Veteran director Iyer’s first art-house film is a musical version of the legendary tale of the 19th C. Carnatic singer Bhairavi Venkata Subbaiah (Nag, in his first major screen role), who received the patronage of Chitradurga royalty and at one time defied Tipu Sultan. The singer apparently cut out his tongue to prove that ‘music is nobody’s slave’. The film presents the singer according to the conventional Romantic model of the artist: a musician who rebels against his teacher, wanders aimlessly and asks a beggar to become his new guru, attains glory, falls in love and ‘sells’ two of his compositions to survive. With less than 15’ of dialogue, the film’s sequence shots emphasise the barren, rocky outback of Chitradurga as an analogy for the musician’s quest for aesthetic rigour. One of Iyer’s first attempts to fulfil the old Mysore royalty’s search for a brahminical classicism to legitimate their British-backed rule. In this respect, Iyer’s film is at the opposite pole, in contemporary Karnataka politics, of anti-brahminical films such as Samskara (1970). Iyer’s revivalist project, which led him later to make Saint films, is repeated by K. Vishwanath’s Telugu films after Shankarabharanam (1979).
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