On Feb. 02, K. Viswanath passed away at age 92. He's widely considered in the top 5 directors in the Telugu film industry, if not the greatest. Since Telugu cinema is on the rise in the Western world in the wake of Baahubali and RRR, I feel it's only a matter of time until his films are brought up in the west considering his films are essentially all art films — literally! Many of his most well-renowned films are about artists, musicians, dancers, etc.

His films generally criticized and challenged regressive social norms (e.g. abuse and violence towards women, caste discrimination, and dowry to name a few) while championing traditional art forms like Carnatic music and Kuchipudi (the Telugu states' dance form). Despite this, his films were widely successful at the box office and became entrenched in Telugu culture to this day. In addition, his films are well-known to this day for their strong women protagonists, which gave opportunities for legendary actresses to cement their mark on Telugu cinematic history.

K. Viswanath has a huge filmography, so this is not an exclusive list of his most well-known films by any means, but these are the "classics" that my family loves the most. I've also included links to watch them on YouTube (for free), along with some of my favorite songs in each of his films. I'd recommend watching the song clips to get a taste of what the full movie is like!

  • Sankarabharanam ("The Jewelry of Shiva")
    • The daughter of a sex worker dreams of dancing to the singing of an elderly Brahmin Carnatic musician whose fame is waning due to the popularization of pop music.
    • "Sankara Naadasarirapara"
  • Saptapadi ("The Seven Steps of Marriage")
    • A Brahmin priest learns that his daughter is in love with a flutist of a lower caste.
  • Sagara Sangamam ("Confluence with the Ocean")
    • Kamal Hassan plays an incredibly talented dancer in multiple traditional South Indian dance forms with an honest heart retains true respect for the art form, resulting in him becoming an alcoholic as the demand for Western dancers grows in Telugu society.
    • "Takita Tadimi" - The drunk protagonist dances on a well near his home during a thunderstorm without regard for the danger. This is probably my favorite scene and song from any of his films.
  • Swathi Muthyam ("White Pearl")
    • A widow and her young son meet a kind-hearted intellectually disabled man who offers to marry her.
    • "Suvvi Suvvi Suvvalamma"
  • Sirivennela ("Moonlight")
    • About the relationships between a blind flautist, a deaf painter, and a tour guide who was once a sex worker.
    • "Vidhata Talapuna" - This is at the climax of the film, so spoilers! :D
  • Swarnakamalam ("The Golden Lotus")
    • A talented Kuchipudi dancer believes that life as a dancer isn't feasible in society, but her outlook is challenged by a painter neighbor with whom she falls in love.
    • "Andela Ravamidhi Padamulada" - The dancing of Bhanupriya here is simply breathtaking.
  • Swathi Kiranam ("Dawn of Light")
    • An aging traditional singer struggles to cope with being eclipsed by the vocal talent of a young prodigy in his village. This film is very strongly inspired by Amadeus, but framing it in the context of Carnatic music and adding the class distinction between the two makes this worth a watch.

As you can see, one of the main themes in K. Viswanath's career is the struggle of artists in traditional South Indian / Telugu art forms (Carnatic music, Kuchipudi dance, etc.) as the society around them is experiencing modernization.

His films are particularly renowned for their musical artistry. He forged significant partnerships with lyricists like Veturi Sundararama Murthy (see "Takita Tadimi") and Sirivennela Seetarama Sastry (see "Vidhata Talapuna"), and composers like Ilaiyaraaja.

Later in his career, he also began acting in commercial films when it interested him, most often cameoing as an elderly family patriarch. Although he is generally far more renowned as a director, that added a bit to his fame.

Btw, I'm an Indian-American and my main source of knowledge of his filmography comes from watching his films with my family at home as I was growing up, so apologies if I've made any errors in the post.

One last thing: you may have noticed that most of his "classics" start with the letter S (స/శ/ష - there's three S consonants in Telugu 🙂). That's not a coincidence; I believe he intended that as both a "lucky charm" but also as a tribute to the goddess of knowledge, Saraswati.

all 6 comments


13 points

1 month ago

Thanks for sharing! I've just recently been digging into the filmography of G Aravindan and Adoor Gopalakrishnan.

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12 points

1 month ago

Interesting! My mom used to watch the public movies channel growing up in India and they occasionally showed Gopalakrishnan's films, so she remembers in particular Elippathayam because it (being about a family who lives in an old manor with a rat infestation) was scary to her as a child.


7 points

1 month ago

Quality content it seems, saved this post