Shankarabharanam deals with the character, of Sankara Sastry, who devotes his heart and soul to Sangeetham. At the height of popularity, he meets Tulasi -a prostitute, who is also very interested in classical arts. Being impressed by Sankara Sastry's mastery over Carnatic music, she tries to devote her entire life to learn and practice under his guidance. She murders a man who tries to misbehave with her, and is sent to jail. Sastry fights for her and gets her out. But as the caste-ridden society does not accept the Guru-sishya relationship that they share, she leaves Sastry's home.
Several years later, Pop music is the ‘in-thing’ and Indian classical music takes a back seat with classical musicians finding it hard to earn their daily bread. At this point, Tulasi enters the story again, with her son…
Vishwanath's musical hit, Shankarabharanam, is often presented as the film that transformed the Telugu film industry in 1980s. It borrows extensively from the classical Carnatic music to tell the story of a relationship between a Carnatic guru and a prostitute. It led to the revival of Indian classical music in Andhra Pradesh. The movie deals with 2 relevant topics-
Decline in popularity of Carnatic music and the Guru-sishya relationship.The film released in only one theatre and opened to empty hall. But it later turned out to be one of the biggest hits of 1979. The success of this film triggered a sequence of other art movies in Telugu, including Thyagayya, Meghasandesam (by Dasari N. Rao), and Viswanath's own follow-ups to Sankaraabharanam: Saagara Sangamam, Sruthi Layalu, Swarna Kamalam, Sirivennela, and Swathi Kiranam.
The film was remade in Hindi as Sur Sangam (1985) with Girish Karnad and Jaya Prada.
National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment (1980)
National Film Award for Best Music Direction (1980) - K. V. Mahadevan
National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer (1980) - S. P. Balasubrahmanyam
National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer (1980) - Vani Jayaram