Some of the phenomenal talents of Indian cinema came together, and, magic happened. Thank god it happened when the cameras were rolling and we get to see it happen over and over again through Saagara Sangamam.
Balu (Kamal Hassan) is a washed out dance critic who publishes a blistering critique of a performance by an upcoming danseuse Shylaja (S.P. Shylaja). He is called in by his publisher to apologize for his rudeness (as Shylaja's fiance is connected to the newspaper publisher). Balu makes no apologies, and in fact gives a blow by blow demo to Shylu and her fiance of what all she did wrong and how it should have been done. For this, he gets himself and his friend Raghu fired from the newspaper.
Shylu's mom Madhavi (Jayapradha), catches this sole bad review of her daughter's performance and is intrigued to learn the identity of the reviewer. Madhavi and Balu have a history. Madhavi, who is an arts writer and photographer, comes into Balu's life. And instantly recognizes the talent and potential in him. In the early days, Madhavi had helped Balu in his dance career, and had grown close to him because of that, leading to an almost-romantic involvement. This is the first half of the movie.
The movie shuttles between the past and the present- with the flashbacks filling most of the first half. This part of the movie is about art - about a man who wants to pursue his art and nothing else, about his frustrations as to how the world receives his efforts, and how his friends help him to get his work out there.
Kamal Haasan relishes classical dance as much as his love for acting and leaves no stone unturned to learn Kathakali, Kuchupudi and other forms. The choice of dance forms, the locations, the energy in the artist, the writer ( Vetturi) and Illayaraja’s beautiful percussions, the moving track frames at ground level that makes the dance form pleasant, photogenic and at times ecstatic reaching peaks (the choice of high altitude locations) simply makes it a vibrant majestic and mesmerising treat to watch. The melodrama and sentimentality of the second half almost destroys the film - only the memory that we have just seen such a spectacular first-half saves us from abandoning the film and running away.
No matter what, Saagara Sangamam had two leads who knew what subtlety meant, and allowed their expressions and their dances to show their emotions. And because so much is expressed between them without dialogues, this is one film where the viewer does not really need sub-titles to understand the nuances. This is a must-watch.