Shankarabharanam, A cult classic, #Nostalgia

The movie Shankarabharanam, should not have been a hit. It was the anti thesis of all the main stream Telugu movies of that time and later too. First it was not a hero meets heroine story. The hero or the protagonist is an aging classical Carnatic singer. The heroine or the lead female character is a prostitute’s daughter and a murderer. There were classical songs in the movie and the hero and heroine die in the end. No love story , no running around the trees, no dishum dishum. There was nothing  for the mainstream audience who wanted to see heroics and the larger than life persona of the hero.

That JV Somayajulu and Manju Bhargavi and every other actors in the movie elevated it to another level is a known fact. JV’s baritone is something that will remain in your ears, in addition to the songs. What a voice? When he explains about the word “Amma” and the way it is pronounced in different scenarios is what legends are made of. He tells how a baby which woke suddenly from the sleep calls his mother and how it is different from the way a baby calls his mother when he is hungry. How each emotion is different and so are the sounds associated with them. The video clip can be watched here.

In one sentence, he was Sankara Sastry, the character, live. We could never see him as anything else, even though he acted in a few movies later on. The gait, the voice, the diction, the stature, I can go on and on and still not do enough justice to his portrayal.

Manju Bhargavi, the unconventional heroine, the subtlety of her acting stands out. She said more with her eyes than verbally in the entire movie. Her unswerving devotion which did not fit into any standard labels  was very well portrayed. That she did complete justice to her character is an understatement. She was another actress who could not be seen as anything other than Tulasi in Telugu movies. When an actor lives in a character like Tulasi, it becomes very difficult for the audience to see them in another role.

Actress Tulasi, who acted as Manju Bhargavi’s son in the movie (she was around 12 then), gave a stellar performance. The naughtiness, the devotion, the faith her mother places in him. One word – wow. She (he in the movie) stole the show especially in the last scene, when she takes over from the dying Shankara Shastri, and finishes the Tyargaraja kruti – “Dorakuna  Ituvanti seva’. In fact, that entire scene is outstanding. I know, I used the word outstanding, standout innumerable number of times, but I cannot help it. I am running out of superlatives.

The music of the movie was a trend setter in its tiime and replayed infinitely later on. Of special mention are two songs – Dorakuna and Sankara, the famous rain song. For many telugu people, this movie might be the first time they heard the famous starting lines of Tyagaraya Kruti – Dorakuna Ituvanti Seva. Though in the movie, Veturi Sundara Ramamurthy, the lyricist, has only retained the starting line.

The best song was though the song “Sankara Naadashareepara”, which culminates in rain and Sankara Sastry, drenching in it. It was as if the God Shiva was so happy with the performance that he rained to show his blessings. Many in the theaters got up and danced as if it was a rock concert.

For KV Mahadevan, the music director of the movie, the lead male singer SP Balasubramaniam, this movie was and is a once in a life time performance. If you are a trained classical singer, you might find flaws, but to the mortals like us, it was pure bliss.

K Viswanath, as a director, was successful by then with many hits. With so many superlatives, can direction be anything less than legendary. He became a director whose name could sell in the age only when hero’s had popularity. Dialogues are the soul of the movie. Where can I even start? Every line, every phrase, was spoken when necessary, with the required meaning. There was not even one superfluous sound.

Beautiful movie. That is all I can sum it up with.


2 thoughts on “Shankarabharanam, A cult classic, #Nostalgia

  1. I watched it for the first time as a child in Kerala. Even dubbed in Malayalam, it was an ‘outstanding’ movie. It was quite the rage in Kerala at that time. The songs still are my favourites. Vani Jairam also has done a great job. I watched the movie recently and was struck by all the oddities of the movie which you pointed out which somehow sound right in this particular movie. The purity of the relationship between Shankara Sastry and Thulasi is something which our film makers still find difficult to recreate. Thank you for taking me back 🙂


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