In 1983 K Vishwanath’s original Telugu movie ‘Sagara Sangamam’ starring Kamal Haasan as a classical dancer with a young Jaya Prada as an admiring fan drew audiences in Tamil as well given it was dubbed as ‘Salangai Oli’. Its precursor in 1979 on similar lines with a focus on classical Carnatic music was ‘Sankarabharanam’. Unfortunately the movie was not released in Tamil but the song album by K V Mahadevan still became immensely popular across the land of Vindhyas i.e. all the Southern India states.
Sankarabharanam (The Jewel of Sankara) was a Telugu movie where a stage actor, J V Somayajulu, debuted as Sankara Sastri. He has mastered the rendition of the classical raga Sankarabharanam and is a renowned singer on account of it. The storyline was outlandish in the conservative era – circumstances ensure that he takes a talented classical dancer who happens to be a prostitute’s daughter, Manju Bhargavi, as his disciple and provides her shelter as well. The platonic relationship between the two is misconstrued by society at large and even by his close associates. This results in social ostracism but Sastri is unperturbed by the pettiness of small minds.
Manju, of course, is affected by the situation and is not able to reconcile herself to the circumstances. Eventually she moves away to ensure he doesn’t suffer further humiliation on her account. But Sankara Sastri is faced with bigger challenges in life as the audience for Carnatic music dwindles with changing social culture.
Interest in Classical music is declining as western pop music becomes the craze in the nation. There is typical episode when some youngsters are playing loud western music and disturbing the ‘calm n peace’ at night for everyone. Sankara Sastri confronts them and the youngster challenge him to prove the superiority of classic music. Sankara Sastri is able to use his knowledge of classical music and reproduce the pop song thrown at him as a challenge. It is quite a visual to watch him do it. In reply he also challenges them to reproduce a raga but the youngster is unable to hold the high pitch at the crescendo. Sankara Sastri goes on to explain that the 7 notes of music are universal and all its genres deserve to be respected.
Sankara Sastri continues his journey as a devoted singer in the face of adversities. There is a revival of interest in classical music. Eventually he finds a young and talented disciple who takes over his mantle when he passes away while performing on stage. The prodigy happens to Manju Bhargavi’s son and she is delighted to see him succeed her Guru. Somayajulu in his debut movie was a perfect choice for the role of Sankara Sastri and personification ‘stereotyped’ him forever in the cinema. He did quite a few popular roles in films and they all reminded us of his Sankara Sastri avatar.
The music was a rage and drove the movie to be a tremendous success across the nation. In the pre-television era, what was ubiquitously available was audio cassettes and I remember listening to these songs often without understanding a word of what they meant. This wasn’t new for my father’s love for such songs along with Yesudas and Kannadasan meant we all got to imbibe it as well. The movie starts with a shloka that talks about music being enjoyed alike by babies, animals and even Snakes. Yikes – that was a bit of a stretch! The songs, neatly tabulated in the Wikipedia page, were rendered flawlessly by SPB, Vani Jayaram and S Janaki –
|1||Broche varevaru ra||Mysore Vasudevachar||SPB, Vani Jayaram|
|2||Dorakunaa Ituvanti Seva||Veturi Sundararama Murthy||SPB, Vani Jayaram|
|3||Manasa Sancharare||Sadasiva Brahmendra||SPB, Vani Jayaram|
|4||Maanikya Veena (Poem)||Mahakavi Kalidasu||SPB|
|5||Omkaara Naadaanusandhanam||Veturi Sundararama Murthy||SPB, S. Janaki|
|6||Paluke Bangaaramaayena||Bhadrachala Ramadasu||SPB, Vani Jayaram|
|7||Raagam Taanam Pallavi||Veturi Sundararama Murthy||SPB|
|8||Sankaraa Naadasareeraparaa||Veturi Sundararama Murthy||SPB|
|9||Saamaja Varagamana||Veturi Sundararama Murthy||S. Janaki, SPB|
|10||Ye Teeruga Nanu||Bhadrachala Ramadasu||Vani Jayaram|
However classical music rendition in its standard avatar was indeed beyond the reach of the common man and the youth in particular didn’t take to it in large numbers. Eventually we had movies advocating that a middle path needs to be found to deliver it to the audience – Suhasini in K Balachander’s ‘Sindhu Bhairavi’ talked about adopting Bharathiyar’s poetry for the same. This applied to other art forms as well where parallel cinema was meant to be the bridge between commercial cinema and art cinema.
In 2015 I remember reading about SPB taking the album as a challenge since he wasn’t a classical singer. He had recently rendered a Tamil version of the songs as well and we heard about the movie being released in Tamil after what would seem to be ages. I wasn’t able to find further news about it on the internet – possibly the project didn’t take off finally. To a large extent the movie had a great run during its day even in Tamil Nadu and was lapped up in its original form by the Tamil audience. The movies production values may appear dated in today’s times to the modern audience so perhaps it is for the best that we are left with memories of the songs as they originally appeared.