The Telugu movie Sankarabharanam (1979) had become a cult within a short period after its release. It was dubbed into Malayalam and played in many theaters in Kerala, and the songs from the movie could be heard everywhere during the early 1980s. I vaguely remember standing near the koothambalam in Koodalmanikyam temple ground, along with my parents and visiting relatives from Eranakulam, during one of the festival seasons, and listening to the discussions about Sankarabharanam. All of my relatives had watched the movie at least three times already, and there was one guy who had watched it ten times!! During one of those days, I also watched it in a theater along with my parents; but I don't remember much about that viewing. A few years later, the movie was shown on television, and that is my first memory about this movie.
Watching Sankarabharanam after 32 years of its release, I still find it as a very elating and moving experience as it was during the 1980s. There are are multiple things that are superlative about this movie, but the first thing of course is its great music. There are around ten songs in the film - most of them classic Carnatic compositions, rendered brilliantly by SP Balasubramaniam, Vani Jayaram and S Janaki. In spite of having so many songs, the film is not just a musical extravaganza, and the story narrated (in a traditional way) by K Vishwanath is indeed a touching one. Next thing is the character of Sankara Sasthri, the singer, and the unforgettable performance of actor Somayajulu who seems like literally living in that role. Music is the life of Sasthri. Look at the expressions of Somayajulu in the "Brochevaarevaruraa.." song - we would never feel that it is not the actor himself who is singing that song. Sankara Sasthri is a combination of tradition and modernity. He looks like a staunch orthodox Brahmin while performing his religious rites and in his appearance in general, but then he bravely stands for what he thinks is right, when it comes to rescuing and helping a woman who is regarded as a "fallen dance girl" by the society. Manju Bhargavi, playing the role of the devoted admirer and music lover, delivers an equally wonderful performance.
Looking critically, there may be things in the movie which should have been done with more attention. The performance of the child artist who played Tulasi's son is an example. She (it was a girl who played the role) looked a bit over-enthusiastic at times, and in some scenes it was obvious that she was just executing the step-by-step instructions given by the director. For example, look at the climax scene in which Sasthri is about to take out the ornament from his leg and pass it on to the young boy, symbolically appointing him as his successor. Somayajulu just touches on the child actor's leg, and immediately she unfolds it to make it ready for receiving the ornament, as if she was expecting all that, which looks odd. But such things are hardly noticeable unless we are keenly sitting to catch mistakes, as the undying music, emotional elements and spirit of the movie takes it above all its shortcomings.