Veteran South Indian filmmaker and actor K Viswanath, a recipient of India's highest cinema honour, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, died late Thursday night at the age of 92.
Known mostly for his work in Telugu films, Viswanath had been ill for a while owing to age-related ailments, Indian media reported. He died at a private hospital in Hyderabad where he had been receiving treatment.
Born in 1930 in Andhra Pradesh, he began his film career as a sound engineer and made his debut as a director with the 1965 drama Aatma Gowravam, which won the Best Feature Film at the Nandi Awards, dedicated to achievements in the Telugu film industry.
Following it up with a spate of women-led films, it was Viswanath's 1976 film Siri Siri Muvva, also in Telugu, that would earn him wide acclaim. The drama, about a mute woman who is ill-treated by her stepmother but finds an escape through dance, was remade in Hindi as Sargam in 1979. It turned its leading actress Jaya Prada, who featured in both the Telugu and Hindi films, into a major Bollywood star.
Viswanath's 1980 musical drama Sankarabharanam, which earned him a number of international awards, is considered an Indian classic by many. It tackles the theme of generational divide centring on a classical music star whose life and relationship are threatened by changing norms.
The film was remade in Hindi as Sur Sangam in 1985, which was also a big hit.
As a filmmaker, Viswanath built a reputation for taking on social issues — from caste system to disability. He was praised for his ability to tackle subjects mostly associated with art-house films with the box office demands of commercial cinema.
He also dabbled in acting, starting with the 1995 Telugu film Subha Sankalpam. He was last seen in the Tamil comedy drama Uttama Villain in 2015.
Viswanath won many awards throughout his career, including five National Film Awards for his films. He was honoured with a Padma Shri, India's fourth-highest highest civilian award, in 1992.
In 2016, he received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India's highest cinema award, for his contribution to the film industry.
Some of the biggest South Indian stars paid tribute to him on Friday.
N T Rama Rao Jr, star of the record-breaking film RRR, said on Twitter that Viswanath helped "spread the fame of Telugu cinema across continents".
Kerala superstar Mammootty, who made his Telugu film debut with Viswanath's 1992 film Swathi Kiranam, said he was "deeply saddened".
Oscar-winning composer A R Rahman also posted a tribute. "Your movies filled my childhood with humaneness and wonder," he said.
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