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Times of India
A Carnatic musician gives refuge to a prostitute's daughter and this creates a scandal, following which the woman walks out of his life. She re-enters his life at time when pop music has made him irrelevant and makes him a revered figure once again.
It is indeed a twist of fate that the digitally restored version of this classic film is being released (this time in with Tamil dubbing), in the same week when we have a new Tamil film trying hard to be musical. Perhaps, it is a way of showing the current generation of filmmakers how musicals should be done.
The film is about Sankarabharanam Sankara Shastri, a purist Carnatic musician, who gives her refuge to Thulasi, a prostitute's daughter after her mother tries to make her the concubine of a zamindar. This creates a scandal and Thulasi leaves the village. Meanwhile, Carnatic music makes way for pop music and the once-regal Shastri is spending his life in poverty. And, Thulasi returns with the sole intention of making her son Shastri's protege.
What's amazing is the restraint with which Viswanath treats the scenes, so that this tale never becomes melodramatic. Even the sub plot involving Shastri's daughter is delightfully handled, and there is hardly a dull moment. The supporting characters are superbly drawn while the leads are heroic. Shastri (Somayajulu makes the character both commanding and vulnerable) might be a purist adhering strictly to tradition but he has an open outlook when it comes to both music and life. Thulasi is a strong-willed woman who kills the man who raped her but bears no ill will towards the child who is born out of the despicable incident. And we clearly get that the relationship between Shastri and Thulasi is strictly platonic. She considers him her guru and he finds a kindred artistic spirit in her. In fact, the two characters hardly speak to one another.
Viswanath's staging is also interesting. Thulasi's rape happens with Shastri's song playing in the background. She murders her rapist with a glass shard belonging to the frame which contains his photo and later washes his feet with the blood of her rapist after murdering him. Viswanath shows the emergence of pop music and the fading of Carnatic music visually in a matter of scenes in a matter that is simple and effective. And the scene where Thulasi's son enters Shastri's house and hears music is a splendid piece of movie magic.
All this would be enough to make for a solid drama but it is the music that elevates this material from being very good to great. The sound is too clean in the re-recorded songs but that doesn't take away anything from the magnificence of KV Mahadevan's tunes. This film is a textbook example of how music and storytelling can go hand-in-hand to create a brilliant film.