It would be a cliché to say that K Balachander’s films have stood the test of time and continued to inspired several filmmakers and writers to go beyond escapist cinema. Several celebrities including Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Jayaprada credit him as their guru, who honed their acting skills. In his career spanning close to 50 years, K Balachander made countless classics and one such film which became a rage in Telugu is Anthuleni Katha. The film starring Jayaprada, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan released in 1976 and it made all three household names in Andhra Pradesh. That, in the 70s, several filmmakers had the gall to experiment and explore various facets of human nature, which at times defied all the existing rules in the society, is in itself an achievement.
Today, we debate about the growing trend of women taking control of their life, being financially independent and its implications on their families, but K Balachander did all that in Anthuleni Katha, almost four decades ago. Was he ahead of his time? Or was the society a lot more progressive in the 70s than what it is now? We can only guess, yet one shouldn’t forget the timeframe which the story is set in and why it’s as relevant today as it was four decades ago. The film has Jayaprada playing Saritha, who’s the sole earning member of her family. She has to support her widowed sister, unmarried sister, her blind younger brother, her mother, her drunkard brother Murthy, played by Rajinikanth, and his family. The setting itself is quite tragic and K Balachander imbibes so much pathos into the narrative that Saritha becomes a symbol of both hope and determination. Sacrificing one’s happiness for others is another major subtext in the film and Balachander reinforces this theme several times in the story through Saritha. She has to sacrifice her love because there’ll be no one else to take care of her family, if she leaves them. On top of that, since she’s the only bread winner for the family, she has no dreams or for that matter life of her own. How strong must a woman be to endure all the upheavals seen in Saritha’s life? It turns out that the characterisation is both enduring and tragic at the same time.
The film is one of the prominent films made on women empowerment and Balachander focuses on how strong willed women are, if they are forced to be in such a situation. Perhaps it was his trait to be perpetually different from others or maybe he was so obsessed with exploring the complex web of relationships in a family, the end result is quite overwhelming. The pursuit of happiness almost always led to a tragic ending and K Balachander made no bones about it. Be it Anthuleni Katha or Maro Charitra, in the end, the films reflected what a harsh world we have been living in and despite all the struggles that people go through, they cannot control certain things in their life. A lot has been written about the acting by all the lead actors and there’s no doubt that both Jayaprada and Rajinikanth steal the limelight. Anthuleni Katha is a timeless classic that’ll continue to retain its charm and become a topic of discussion, especially in terms of how Balachander portrayed women and the society.