Kamal’s collaboration with K Balachander is well-known. But he shared a good relationship with K Vishwanath as well and ‘Salangai Oli’ (a.k.a Sagara Sangamam in Telugu) was their first attempt that met with critical and commercial success. Swathi Muthyam was an equally appealing and popular follow-up act.
Kamal as a Bharatanatyam dancer and Jaya Prada as his ardent admirer with popular dance numbers is surely exciting. But the overall tale was one of an alcoholic dancer who missed fame and family in life. He finally gets a chance to redeem himself by passing on his craft to a talented protegé.
Balakrishna (Kamal) is a talented dancer who knows multiple forms of classical dance but he hails from an economically weak family who is doted upon by his mother and uncle (Sakshi Ranga Rao). There is an entertaining song number set in the wedding hall backstage where Kamal regales his family who are in the process of preparing the wedding meals (sappad). Madhavi (Jaya Prada) surreptitiously takes snaps to capture the special moments. He forgets his frustration with the film directors who have scant regard for the classical nature of the art form and are more interested in exploiting it for commercial purposes.
The first half is breezy – there is funny camera photo shoot episode and the ‘Kamal-Jaya’ relationship blooms steadily. Kamal is ably supported by his dear friend, Sarath Babu, who is a stabilizing factor. For once ‘Kamal-Jaya’ do something special for him by arranging his marriage. ‘Mauna maana neram, sila manadhil enna baaram …’ is such a lovely and mellifluous number. (A super combination by Illaiyaraja and Vairamuthu).
Just when things seem to be happening – Bala has an invite to perform on the National stage and Madhavi seems to have fallen in love with him, it all is lost. His mother passes away and a grieving Kamal misses the chance to perform at the critical show. Further he loses Madhavi since her estranged husband is back and they have decided to go abroad. The rapprochement between the warring couple is done in a gracious manner and Bala wins our heart by acting like a true gentleman. Kamal did this variant of a happy loser in many films and was possibly typecast for it.
Kamal’s downward spiral is now complete – like a lovelorn Devdas he has no will left to fight and live. He loses his passion for dance, is not able to hold onto a good job and eventually ends up as an alcoholic wreck. Sarath Babu too is not able to do much for him though he does rescue him often from messy situations.
About two decades later, Madhavi makes a reappearance and is shocked to see Bala’s plight. She still has high regard for his talent and wants her daughter to learn dance from him. Bala seems to get a purpose in life and efforts begin in right earnest. A classic dance here is the one when he dances over an open well. Amazing creativity and indeed that piece must have been a showstopper at that time. Kamal’s perfectionism is amazing – he dances but he conveys the debilities one associates with an alcoholic.
The movie finally ends with Madhavi’s daughter offering a stellar performance as a tribute to her Guru. Kamal gets to glimpse it but he finally passes away peacefully even before the performance is to conclude.