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May 3, 2000


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'Shankarabharanam was possible because of brave producers'

K Viswanath Padmasri K Viswanath has always been known for his classy films which had splendid dance and music. The showman with 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 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.

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 by film buffs -- shares his experiences and sensibilities with P Satya.

How did you enter the film industry?

I joined films to earn my bread and butter. 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.

Did you have an idea then that you would eventually become a director?

No. 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.

K Viswanath 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.

What were your experiences as an associate director?

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.

Were you interested in movies from childhood itself? Were you a movie buff?

No, I was not crazy about films at any time. But since my father was a distributor for Vahini Pictures, I used to watch those movies.

How did you feel when you were offered to direct Atma Gouravam?

It happened more than 30 years ago. It is difficult to recall all those experiences. But one thing is true, I was not really excited by the offer. Since I was already assisting in direction, I took it as a normal job. Adurti never treated me as an associate director. So I did not feel it was a new responsibility when I got to direct my first film.

So you became a director by chance. But by that time, did you have a clear idea about how to tackle the medium?

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.

What is your definition of a film director?

A director is like the head of a family. He should have a grasp on every department of film making. Only then can he create something that makes sense.

You write the script for almost all your films. Do you feel it is better this way?

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 on the sets?

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.

Do you agree that improvisation is essential in creative fields?

K Viswanath That will be always 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.

Among the films you've directed, which is your favourite?

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.

But how do you choose those wonderful lyrics with great literary values for your movies? They are fascinatingly different from the songs other directors select...

You do not need to be a cook to judge the dish.

You take lot of care about music. The majority of the songs in your films have a classical flavour. Have you learnt classical music?

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 now you have begun to make your presence felt on screen as well. How did this transition come about?

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.

Telugu cinema has reached a sort of stalemate today. After Shankarabharanam, nobody in the industry could make it to the national level. Is there a way out?

K Viswanath 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.

Listen to K Viswanath's interview in Telugu

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