March 2010
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Padma Shri K Viswanath

By Jyothi Gosala

               Popularly known as K. Vishwanath, is a Telugu movie maker whose contributions have been significant to Indian films from the Telugu film industry. He was born in the South Indian city of Vijayawada in 1930.


He began his career as a technician in a studio at Chennai and later assisted Mr. Adurti Subba Rao in direction. He also worked as an assistant to director Ramnoth. He debuted as a director with Aatma Gowravam, which starred Akkineni Nageswara Rao. However, his full prowess in film-making flowered with a subsequent film called Siri Siri Muvva.

Viswanath entered tinsel town more than three decades ago by sheer chance. He started his career as an audiographer in veteran filmmaker B N Reddy’s Vahini Studio in the late '60s. Subsequently, he switched to direction and soon made his mark in the Telugu film industry. Shankarabharanam, one of the masterpieces in Indian cinema, made him an international figure.

Before the advent of Viswanath, the Telugu film industry was dominated by the likes of Adurti Subba Rao, B N Reddy and K V Reddy. If they are the first generation stalwarts, Viswanath is the only one from the second generation. At a time when movies banked heavily on stars, he showed people that films were made by directors. In the process, he evolved into a star in his own right.

His films used to tackle the relevance and influence of Indian music/Culture/Art in the modern era. Films in this mould include Sankarabharanam ('Shankara's Ornament'). He made a series of such classical oriented movies all showcasing the bliss in Indian art forms. The list includes Saagara Sangamam ('A Tryst with Infinity'), Sruthi Layalu, Sirivennela ('Golden Moonlight'), Swarna Kamalam ('Golden Lotus'), and Swathi Kiranam ('A Ray of Talent').

He also made significant contributions on the social front with films like Saptapadi ('The seven Steps', signifying the sanctity of the Hindu marriage system), Swathi Muthyam ('Pure Pearl'), Swayam Krushi ("Attitude Towards Work" — conveying the message that dilligence and dedication is indispensable in achieving success), Subhodayam ('Good Morning'), Subhalekha ('Wedding Invitation' — a critique of the dowry system), Aapadhbhaandhavudu ('Savior'), and Subha Sankalpam ('Good Will').

Swathi Muthyam was India's official entry to the Oscars in 1986. Viswanath was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India for his contributions to Indian film.

His films mirror the erosion of cherished values of Indian culture yet he remains critical of those morals that make one stand against his fellow human. For example, in his movie Saptapadi, Vishwanath brilliantly addresses certain loopholes in an inadmissible cultural system like intercaste marriage. A temple chief-priest gets his daughter’s daughter married to his son’s son – unaware that she is musically fused to a flutist who is a Dalit (one of a lower caste, but of a higher humanness.) Later, as the priest sees the marriage falling apart, he comes to know the heroine’s erstwhile bonding. It takes the priest intense introspection to realise how nasty it is to look down upon a fellow human because of getting imprisoned in caste. He could now anchor his judgment of someone in the “content of character” rather than caste. Across numerous other films, Vishwanath has reechoed similar social concerns that still resonate in the audiences’ minds.

The music for his films were composed by K. V. Mahadevan and Ilaiyaraaja. Vishwanath has also worked with artists like Hariprasad Chaurasia, Kelucharan Mohapatra and Sharon Loven for some of his films. Vishwanath also ventured into mainstream acting recently.


National Film Awards

  • 1980-National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment -Sankarabharanam
  • 1982-Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration-Saptapadi
  • 1984-National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Telugu-Sagara Sangamam
  • 1986-National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Telugu-Swathi Muthyam
  • 1988-National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Telugu-Sruthi Layalu
  • 2004-National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Telugu-Swarabhishekam
  • Raghupathi Venkaiah Award-1992
  • Padmashri Award


Movies made by K.Viswanath 

  • Aatma Gouravam (1965)
  • Private Master (1967)
  • Sudigundaalu (1967)
  • Kalisochchina Adrushtam (1968)
  • Undamma Bottu Pedata (1968)
  • Nindu Hridayalu (1969)
  • Chelleli Kapuram (1971)
  • Chinnanaati Snehithulu (1971)
  • Kalam Marindi (1972)
  • Neramu Siksha (1973)
  • Sharada (1973)
  • Seeta Katha (1974)
  • Jeevana Jyoti (1975)
  • Mangalyaniki Maromudi (1976)
  • Chilanka (1977)
  • Siri Siri Muvva (1978)
  • SeethaMalakshmi (1978)
  • Sankarabharanam (1979)
  • Sargam (1979)
  • Alludu Pattina Bharatam (1980)
  • Saptapadhi (1980)
  • Subhodayam (1980)
  • Shubalekha (1982)
  • Kaamchor (1982)
  • Shubh Kaamna (1983)
  • Sagarasangamam (1983)
  • Janani Janmabhoomi (1984)
  • Swathimuthyam (1985)
  • Sirivennela (1986)
  • Shruthilayalu (1987)
  • Swayamkrushi (1987)
  • Swarna Kamalam (1988)
  • Suthradharulu (1990)
  • Apadhbandavudu (1992)
  • Swati Kiranam (1992)
  • Shubasankalpam (1995)
  • Chinnabbai (1997)
  • Swarabhishekam (2004)


Padmasri K Viswanath has always been known for his classy films which had splendid dance and music. Has a burning passion for Indian classical dance and music, rewrote the rules of celluloid world and charted a whole new territory.
In an arena cluttered with wannabes, Viswanath dared to be different. He came up with his own kind of artistic works such as Sirisiri Muvva, Saptapadi, Shankarabharanam, Sagarasangamam and Swati Kiranam. But he does not claim to have made his movies in a vacuum without the pressure of looking at the market.

In fact, he managed to strike a perfect balance between what people liked to watch and what he wanted to deliver. That made his movies critically acclaimed and box office hits at the same time.

Viswanath could be described as an artisan. He communicated an elegant language through the camera, a language the audience could hear perfectly. His sense of beauty is incredible. The star behind the camera is now making his presence felt in front of the camera as well.

The ‘Kala Tapaswi' - as Viswanath is referred to, shares his experiences on his journey. As we talk about movies, family and common interests, it was an enlightening experience particularly for me being a great admirer of Sri Viswanath Garu who is also my all time favourite. In a candid conversation…

Music, Art, Culture are a key essence in all your films, how does the ideation happen?

Based on the experiences I have, I profoundly reflect on the subject objectively & practically, which would have a real impact on the audiences, and put them in a collective stream of creative ideation. Am not in to much reading though,  all are based on my experiences & thinking which form the theme of a chosen subject.


Your entry in to the film industry? How did it happen?

I joined films to earn my livelihood. Taking my uncle T Kameshwara Rao’s suggestion -- who said there would be a bright future for me in the technical side of films -- I joined Vahini Studio as an audiographer. At that time, my father used to handle film distribution for the same studio.

Vahini Studio was founded by the great director, B N Reddy, in 1949-50. Moola Laxminarayana was the chairman of the establishment. To bring the studio on par with international standards, they bought the latest equipment and called for new technicians. That's when I applied for the audiographer's post and got it.

Were you aware of the fact that you would become a director?

 I never thought of becoming director. But having worked with brilliant personalities like K V Reddy, B N Reddy, Tatineni Prakasha Rao, Bhanumati and Adurti Subba Rao as a recordist, my interests gradually shifted to the creative side of fim-making.

During the making of Mooga Manasulu, I was closely associated with the director of the film, Adurti. I worked with him on several other films as well -- Tene Manasulu, Kanne Manasulu, Sudigundalu and Maro Prapancham. Adurti never allowed me to restrict myself to audiography. He always involved me in story discussions, script-writing and even direction. That is how I became passionate about direction.

Then one fine morning, Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Dukkipati Madhusudana Rao asked me, 'Why don’t you join the direction department?' I accepted the offer and joined Nageswara Rao’s Annapurna Pictures as an associate director. Madhusudana Rao used to be the managing director of the banner. After working as an assistant to Adurti for several films under the Annapurna banner, I was given my first opportunity as director. The film was Atma Gouravam.

Your experiences as an associate director? How did you tackle the medium?

My first film as an associate director was Mooga Manasulu. I was the second unit director for that film. After that Adurti planned Tene Manasulu with all new artistes. The responsibility to train newcomers was given to me. Training them helped me develop my directorial skills. I believe movie is a medium for entertainment. But I also feel it is better if I could convey something good to the people while entertaining them. I never wanted to deliver escapist stuff.

You write scripts for all your films. How do you go about it as a process?

The director need not be a scriptwriter. He can picturise his own story or someone else’s. What is important is that he should be able to assimilate the complete subject. He should own it. Only then should he go to the sets.

In how many ways do you imagine a scene before going to the sets?
Do you agree that improvisation is essential in creative fields?

The question of thinking in many ways does not arise if you have already arrived at the right conclusion. It's a matter of presenting your final thought before the camera.
It will always be there in our business. Here we are always think of doing something better. Whenever we get an idea superior to the earlier, we try to implement it. But it's also true that such on-the-spot ideas may ruin the subject sometime. The director has to be careful about it.
Which is your favourite film?

It is very difficult to say. I like all my movies. All the movies were made with equal effort. But there are some which demand more from you. Sirivennela is an example. In that film, the hero was a blind man and the heroine a dumb woman. How does one convey his or her feelings to the other? And how does one make the audience understand them? I mulled over these questions throughout the making of the film.

Shankarabharanam made you an international figure. What do name and fame mean to you?

Fame always makes me much more alert and cautious.

You seem to be an aesthete, your films convey that successfully. Do you read and write poetry?

I feel aesthetic sense is in my instinct. I cannot explain how it got inside me. I'm not a great reader of literature. It’s a God’s gift.

How do you choose the wonderful lyrics with great literary values? You take lot of care about music. The majority of the songs in your films have a classical flavour. Have you learnt classical music?

You do not need to be a cook to judge the dish. Everyone asks me this question. But no, I did train in classical music. Since I don’t know about music, I take more care about that aspect.

You have created tremendous work on celluloid and made your presence felt on screen as well. How did this transition happen?

When the script for Shubha Sankalpam was being finalised, S P Balasubramaniam, the producer of the film, forced me to play the role of Rayudu in it. After that, I got so many offers to act in Telugu and Tamil movies. Kamal Haasan offered me a role in Drohi. As Kamal once mentioned, acting is nothing but a paid holiday. For me acting is not new. Earlier it was off the screen, now it is on the screen.

After Shankarabharanam, nobody in the industry could make it to the national level. Is there a way out?

At present, film-making has become a business to make fast bucks. Everyone wants to make money in no time. So they want to cook some candy floss stuff and that is even being accepted by the audience. There are no re-runs today. A producer has to get his money on his film's first release itself. In other words, pressure is ruling the industry now.

Still, there are many young directors who are taking Telugu cinema to new heights with technical brilliance. And to make movies which can make a mark at least in the national level, there should be some producers with real guts. A film like Shankarabharanam was possible only because of brave producers.

Your advice to the younger generations?

Hardwork, sincerity, dedication & passion in what one does will take one to greater heights. Values & tradition keep one grounded. A consistent & diligent approach is good enough to realize one’s dreams.
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