful Mandolin-Violin jugalbandi of sorts where K V Mahadevan, in a short span, demonstrates the technique of Grahabhedam (shifting a tonic note or Shruti to another note in one ragam to arrive at a different ragam). Using the Hindolam Ragam as the base, the musician traverses to Shuddha Dhanyasi and Mohanam.

Mandolin-Violin Jugalbandi Song

 

— VI —

The detailed discussion so far regarding the musical and lyrical richness and classicism is equally true for the portrayals of classical dance forms in K Viswanath’s movies.

While there are flashes of and references to dance in most of his movies in these episodes, Sagara Sangamam and Swarna Kamalam are great showcases of the same. There are also brief scenes in Sankarabharanam: the artistic scene where Manju Bhargavi’s feet begin to move involuntarily to Sankara Sastry’s swaras as well as the dance she performs in the Halebidu temple precincts in the Ragam Tanam Pallavi song. And the brief but brilliant bit in the interlude of the Brochevarevarura Kriti. Manju Bhargavi skilfully and gracefully shows her prowess in Kuchipudi.

The opening Bharatanatyam dance performance in Sagara Sangamam is remarkable for Viswanath’s creative vision and storytelling using dance. It shows S P Sailaja performing Bhartanatyam incorrectly.

Then there’s the Kuchipudi performance to the Balakanakamaya Kriti by both Manju Bhargavi and Kamal Haasan shown alternately in the same song.

We can next cite the superlative choreography done by Gopi Krishna for the Nadavinodamu song sequence. What’s also delightful is Kamal Haasan’s rendering of the rEcaka (roughly, vibratory movements) to the lyric “gamakamulu” as a good example of this. According to classical dance scholars and artists like the legendary Padma Subramhanyam, rEcaka in dance corresponds to gamaka in music. The same Padma Subramhanyam was also consulted and provided creative inputs to the film’s choreography.

Nadavinodamu Song and Dance


When we turn to Swarna Kamalam, we have the brilliant example of the Ghallu Ghallu song sequence. It is a truly wonderful fusion of lyric, sight, and sound choreographed using “free style” classical dance movements—that is, it doesn’t belong to any specific school. Yet, every single movement is Bharatodita, rooted in Bharata’s Natyashastra. To put this even more simplistically, any beautiful movement is Natyashastra. As is the final song sequence of Andela Ravamidi, containing dizzyingly rapid movements, executed masterfully by Bhanupriya.

Andela Ravamidi Song and Dance

In the same movie, the bit sakhi he keshi from Jayadeva’s ashtapadi, performed by Sharon Lowen was tuned and choreographed by the late Odissi legend, Kelucharan Mohapatra.

Of note with regard to the Kuchipudi form is the Taranga where the prodigious child artist, Shanmukha Srinivas performs to Alokaye Sri Balakrishnam in Shruti Layalu.

When we turn to Apadbandhavudu, we have the folksy song and dance sequence in Aura ammakachella. While the movements are entirely freestyle, the underlying classical touch is unmistakable, for example, when Meenakshi Seshadri displays the flute movement to the “baluda gopaluda” phrase.

The same holds true for the opening song, Maharaja Rajashri in Sutradharulu. It’s a really simple, traditional folk rendering of the Sita-Rama Kalyana episode sung and enacted by the Gangireddu Melam artists. This sequence also juxtaposes the rendition of the Shiva-Parvati dance performed in the folk milieu.

The movements in these songs in Viswanath’s films are derived from different dance styles like Kuchipudi, Sadir (what’s known popularly as Bharatanatyam), Odisi, etc, and performed to near-perfection to match the lyrics. The aesthetic experience is akin to where the connoisseur can “listen” to the (dance) movements and “watch” the song thereby achieving the Advaita of Kala (art), which transcends our key sense organs.

Realistically speaking, filmmakers like K Viswanath don’t create their movies using all these theoretical details. Indeed, no creative work can attain this sort of excellence if the artist is conscious about theory at every step. An overall artistic vision, skill, craft, and spontaneity makes for good art.

The sort of analyses and examination in the preceding episodes is possible because those with such theoretical knowledge can spot and connect these aspects. The underlying philosophy of Indian art is that if the artist is honest and devotes himself to Rasa and has a good degree of proficiency in the medium, it will definitely yield a beautiful, memorable expression.

In this sense, the artist shouldn’t bother about naming names and shouldn’t indulge in such theoretical categorization. Thus, a poet needs to simply write the poem with fidelity only to Rasa without too much thought about Chhandas (Meter), Alankara (Figure of Speech), etc. Or when a singer who has performed rigorous practice in Shruti (Pitch) and Laya (Rhythm) sings anything, that will be part of or embody some Raga. And if there’s an anyaswara, there are the Mishra (mixed), Bhashanga etc categories to which it can be added.

This is pretty much what K Viswanath has done.

Series concluded in the next part

Series Navigation The Contribution and Value of K Viswanath’s Cinema >>
Sandeep Balakrishna K Viswanath The World of Music and Lyrics in K Viswanath’s Cinema sandeep b

Sandeep Balakrishna

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.
Sandeep Balakrishna K Viswanath The World of Music and Lyrics in K Viswanath’s Cinema sandeep b

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