Reminiscing The Golden Lotus
Telugu Cinema- the word itself is undoubtedly quite dear to every person of the Two Telugu states. Whether it is commercial cinema or a classy masterpiece- the love for the movies remains the same. In fact, movies are an inherent part of every Telugu person’s household. It has become a cultural factor to admire films and the characters in it- such is the influence of Telugu films on us! But one gentleman named Kala Tapasvi K.Vishwanath brought a special status to fine arts, classicism and pristine characters, which were more close to real life. Rather than glamorous looks, style and unrealistic fight sequences. After his fantastic cult film Shankarabharanam, the equations changed within Telugu Cinema. It was one film which proved that the hero needn’t be a young and glamorous star, but could be an ageing Carnatic musician, who is admired for his mind and not the looks! K.Vishwanath made every film with subtle characters which are away from regular formulaic rules of commercial cinema. One such amazing film, Swarna Kamalam (aka Golden Lotus in English) starring Venkatesh and Bhanu Priya, completed thirty glorious years this year.
In order to celebrate the moment, SPIC MACAY organized an exclusive screening of the film for movie enthusiasts in HCU’s Savitribai Phule’s auditorium, followed by a thoughtful talk by Shri Aruna Bhikshu. She has brought a new insight into the film and also the quintessential style of K.Vishwanath and his films.
What Is It All About?
Swarna Kamalam is the journey of a highly individualistic lady Meenakshi (Bhanu Priya) who belongs to a Kuchipudi family. While her father Seshendra Sharma is a staunch dance guru, who taught her the best of his abilities, Meenakshi doesn’t bother much about becoming a great dancer. Just like the time of the film’s release of the 1980s era, she is drawn towards modern living, materialistic possessions and also having a rich life. She has the feeling that fine arts cannot be appreciated by a larger audience- and in short, it cannot fetch her money. As a result, Meenakshi always tries to abscond the mundane life of dance practice, daily chores and finds an escape into films, actresses and the glitzy life.
Things change quite dramatically when a painter and art connoisseur Chandrasekharam (Venkatesh) arrives in her neighbourhood. He understands the tremendous talent Meenakshi has and the tantrums she throws to avoid practising dance. When he watches her casual dancing at a park for her heart’s wishes with Akasamlo Aasala Harivillu, he knew he found a star. But hang on, K.Vishwanath’s heroines might look traditional in the attire and first look, but they have thoughts and a mind of their own!
Meenakshi- An Embodiment Of Determination
Rightfully, Meenakshi resists every attempt of Chandrasekharam to make her get into the dance. She gets even more determined not to become a dancer with the push of the hero. Her belief in her opinions is rock steady. But when Chandrasekharam makes an even stronger attempt by forcibly getting her dance in a performance, she does something which leads to the death of her own father. Meenakshi doesn’t succumb even then but focuses on moving on with her pursuit of happy living.
The rest of the story is about how Meenakshi understands the greatness of fine arts and that the riches it gives are beyond any human capability. The entire journey of Meenakshi has reality, hilarity, classicism, determination and also extreme purity. Chandrasekharam, on the other hand, is a selfless person who honestly admires the beauty and dancing prowess of Meenakshi. He is so sure of her dancing abilities that he imagines her ruling the world through her art. It is indeed rare to see such honest characterizations in Telugu Cinema no doubt!
Real Questions Raised
There is one particular sequence where Chandrasekharam confronts a government pension officer who mistreats ageing artists because of their poverty. The meaning of “Ghanapaati” was perhaps not explained in any film as clearly as Swarna Kamalam! This scene completely explains the honesty and angst of someone sincere like Chandrasekharam, who is upset with the lack of respect towards fine arts in India.
Bhanupriya- Breathing Life To Meenakshi
Coming to the lead role played by Bhanupriya, no words will be sufficient to explain the conviction she showed for this film. Her expressive eyes, elegance in simple cotton sarees and her confrontation is something incredible to watch on screen. She is simply carried away by the influence of the surroundings and like any person of her age, she is drawn towards bunking the dance class and going for a film on the first day of release. She finds it incredibly great to chase her own dreams and indeed proud of doing the same. Her breathtaking innocence in chasing these dreams is instantly understood by Chandrasekharam. However, Meenakshi is quite determined to be herself and feels that displaying art to others wouldn’t benefit her in any manner. Bhanupriya’s big doe eyes, excellence dance performances and elegant look are one of the pillars of this film.
The care taken by Kala Tapasvi as a director is reflected in every frame of the Swarna Kamalam. He roped in perfect technicians and dance choreographers to make the songs look visually flawless. Apart from the home ground dance form Kuchipudi, Vishwanath paid tribute to Indian Classical Dance forms like Odissi, Kathakali, Manipuri, Bharatanatyam and even Folk dances! The presence of real-time Odissi dancer Sharon Lowen and her pivotal role itself shows the love Vishwanath has for Indian Fine Arts. For this director, art is just not a practising action but a way of life.
Edging Towards Reality
Nothing looks aggrandized in Swarna Kamalam. Neither the costumes, the households or the dialogues exchanged between the characters. The entire film is taken on such a conversational note where both the men and women characters have equal say. This doesn’t promote modern feminism, where the dominance is occurred through shedding the traditions. The female characters in the film are so grounded in traditions, values and at the same time have a mindset of their own. Even the comic character Akhilam (Srilakshmi) is so perfectly etched that her only aim in life is to be blindly devoted to various gods in her house. Another beautiful role is Meenakshi’s elder sister Savitri (Devilalitha) who is the stark opposite of the former. She accepts life as it is- a very devoted elder daughter but at the same time, falls in love with the neighbour with the only connecting point- that is art!
During the exclusive talk which K.Vishwanath made during the event, he spoke about how underrated our Indian housewives are. He said that we usually feel housewives have nothing much to do, but the duties they have are greater than the Prime Minister! He also said that his films have such women characters who are rooted in traditions and at the same time bold to express their feelings in relationships. Isn’t it a wonderful definition of feminism where men and women have an equal outlook and say about living?
The Musical Bliss Of Swarna Kamalam
Being a classical dance-centric film- Swarna Kamalam is bound to have a breathtaking music and soundtrack. While the songs are undoubtedly masterpieces, it is the background score which is entirely another chapter. The usage of trademark motif theme composed in Hindustani Raag Pahadi is the lifeline of the flick. Maestro Ilaiyaraaja used the tune in different contexts like confrontation, romance, comedy and even high emotional thought with finesse.
Each song in the film is inherently the part of the story and also adds to the film’s progress. For example, the song Kotthaga Rekkalochena witnesses the blossoming of love between Chandrasekharam and Meenakshi. Till then, the two characters have a great friction associated with themselves. But the song eases them out greatly and brings them to a common plane. Kudos to the masterclass director Vishwanath for using the song as a perfect pointer for story dynamics!
It was fantastic to watch this film in the presence of yesteryear movie lovers and a lot of youngsters. The film definitely gave everyone a great artistic vibe, and just being in presence of the Kala Tapasvi and the knowledgable Shri Aruna Bhikshu was enriching. A deserving tribute was made to the film. The art of classics by SPIC MACAY Hyderabad chapter and more such events would bring to light the excellence of Telugu Cinema in the twin cities! The greenery of Hyderabad Central University added to the bliss of watching Swarna Kamalam. K.Vishwanath himself confessed that he would love to study art in a campus of this sort!
A huge round of applause is a must for SPIC MACAY for throwing light on classical music along with movies which deserve deeper analysis and learning. In short, it also brings great awareness to the youngsters, to remember their foundations and roots.