Sruthialayalu – 1987, Telugu

-Manjula Jonnalagadda

“శిశుర్వేత్తి పశుర్వేత్తి
వేత్తిగాన రసంఫణిః”

The children know, the animals know
the snakes know the essence of music

          Sruthilayalu is a film written and directed by K. Viswanath. The film premiered at the International Film Festival of India. It won several Andhra Pradesh state government’s Nandi Awards. It won for Best Picture, the Best Director, the Best Actress, the Best Music Director (Composer), the Best Child Actor, and the Best Sound Design.

          Viswanath is one of the directors who has left his mark on Telugu cinema. He started his career as an Assistant Director for the Telugu fantasy classic film Pathalabhairavi. His first directorial venture was Aatma Gauravam. He made 55 films. In 1980 he directed a film called Sankarabharanam about Carnatic music (South Indian classical music). The film had no well known actors. That film was extremely well received. After watching that film quite a few parents made their children take music lessons. Viswanath was a traditionalist. He believed that old traditions should continue. At the same time, he was a pragmatist and a reformer. He addressed several issues like dowry, the caste system, abusive marriages, etc in his films. He passed away in February.

          While Viswanath was known for his love of art, the quality of the art was pretty passable in most of his films. In his defense he was a commercial director. He was not making arthouse films. Viswanath’s films had exquisite background scores! While the sound track is good in many films it was not classical. Two notable exceptions are Sruthilayalu and Swatikiranam. As a tribute I picked Sruthilayalu onaccount of interesting female lead and excellent quality of the music.

          The film opens with Naidu and his preteen son taking a walk on the beach. He sees some children entertaining tourists with some songs. Naidu’s son, a talented musician sings the notation. He is trained in both classical music and dance. Naidu’s dream is to build an art school where anybody can learn the classical arts. Naidu’s son dies in an accident. Naidu adopts three orphan boys and trains them in music. Narayana becomes a vocalist, Murali a violinist, and Sankaram a mridangam (classical drums) artist. Sita is the daughter of Naidu’s caretaker. She also grows up with these children.

          Narayana and Sita fall in love. Narayana, Sankaram, and Murali go to the city to earn money. Narayana meets Panchali who is a talent agent. She promotes the artists. Narayana marries Sita, Sankaram marries Girija, and Murali marries Divya. After the wedding Narayana, Sankaram, and Murali become money minded. Narayana starts an affair with Panchali and starts to drink. Narayana and Sita have an argument over Narayana neglecting his adopted parents. Sita who is pregnant at that time separates from Narayana. How Sita brings the broken family back together with the help of her son Srinivas is the rest of the story.

          The film is a lot like old-school Telugu films from the golden age. This is a film that shows you the importance of family, loyalty, along with the importance of art. It has humor and melodrama to thoroughly entertain the audience.

          The main character in the film is Sita. Sita grows up pretty much in the same household as Narayana, Sankaram, and Murali. She is an artist of merit, even though she doesn’t pursue a career. She is of the mindset that she only has to take care of the family. At the same time she doesn’t mind leaving her husband to take care of her adopted in-laws. She becomes the bread earner by singing in temples.

          The dichotomy of Sita is the dichotomy of the director as well. The traditional side of Sita does not argue with her husband over his alcoholism or his affairs. But the pragmatist and the reformer comes out when her husband abandons his adopted parents. The traditionalist also works towards getting her husband back.

          This film’s soundtrack is one of my favorite of Viswanath’s films. Most of it is traditional songs composed by Tyagaraja, Narayana Teertha, and Annamacharya. The song “telavarademo swami” penned by Seetarama Sastry is exquisite. K.V. Mahadevan still lives through his films. The background score is very good as well.

          Rajashekhar and Narayana, Sumalatha as Sita, and Satyanarayana as Naidu gave very good performances. Shanmukha Srinivas who played the role of Srinivas, has excellent screen presence. As far as I know he acted in only two films including this one.

          Watch this film for the music, and an excellent protagonist Sita.


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