Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sabarimala Sree Ayyappan (1961)

Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair, G K Pillai, Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair, T S Muthiah, Rajan, Hari, S P Pillai, N Balu, Manavalan Joseph, Ambika, Padmini, Ragini, Adoor Pankajam

The first Malayalam film on the legends of Lord Ayyappa and Sabarimala was released in colour a few days before the commencement of the annual pilgrimage (November 3, 1961, Thulam 18, 1137 M.E.). The film was an instant success. It ran to fully packed theatres throughout the pilgrimage season and even after Makaravilakku.

This film is considered to be the most successful film made on Sabarimala. It sparked the beginning of a series of similar movies in almost all South Indian languages.

Produced under the banner of ‘Sastha Films’ by K. Kuppuswamy, the film was directed by the famous South Indian director Sreeramulu Naidu. The script and dialogues penned by Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair told the story of the deity in a simple and impressive style. The colour processing by Film Centre, Bombay, was much more perfect than the first colour film in the language ‘Kandam Becha Coattu,’ released the same year. Most of the scenes were shot at Pakshiraja Studios with cinematographer Shailen Bose showing great technical skill especially in canning the outdoor forest sequences.

King Rajasekhara (Thikkurissi), the king of Pandalam, finds a child on the banks of River Pampa during one of his hunting expeditions. A saint who appears there advises the king to adopt this child name him as Manikantan… so goes the popular story. Ambika is the queen. Bhanuvikraman, the minister is played by G. K. Pillai. Mahishi (Ragini) is the demon princess who is killed by Manikandan, thereby fulfilling the mission for which he was born on earth. Manikantan returns from the forest with a herd of tigers. Manikantan gives up the throne and goes to the forest for penance. The king constructs a temple at Sabarimala.

Rajan as Manikantan, Hari as Rajarajan and Master Jitendranath and Master Georgie Thomas in the childhood roles of Manikantan and Rajarajan did justice. The film included some sub plots, which one may not be able to find in ‘Bhoothanathopakhyanam’ and ‘Ayyappan Paattu,’ which tells the story of Lord Ayyappa and Sabarimala temple. Scene like the one in which Manikantan gives sight to the blind son of his Guru (T. S. Muthiah), the Gurukula sequences, and those involving Manikantan and Vavar (Kottarakkara) were impressive.

Padmini’s guest appearance as Mohini and the dance sequences with dance director Thankappan in the role of Bhasmasura, was one of the attractions of the film. The comedy scenes, that of ‘Parvathi Vilasam’ Ayurvedic dispensary featuring S. P. Pillai, Adoor Pankajam, Manavalan Joseph etc. proved to be a unnecessary diversion from the main plot.

The film was dubbed to Tamil and exhibited throughout Tamil Nadu successfully that same year.

There were 12 songs in the film, penned by Abhaya Dev and tuned by S. M. Subbiah Naidu. Some of the songs became super hits and are still popular. The lullaby ‘Swargam kaninju jagathinnu thanna...’ by P. Leela, is considered as one of the kind in the language. Singing star of early Tamil cinema and playback singer of later period, V. N. Sundaram rendered his best song in Malayalam ‘Aaararivoo nin maya leelakal...’

Actress Kottayam Shantha made her playback debut with the song ‘Padha thalir thozhunnen....,’ which also became a super hit. Other hits included ‘Aasritha yamen allalu theerkum...’ (Radha-Jayalakshmi), ‘Poovirinju puthen poovirinju...’ (P.Leela) and the chorus led by Gokulapalan ‘Saranam Ayyappa swami...’

Will be remembered: As the first film on the legend of Lord Ayyappa and Sabarimala. The debut film of Kottayam Shantha and for the music, especially for the lullaby ‘Swargam kaninju jagathinnu thanna...’

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Koodappirappu (1956)

Prem Nawaz, T. S. Muthiah, Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai, Ambika, Kumari Thankam, Aranmula Ponnamma, Adoor Pankajam

Musical milestone Prem Nawaz and Ambika
It was in this film in 1956 that Vayalar Rama Varma, one of the most powerful poets in the language, made his debut as lyricist. Vayalar, as he came to be known popularly, went on to reign supreme for over two decades. ‘Koodappirappu,’ produced under the banner of Khadeeja Productions and directed by J. D. Thottan, will always be remembered for this. In his very first film itself, Vayalar impressed with his rich poetic imagination that was conveyed through simple language.

The film also saw the entry of Prem Nawaz, brother of Prem Nazir, and Ambika, member of the Travancore Sisters family. She had made her Malayalam debut in the1952 film ‘Vishappinte Vili,’ but it was in this film that she carved a niche for herself. It was also her first film as heroine. ‘Koodappirappu’ also saw the debut of director J. D. Thottan and script-writer Ponjikkara Rafi.

The story was a tearjerker with a generous mix of all ingredients needed for a typical commercial film. However, the film could make no claim for artistic value or technical perfection. The only saving grace was the songs.
Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai, who wrote the story, picked up a few characters from some of the successful Tamil films of the time, placed them in the story that was set in the pattern of family dramas, far removed from and stretched out from reality. ‘Koodappirappu’ was just an average success at the box office.
The film tells the story of two brothers Rajan (Prem Nawaz) and Kesavan (T. S. Muthiah), sons of a poor widow Kalyani Amma (Aranmula Ponnamma). The only source of income of this middle class family is a grocery shop run by Kesavan. In order to give his younger brother the best in life and education, Kesavan even gives up his dream of marriage.

Parvathi (Ambika), the daughter of Kalyani Amma’s cousin, is Rajan’s childhood friend. Their friendship turns to love and they decide to get married.

In the meanwhile, Rajan leaves the village for higher education. Parvathi becomes pregnant. In the city, Rajan falls into the company of a professional singer Latha (Kumari Thankam). Kesavan goes to the city to bring back Rajan to the village and get him married to Parvathi. But Kesavan is insulted by Rajan and sent back. Kesavan stops sending money to Rajan. However, Rajan is thrown out by Latha and that brings him to his senses. He returns to the village, falls at the feet of his elder brother, marries Parvathi and brings the film to a happy end.
T.S. Muthiah excelled in his role as Kesavan. Ambika impressed with her charm, looks and talent. The performance of other actors was average. Prem Nawaz, as hero, failed to make an impact. There were 10 songs penned by Vayalar and a Swati Tirunal kriti in the film. Music by K. Raghavan complemented the lyrics. The songs by Vayalar fitted the situations and characters perfectly.

The solo by Santha P. Nair ‘Thumbi thumbi vaa vaa…,’ a romantic solo by A. M. Raja, ‘Maanasa rani…,’ one of M. L. Vasantha Kumari’s best songs in Malayalam ‘Mani varnane innu njaan kandu sakhi...,’ a duet by Raja and Santha P. Nair ‘Angadiyil thottu madangiya ...’ became instant hits. Raghavan dispensed with the practice of imitating other language tunes.

Will be remembered: As the first film of poet-lyricist Vayalar Rama Varma, Prem Nawaz, director J. D. Thottan and script-writer Ponjikkara Rafi. Ambika madder her debut as heroine. The film will be remembered for the hit songs.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Kandam Becha Kottu (1961)

IN COLOUR Prem Nawaz with Thikkurissi and Ambika in the film

Modern Theatres, producers of the first talkie film in Malayalam, also brought colour with the Muslim social drama ‘Kandam Bacha Coattu.’ Based on a popular novel, which was also staged as a play under the same title, the screen version in Eastman colour was a success.

The film focussed mainly on the evil of dowry system which was rampant in the Muslim community. A trailer of the film was introduced for the first time in Malayalam cinema.

This film was the first Malayalam directorial venture of the famous director T. R. Sundaram. Nellikkodu Bhaskaran, noted for his character roles, made his debut in this film. It introduced the Kozhikodan slang throughout the film. The dialogues by K.T. Mohammed were impressive. He assailed the many undesirable practices in the community with a punch. All the artists, especially Nilambur Ayisha, spoke the local slang in a very natural style.

The story of the film revolves around a kind hearted cobbler Mohammed Kakka (T. S. Muthiah). He keeps his life savings into the pockets of his old coat to realise his dream of going on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Alikoya Haji (Thikkurissi) loves his son Ummer (Prem Nawaz) and brings him up showering all love and affection. Hajis’s sister Kadeeja (Pankajavalli) and her family lives in the neighbourhood. Amina (Aranmula Ponnamma) and her children, Kunju Bibi (Ambika ) and Hassan (Nellikkodu Bhaskaran) lives in the same house. Amina’s husband is a businessman in Singapore. Kadeeja’s husband Avaran (Kedamangalam Sadanandan) is very considerate to his brother’s wife Amina and her family. But Kadeeja keeps ill treating Amina.

Ummer falls in love with Kunju Bibi, his childhood mate. Kadeeja is jealous of this affair. She tries all sorts of tricks to create trouble but fails. Alikoya Haji decides to accept Kunju Bibi as his daughter-in-law, but demands a dowry of Rs. 2,000.

Amina’s husband starts from Singapore with the money. Arrangements for the wedding is made but to the dismay of everyone a telegram arrives informing the death of Amina’s husband during the voyage back home. Amina and her children are pushed out of the house, the marriage is postponed as Haji gives an ultimatum to organise the dowry.

Mohammed Kakka gives shelter to Amina and her family. Kadeeja continues to harass them, while Ummer tries hard to help them organise the money. He even goes to the extent of stealing from his father’s safe. Ummer is caught red handed and is placed under house arrest. Mohammed Kakka makes arrangements for the marriage. He offers the money he had saved and kept in the pockets of the coat. He also appeals to others in the neighbourhood to contribute for the marriage. Ummer finally marries Kunju Bibi providing a happy ending to the film. Mohmmed Kakka’s noble deed glorifies him.

The film ran for weeks in packed theatres. Thikkurissi excelled in his role of the Haji. Prem Nawaz, Aranmula Ponnamma, Ambika, and others came up with impressive performances. However, the main attraction was T. S. Muthiah’s Mohammed Kakka, considered to be his best performance in Malayalam. The film had nine songs by P. Bhaskaran and M. S. Baburaj. Some of the songs were hits of the time but could not stand the test of time. A comedy number ‘Zindabad, zindabad...’ by Mehboob, ‘Puthen manavatti...’ an Oppana song by P. Leela and chorus were popular. A drama, ‘Elayadethu Rani, was an added attraction.

Will be remembered: As the first colour film in Malayalam. It will also be remembered as the first directorial venture of T. R. Sundaram in Malayalam, as the debut film of Nellikodu Bhaskaran, actor and script writer K. T. Mohammed. As the first film to use the typical Kozhikode Muslim slang right through.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Neelakkuyil (1954)

AWARD-WINNING Sathyan and Prema in Neelakuyil

Neelakkuyil divides the history of Malayalam cinema and its music in the timeline of history. The film set the trend of realistic melodrama and brought the first National award (Presidents silver medal) to Malayalam cinema. The film was a musical hit. It also brought out the best from singers like Kozhikode Abdul Kader, Shantha P. Nair and Janamma David.

The story of Neelakuyil by Uroob that focussed on reformist literature was extended to a performance idiom using new generation stars like Sathyan, Miss Kumari and Prema. A.Vincent’s crisp camera brought out the beauty of black and white frames like never before. It remains one of the best of black and white films made in the language. The manner in which Vincent is amazing.

The pastoral tragedy tells the story of the love affair of a Harijan girl and an educated, high-caste school teacher. The script flays social evils like untouchability, feudalism, and injustice towards women through biting dialogues. The music was mainly based on folk tunes and all the songs had the smell of the soil. It included Mappilappattu, harvest song, a traditonal prayer, romantic melodies, all of which followed the folk traditions of the state.

The plot revolves around rustic life in a small village. Neeli (Miss Kumari), a Harijan peasant girl, falls in love with Sreedharan Nair (Sathyan), a school teacher. Neeli becomes pregnant. Sreedharan Nair refuses to marry Neeli fearing protest from society. Neeli becomes an outcaste. She is later found dead leaving behind her child. Sankaran Nair (P.Bhaskaran), the village postman adopts the child challenging the protests from the society. Sreedharan Nair marries Nalini (Prema), a member of an aristocratic family. Neeli’s son Mohan (Master Vipin) is brought up by the postman. The film ends with Sreedharan Nair and Nalini accepting the boy as their own child.

Sathyan and Miss Kumari excelled in their roles. The rustic slang used gave a realistic touch to the characters.

The film won the President’s silver medal in 1954. What makes this honour special is that Neelakuyil was a venture by relatively newcomers to his field. When the two other national award winning South Indian films were produced by established banners, directed by eminent directors, music composed by well known music directors and enacted by the matinee idols of that time, Neelakuyil was made by newly formed production house, directed by newcomers, music by a new composer and had relatively inexperienced actors.

There were nine songs in the film. Most of them were based on folk tunes. The music completely dispensed with the then prevailing trend of imitation of popular tunes. All the songs became super hits. ‘Ellarun chollanu ellarum chollanu...’ (Janamma David), ‘Kayalarikaathu vala erinjappol...’ (K.Raghavan) became most popular among the songs. Raghavan’s song is considered the first successful Mappila song in Malayalam cinema. A solo by Shantha P. Nair based on Bilahari Raga ‘Unarunaroo Unnikanna...’ is still one of the best devotional songs in the language. Compositions of Tyagaraja had found a place in Malayalam cinema before Neelakkuyil. But in this film there was a song based on a Tyagaraja composition - ‘Sarasa sama daana bheda... (Kaapi Narayani raga) . ‘Kadalasu vanchi aeri...’ a children’s song by Kozhikode Pushpa, ‘Maanennum vilikkilla...’ by Mehaboob), ‘Kuyilinie thedi...’ by Janamma David turned huge hits. Kozhikode Abdul Khader’s ‘Engine nee marakkum...’ in that typical K. L. Saigal style of singing still remains a much sought after melody. The simple lyrics by P. Bhaskaran and sensitive music by K. Raghavan made these songs immortal.

Will be remembered: As the first Malayalam film to win National recognition. As the debut of Ramu Kariat, P. Bhaskaran, actress Prema, Master Vipin (now popular cinematographer Vipin Mohan), music director K. Raghavan and many others who worked in the project. The film is also the first individual effort of cinematographer Vincent. And, of course, for the lovely songs.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Achan (1952)

THUMPING HIT B. S. Saroja and Prem Nazir in ‘Achan’

This film is one of the early hits produced by Kunchacko and the first produced under the banner of XL Productions, which went on to create several box office hits in sixties and seventies. Released on Christmas Eve the film ran to packed houses at all the centres for many weeks.

The film focussed on a father’s unreserved love and affection for his children. The major success of the film paved way for its Tamil version, ‘Thanthai (1953) and Telugu version ‘Thanri’ (1953). Both the dubbed versions were huge hits. The story of the film proceeds through several strange twists and turns which was a common feature of the South Indian films of that time. The film included all the factors of an entertainer, melodrama, romance, dances, comic scenes etc. There were stage dramas, ‘kathaprasangam’ dances and melodious songs. The dialogues penned by Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair were precise. Unlike dialogues of the time, which were usually lengthy, those in this film were an exception.

The story revolved around a family. Chandran (Prem Nazir) and Balan (Gopinath) are showered love and affection by their father (Thikkurissi) and stepmother (Jayasree). But Chandran does not realise the value of this and grows into a bad boy. The fancy he takes to a street girl in his childhood transforms into a love affair later.

The girl Usha (B.S.Saroja) works as an artiste in a drama troupe owned by Nanukuttan (Sesbastian Kunjukunju Bhagavathar). Chandran marries Usha much against the wish of his father. He goes on to lead an extravagant life, gets into the company of a city rogue Mathu (S.P.Pillai) and his group.

Chandran’s father, very considerate, accepts his son despite his wild escapades and misdeeds. But Chandran still does not realise the value of his father’s affection. He demands his share of the ancestral property and his father accedes to this demand.

A drama troupe set up by Chandran flops and he all the money he put into it goes down the drain. To recover from this setback, Chandran contests in the Assembly elections but fails here too. Bankrupt Chandran becomes desperate. Meanwhile, Usha gives birth to a baby boy. But all these changes in life do not transform Chandran or his attitude towards his father. He even becomes suspicious of Usha and leaves home with his son.

This proves to be the turning point. Chandran struggles to bring up his son. He now realises the worth of his father, his love and of course value of money. He returns home and falls at the feet of his father. The father, who never carried any sort of hatred for his son accepts him.

Thikkurissi’s outstanding performance was one of the highpoints of the film. This was the only film in which veteran actor Sesbastian Kunjukunju Bhagavatahar did a comic role.

There were 17 songs in the film. Some of the songs became super hits. The most popular of them was ‘Ambili ammava thirinju nin anpinodonnu chollu ...’ sung by Thiruvananthapuram V. Lakshmi. This remains the only solo rendered by her. Later on she was heard as part of the chorus in several films. The other hits include ‘Naame mudhalali namakkini...,’ ‘Madhuram madhuramee jeevitham...’ (P. Leela), ‘Madhumasa chandrikayay...’ (A.M.Raja, P.Leela). A kathaprasangam by Pankajavalli, which also became very popular. Will be remembered: As one of the major box office hits of early Malayalam cinema. It will be remembered as the debut of Boban Kunchacko, the maiden venture of XL Productions, and first film of Thiruvananthapuram V. Lakshmi.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sasidharan (1950)

ENTERTAINER Kottarakara Sreedharan Nair and S. P. Pillai from the film

The early period of Indian cinema saw several successful musical plays turned into films. This happened in the South also. Very successful Tamil films like ‘Dumbachari’ (1935), ‘Menaka’, ‘Pathi Bhakti’, ‘Chandrakantha’ (1936) etc. were celluloid versions of successful stage plays of the same title.

‘Sashidharan’ produced by Swami Narayanan, was the first Malayalam play to be adapted to the screen. This was the exact filmy version of the popular play ‘Sashidharan B.A.’ or ‘Premavaichithryam’ authored by N. P.Chellappan Nair. This social drama, rich in music, was staged by prominent drama troupes. The famous stage actors Vaikom Vasudevan Nair and Thankam Vasudsevan Nair immortalised the songs and sequences of this play.

However, the film was not as successful as the play. Perhaps the memories of the play had not faded out and naturally comparisons were made. This film paved way for the entry for many artists of which with Aranmula Ponnamma being the most prominent of them. Interestingly, Aranmulla Ponnamma, the archetypal ‘good’ mother began her career in this film emoting a negative role. She made an impact as a greedy mother.

Sashidharan (P. K.Vikraman Nair), the graduate son of the landlord Panikker (Thumpamon Padmanabhan Kutty) falls in love with Vilasini (Miss Kumari), the daughter of a poor widow Kalyani Amma (Aranmula Ponnamma). A crooked local newspaper editor (N. P. Chellappan Naiar) and the lecherous city wastrel Rajasekharan (Kottarakara) form a tricky plot turning Panikker against his sons wish to marry Vilasini. Sashidharan’s firm resolve forces Panikker to expel his son from the house. Kalyani Amma rejects Sashidharan’s proposal and he s forced to take to the street.

He seeks employment in Malaya with the help of his friend Madhu (Vaikom Mani). Here Sashidharan rises as the leader of the labourers and gains power and fame. Indubala, the daughter of a rich estate owner, takes a liking for him.

Sashidharan returns home after a few years. Here he is shocked to find that Vilasini is married to Rajasekharan. The false news of his Sashidharan’s death in Malaya was actually the handiwork of Rajasekharan with the help of the newspaper editor and Vilasini’s mother.

Sashidharan learns that the money he had sent from Malaya had been taken away by Rajasekharan. Vilasini’s marrriage is miserable.

One night Vilasini manages to meet Sashidharan. Rajasekharan, who gains wind of this, shoots down Vilasini. Sashidharan is arrested on the false charge of murdering his former love. In the meanwhile, Indubala, whose father dies, comes in search of Sashidharan. She helps in clearing the charges against him. The villains are arrested and Sashidharan marries Indubala.

The film had all the ingredients of an entertainer. It had a love story, high melodrama, comedy, fights and 14 songs.

Most of the songs were imitations of Hindi tunes. The song ‘Neeyen chandraney, njaan nin chandrika…’ (Vaikom Mani-Kaviyoor Revamma) was an exact lift of the Naushad hit ‘Too mere chand, mein teri chandni…’ from the Hindi film ‘Dillagi.’ Though the lyrics and tune were imitations of the Hindi songs this duet became an all-time hit. Two other songs, a comedy number by Kalinga Rao and Mohan Kumari, ‘Kanney naanam kollathey...’ and a solo by Revamma, ‘Anandamey, anandamey...’ also became popular.

Will be remembered: As the first Malayalam film adaptation of a popular stage play. Also as the debut film of music director P. Kalinga Rao, first Malayalam film of director T. Janakiram, Aranmula Ponnamma, S. P. Pillai, N. P. Chellappan Nair, Kaviyoor Revamma, P. Mohankumari, and lyricist Thumpamon Padmanabhankutty.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bhakthakuchela (1961)

C. S. R. Anjaneyalu, Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair, Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair, Kantha Rao, T. K. Balachandran, Jos Prakash, Miss Kumari, Ambika, Shanthi, Kusalakumari, Aranmula Ponnamma, Baby Vinodini

TRAILBLAZER C.S.R. Anjaneyalu as Kuchela in the trendsetting film

This was the first big mythological by director P. Subramaniam. The success of this film inspired him and his production house to make more films of this genre.

‘Bhakta Kuchela’ was an unusual collaboration between a Malayalam producer and an array of Telugu-Tamil film stars. The key roles were handled by Telugu actors. The success of this film encouraged Malayalam producers to invite Telugu and Tamil stars, noted for their mythological roles, to act in their films of similar themes.

This film was released on November 9, 1961. On November 18, Udaya Studios released their Kuchela story under the title ‘Krishna Kuchela,’ with Malayalam film stars cast in key roles. But this film, directed by Kunchacko, bombed. The presence of Prem Nazir as Krishna, T S Muthiah as Kuchela and KPAC Sulochana as Kuchela’s wife simply failed to attract viewers to the theatres.

Subramaniam’s film told, apart from the main story of the friendship between Krishna and Kuchela, a few sequences from the Bhagavatha. It tells about sage Sandipani’s hermitage where Krishna and Kuchela are students and close friends. The difference in social status, caste or creed does not come in the way of their friendship. After leaving the hermitage they lose contact with each other. Krishna becomes the king of Dwaraka, while Kuchela struggles to make ends meet with a huge family. His worship of Krishna causes enmity with the king Sisupala. As requested by his wife Suseela, Kuchela decides to visit his old friend. For him it was a chance to renew their friendship than asking for assistance. Kuchela gets a warm welcome at Dwaraka but forgets to ask what he actually wanted. To his astonishment Krishna sends him back empty handed. But when Kuchela returns home he finds that his modest hut has miraculously been turned into a palace. The Lord had showered prosperity on his family even without asking for it.

The film included some sequences which one may not find in versions of the Bhagavatha. For example, when Krishna leaves the hermitage after studies the grief-stricken Kuchela runs after Krishna and falls down a mountain peak but is saved by his friend. This song sequence, ‘Karuna aarna deva Gopala...’ (A. P. Komala) was an added attraction.

Another attraction of the film was the brilliant performance of the Telugu singing star C. S. R. Anjaneyalu as Kuchela. CSR, as he was affectionately known, was noted for his mythological roles. His performance in the film has been compared to that of Papanasam Sivan, as Kuchela, in the Tamil hit ‘Kuchela’ (1936).

Miss Kumari as Kuchela’s wife Suseela virtually made the audience weep. Other Telugu stars, Kantha Rao as Krishna and Kusalakumari as Devaki also did well. Thikkurissi as Kamsa, Kottarakkara as Sisupala, T. K. Balachandran as Narada, Aranmula Ponnamma as Yashoda, and Baby Vinodini as the child Krishna were also impressive. Ambika and Shanthi as the consorts of Krishna added star value to the film.

An advertisement technique adopted for this film was distribution of small packets of ‘avil’ (beaten rice) along with the notices of the film. The film ran to packed theatres for many weeks in all centres.

‘Bhakta Kuchela’ had 15 songs penned by Thirunainar Kurichi Madhavan Nair and music composed by Brother Lakshmanan. Most of the songs were based on classical music. The hit solo by Kamukara Purushothaman, ‘Ishwara chinthaithonne manujanu...’ has stood the test of time, a favourite even today. The other songs like ‘Naale naale ennayittu...’ (Purushothaman), ‘Maya Madhava Gopala... (P. Leela-Purushothaman), ‘Karuna aarna deva Gopala...’ and ‘Kanna thamarakanna…’ (A. P. Komala) were all super hits.

Will be remembered: This film inspired Malayalam film producers to go in for big budget mythological movies. It will be remembered for the brilliant performance of C. S. R. Anjaneyalu, Miss Kumari and others. And also for the super hit songs like ‘Ishwara chintha ithonne...,’ ‘Naale naale ennayittu...’ and ‘Maya Madhava Gopala...’

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Jeevithanouka (1951)

Sebastian Kunjukunju Bhagavathar, Thikkurissi, S. P. Pillai, Nanukuttan, Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai, Adhimoolam, B. S. Saroja, Pankajavalli

HIT MACHINE B. S. Saroja in the first Malayalam mega hit

‘Jeevithan Nauka’ is considered the first Malayalam ‘mega hit’ film. It was simultaneously shot in Tamil and Telugu. The success of the different versions prompted the producers to dub the film in Hindi as ‘Jeevan Nauka’ (1952). The Hindi version also did well.

The film portrayed the life of simple folk in a small village in Kerala. The treatment is simple, straightforward and objective. At a time when most south Indian films told stories of kings and gods, ‘Jeevitha Nauka’ spoke of human sufferings. This was a new experience.

Soman (Thikkurissi) is brought up by his elder brother Raju (Sebastian Kunjukunju Bhagavthar) and his shrewish wife Janu (Pankajavalli). Soman is in love with Lakshmi (B. S. Saroja), the daughter of a poor village performer Kaniyan (Adhimoolam) who belongs to a lower caste. Raju, employed by the zamindar (Nanukuttan) and Janu resent the inter-caste marriage between Soman and Lakshmi.

Lakshmi gives birth to a son and in the meanwhile Soman goes to the city in search of job. Lakshmi who is left behind in the village faces harassment at the hands of the villagers. In the city, Soman is hit by a car driven by a rich young woman who takes him home and also employs him as the manager of her estate. Janu starts receiving Soman’s letters and remittances which start arriving. Janu does this by impersonating Lakshmi with the connivance of her brother Shanku (S.P.Pillai).

Meanwhile Lakshmi leaves the village in search of Soman. During her wanderings Lakshmi sees her husband with a woman and suspects him of being disloyal. The young woman is none other than his employer. Lakshmi tries to kill her child and commit suicide but what saves her is the instinct of motherhood. Lakshmi gets together a band of beggars and organises a home for them. She uses her talent as an actress and collects funds for the home by staging plays. Back in the village life turns its tables on Raju and Janu, while her brother Shanku is killed. The real culprits, the zamindar’s advocate and his group of people mislead the police implicating Soman in the murder. During one her plays, Lakshmi recognises her husband who is about to be arrested on the trumped up charge. Explanations follow and Soman is absolved of the false charge and the couple are reunited. Raju is helped out by Soman. Janu who has now become a beggar is recognised by Lakshmi. Regardless of what has happened in the past, Lakshmi takes Janu home. And all ends well.

There were 14 songs in the film. Music by Dakshinamoorthy followed the then prevailing trend of imitating popular Hindi tunes. Mehboob entered the cinema world by singing for this film. Though an imitation of the Mohammed Rafi song from the Hindi film ‘Dulari’ (1949) ‘Suhani raat dhal chuki…’ (Naushad), the soulful rendering by Mehboob made the song ‘Akaale aarum kaividum…..’ memorable. Other songs like, ‘Aaanandamiyalum bale….’ (P. Leela) , ‘Thoraathasru dhaara….’ (Revamma), imitations of tunes from ‘Barsaat’ (1949, Shanker-Jaikishen) failed to impress. A duet, ‘Aanathalayolam venna tharameda…’ sung by Sebastian Kunjukunju Bhagavathar and Alappuzha Pushpam, father and daughter, in real life, became a super hit.

Will be remembered: Noted singer Mehboob made his film debut in this film. It will also be remembered for the songs, ‘Aanathalayolam venna tharameda…’ (Bhagavathar, Pushpam) and ‘Vana gayike vinnil varoo nayike...’ (P. Leela, Mehboob).


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Randidangazhi (1958)

P. J. Antony, T. S. Muthiah, Thikkurissi, Kottarakkara, JAR Anand, Miss Kumari, Adoor Pankajam

LANDMARK ‘Randidangazhi’ celebrates its Golden Jubilee this month, this year

The film was an adaptation of a novel of the same title by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai. A seminal political movie set among the conditions of bonded labour in the Kuttanad, the film was dominated by its script and dialogues, written by the novelist himself. The genre was akin to many of the stage plays of the KPAC, the famous drama group. The music by Brother Lakshmanan was influenced by the style propagated by India Peoples Theatre Association (IPTA).

The film released on August 24, 1958, celebrates its Golden Jubilee this month.

Chirutha (Miss Kumari) is the beautiful daughter of a peasant Ittitharakali. Her avaricious father wants to marry her off to the first person who can provide the penpanam’ or a sort of dowry system that prevailed in the community. Koran (P. J. Antony) and Chathan (T. S. Muthiah), two peasants are in love with Chirutha. Chirutha has a soft corner for Koran who decides to sell himself to the local landlord for a loan. Using this loan money Koran pays the ‘penpanam’ and wins Chirutha’s hand in marriage. A dispute arises during the marriage. The landlord demands ‘Thampran panam,’ a tax levied by the landlords at the time of marriage from their tenants, especially lower cast tenants. Chathan stands by Koran here.

Koran and Chirutha move to the neighbouring village, work in the paddy fields, and lead a happy life. Ouseph, the landlord here, is a cruel bigot who exploits his labourers terribly. Koran protests against this. He organises the labourers and forms a union to protect their rights. For this he has to pay a huge penalty. Koran is whipped by the landlord. He turns a revolutionary, organises protests against the landlord that also includes a strike in the fields.

Koran also brings to light the shady deals of the landlord. These incidents make Koran a sort of rebel. The landlord hatches a conspiracy against Koran and the peasant leader falls into the trap. He is implicated of charges of theft. Fearing police arrest Koran flees the place. Chacko, the landlord’s son, attempts to molest Chirutha but is foiled by timely arrival of Koran. In the ensuing struggle he strangles Chacko to death. Before Koran is arrested and sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment, he hands a pregnant Chirutha to Chathan, his intimate friend, and who always nursed a silent love for her. Chathan looks after her like his own sister till Koran is released from jail.

One of the attractions of the film were the dialogues penned by Thakazhi. The film projected the evils of the feudal system that prevailed in the State, especially in areas like Kuttanad.

The film had nine songs. Most of them became popular. Stage actress KPAC Sulochana made her playback debut in this film. One of her duets, with Kamukara Purushothaman, ‘Thumbappoo peyyana poonilave...,’ has stood the test of time. Her solo, ‘Poomazha peythallo...’ also became a huge hit.

Will be remembered: One of the most talented actors of Indian cinema, P. J. Antony made his debut in this film. The film will also be remembered for its super hit songs. It was also the first film to project the evils of the feudal system that prevailed in Kerala then.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thiramala (1953)

Sathyan, Thomas Burleigh, T. N. Gopinathan Nair, Adoor Bhasi, P. Bhaskaran, Kumari Thankam

Epoch making Sathyan and Kumari Thankam in a still from ‘Thiramala’

‘Thiramala’ has a significant place in the history of Malayalam cinema. It introduced rich orchestration, and also some artistes and technicians who made a name for themselves in later years.

Music director Vimal Kumar, singer Shanta P. Nair, Adoor Bhasi, Valsala Menon, as child actor, Ramu Kariat who worked as assistant manager of the unit, director Sasikumar who played the role of a hotel manager, Thomas Burleigh and Hindustani classical singer Lakshmi Shankar, made their Malayalam debut in this film. The film was based on a short story ‘Choondakkaran’ written by T. N. Gopinathan Nair who wrote the script and also acted in a major role.

The story line followed the favourite pattern of the love triangle. Lakshmi (Kumari Thankam), daughter of the village landlord Kurup (T. N. Gopinathan Nair) and Venu (Thomas Berleigh), son of the ferryman Panikkar (P. Bhaskaran) are childhood sweethearts.

Their love blooms much against the wishes of Kurup. He succeeds in pressurising Lakshmi into marrying Vijayan (Sathyan) a city wastrel. Venu leaves the village and finds a waiter’s job in a city hotel.

Vijayan and Lakshmi happen to stay in the same hotel where Venu is employed. Vijayan leads an immoral life making Lakshmi’s life miserable. Venu remains a silent witness to the break up of their marriage.

Meanwhile, Vijayan falls into the net cast by hotel dancer Swapna Latha and loses all his wealth. Lakshmi gives birth to a child, which dies. A remorseful Vijayan leaves the city in search of Lakshmi. Venu, who had also returned to the village, meets Lakshmi in a trying circumstance. Waiting to be taken across the swollen river during a raging storm Lakshmi is helped by Venu. Just when he sees Lakshmi safely to the other shore Venu is thrown into the river and is drowned. The film ends with a frame focussing on the corpse of Venu, which is washed ashore.

‘Thiramala’ was screened in various territories of the state with a different climax. In the Malabar region, the film had a happy ending with Lakshmi saved from the storm by Venu, who entrusts her to Vijayan. In the Southern region, the film ends with Venu’s death.

The film had 13 songs, most of which were imitations of popular Hindi tunes. Bhaskaran Master’s lyrics blended well with the tunes. The film is considered by musicologists as the first musical hit in Malayalam. The song ‘Hey kaliyodame poyalum nee sakhi...’ (Abdul Khader-Shantha P.Nair), a direct imitation of the immortal Hindi song ‘Kyon unhen dil diya...’ composed by Naushad for the film ‘Anokhi Ada’ (1948) is popular even today. The dance number sung by Lakshmi Shanker, ‘Vanamulla maala vaadi...’ and the pathos song ‘Tharakam irulil marayukayo...’ sung by Abdul Khader were also very popular.

Will be remembered: As the film which introduced eminent artistes and technicians. It will also be remembered for the songs, orchestration and for the different climax scenes.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Aathmasakhi (1952)

ON FRIENDSHIP Miss Kumari, left, and B. S. Saroja in the film

Sathyan, M. N. Nambiar, T. S. Muthiah, B. S. Saroja, Miss Kumari, Kumari Thankam, N. R. Thankam, Pankajavalli.

‘Atmasakhi’ was the first film produced by P. Subramaniam and the first to be shot at the famous Merryland Studios. This film company which Subramaniam established at Nemom, near Thiruvananthapuram, has the credit of having introduced many new artistes to Malayalam cinema. The most prominent among them was Sathyan. Though Sathyan first faced the camera in the film ‘Tyagaseema,’ a project that never saw the light of day, it was in ‘Atmasakhi’ that he made his debut. The glamour girl of the fifties, Kumari Thankam and N. R. Thankam, later known as Miss Chandni, entered films through ‘Atmasakhi.’

Also making their debut in this film were lyricist Thirunainarkurichi Madhavan Nair and music director Brother Lakshmanan. This was also the first film to be produced by Neela Productions.

The story, script and dialogues of ‘Atmasakhi’ were by K. P. Kottarakkara, who also acted in the film. The story of the film was in line with the then preferred formula of social films. The wicked step mother, ill treated children, g47ood hearted servants, were all there, along with the eternal love triangle. ‘Atmaskahi’ was dubbed into Tamil and released under the title ‘Priyasakhi.’

Raghu (Sathyan) and Leela (Miss Kumari), children of Chandrasekhara Pillai (Veeran), a wealthy landlord, lead a miserable life. Ill-treated and humiliated by their step mother Kamala (Pankajavalli). Their father is helpless, and the children do not get any love or care from him. The only consolation for the children is the family that stays close by. Raghu falls in love with the girl of that family, Santha (B. S. Saroja).

Raghu gets absolutely no support from his father when he decides to pursue medical studies. It is his friend Hari (K. P. Kottarakkara) who stands by him during that crucial phase. Kamala begins to play her dirty tricks to separate Raghu and Santha and also to turn her husband against them. At college, Indira (Kumari Thankam), unaware of Raghu’s affair with Santha, nurses an affection for him. This completes the love triangle.

In the meantime, Santha’s mother dies and she leaves home in search of Raghu. The story from now on races to a climax. Santha falls into the hands of ruffians but is saved in the nick of time by Indira and Hari. Santha becomes a nurse. Mohan (M. N. Nambiar), the wicked son of Kamala, is shot dead by his own mother by mistake. Kamala turns insane; Raghu marries Santha, while Leela weds Hari; Kamala is back to normal, reformed, providing a happy ending to the film.

Most of the 13 songs of the film were imitations of popular Hindi and other language film songs. Most of these songs have faded into obscurity. The lyrics of the imitated songs did not gel with the tunes in most cases. One such song, imitation of an immortal Marathi song composed by Vasant Desai in Lavni style, ‘Lat pat lat pat......’ for the film ‘Amar Bhoopali’ sung by Lata Mangeshkar and chorus, sung in ‘Atmasakhi’ by N. L. Ganasaraswathi and beginning ‘Jayam jayam sthana jayam...’ failed to create an impact. So was the fate of the other imitations.

But one of the songs, in spite of being an imitation of a very popular Hindi film song, became a hit. The song, ‘Aa nila vaanilen aashakal, kaniyidum tharake...’ rendered by P.Leela and T. A. Mothi was a direct imitation of the Hindi song ‘Duniya hamare pyar ki...’ from the 1949 film ‘Lahore’ sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Karan Dewan.

Will be remembered: ‘Atmasakhi’ will be remembered as the first film of Neela Productions. It will also be remembered as the debut film of Sathyan, Kumari Thankam and the musical duo Thirunainarkurichi-Brother Lakshmanan.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Snehaseema (1954)

Sathyan, Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair, Padmini, G. K. Pillai, Artist P. J. Cherian

Landmark movie Padmini and Sathyan
Released on December 30, 1954, this was a New Year gift to the Malayali. One of the most successful films produced by the thespian T. E. Vasudevan, the USP of ‘Snehaseema’ was a strong social theme and some wonderful music. The plot revol ves around Johny (Sathyan), an orphan raised by a Christian priest who works as a teacher in a private management school. Omana (Padmini), the daughter of the manager of the school, falls in love with Johny. This leads to their wedding, quite against the wishes of Omana’s father. Johny resigns from the school and joins the army. Meanwhile, Omana give birth to a baby girl. War breaks out and Johny is reported to be killed at the front. Despite protests, Omana is forced by her father to marry Doctor Baby (Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair). This was an alliance that her father proposed before Omana’s marriage to Johny. The story takes a twist when it is known that Johny is not dead and the news that was floated was by some mistake. Johny returns home to find Omana married again. Suffering a huge setback Johny attempts to commit suicide. Doctor Baby tries in vain to save him. The heart-broken Omana also succumbs to death.

Written by Ponkunnam Varkey, noted for his attacks against the church and its orthodoxy, it lays bare the laws and practices that the community had to suffer from. One of the Draconian laws pertaining to marriage and remarriage is what is discussed in this film. Ponkunnam Varkey made a bold attempt to correct such unjust laws.

The film’s storyline often appears to be an adaptation of Lord Tennyson’s story poem ‘Enoch Arden,’ Elizabeth Gaskell’s historical novel ‘Sylvia’s Lovers,’ especially the melodrama element, and Adelaide Anne Procter’s poem, ‘Homeward Bound.’ ‘Snehaseema’ also had close resemblance to the Noor Jehan- starrer, Pakistani film, ‘Dupatta,’ which was released in March 1952. In fact, prior to the 1965 Indo-Pak War, Pakistani films were released in India also. ‘Dupatta,’ a musical hit, with the sweet melodies by Noor Jehan and music by Firoze Nizami was a box office hit in India too.

V. Dakshinamurthy, who composed the music for the film, dispensed with the practice of imitating other language film tunes, though not fully. The music composer successfully blended Carnatic music with Christian devotional tunes. The song, ‘Kanivolum kamaneeya hridayam…’ rendered by P. Leela is based on Sankarabharanam raga. This composition is identified by musicologists as the first Christian devotional in a Carnatic raga. Dakshinamurthy composed another song in this film which was a blend of the choir and western tune. ‘Adhawanikunnavarkum bhaaram chumakunnorkum…’ sung by P. Leela and chorus also became popular. Another song, a lullaby, ‘Kannum pootti uranguka neeyen...’ by P. Leela and A. M. Raja, remains the most sought after number from this film.

Sathyan, Kottarakkara, and Padmini came up with brilliant performances. The dialogues by Ponkunnam Varkey gave the film a strong social reformist touch. Encouraged by the success of the film, ‘Snehaseema’ was dubbed into Tamil. The film ‘Punyavathi’ had a good run in Tamil Nadu. Will be remembered: The film developed a reputation and enduring appeal mainly for its secular credentials. Snehaseema will also be remembered for its evergreen songs and soulful music.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Navalokam (1951)

Cast: Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair, Sebastian Kunju Kunju Bhagavathar, Vanchiyoor Madhavan Nair, Miss Kumari, Sethulakshmi.

TRENDSETTER Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair and Miss Kumari in ‘Navalokam’

The film is based on a strong reformist story by PonkunnamVarkey. ‘Navalokam’ was a rude jolt to the zamindari system. The film also ignited sparks of women liberation.

The story is about the cruelty and indifference of landlords towards their tenants and peasants who toil for them. Estate owner Kurup seduces and then disowns a village girl, Devaki. This sparks off a revolt in the village. A workers union leader Gopi leads the revolt. Kurup goes on to marry Radha, an educated and socially committed worker. How Radha comes to understand the wickedness of her husband and frees herself from his immoral clutches forms the crux of the film.

The scene in which she breaks the ‘thali’ chain and throws it at his face was a strong jolt at the male supremacy. She boldly announces that a wife is not a slave and that she has equal rights. It is a call for equality of women in society. Radha walks out of the house.

Devaki, who comes to the house of the landlord is roughed up and pushed out. She is then taken to the hospital. Gopi informs the police about this and they come to arrest Kurup. Just when they are about to take him away Devaki, quite dramatically, reaches there. She pleads with the police not to arrest Kurup, saying that he was not at fault. This transforms Kurup. He accepts Devaki and they walk away together.

The screenplay was heavily loaded with pro-labour dialogues. This resulted in the censor board inflicting heavy cuts. This must have been the first Malayalam film that was clipped by the censor’s scissors.

‘Navalokam’ did not make the box office jingle. Perhaps this was because social issues were staple themes of films in other languages like those by stalwarts like V. Shantaram, K. Subramaniam, B. N. Reddy, Mehboob and others. They discussed issues like child marriage, enslavement of women, ill treatment of widows, untouchability etc. in their films.

During the early fifties, when the society was orthodox and stubborn about male supremacy, the scene in ‘Navalokam’ was certainly very bold. Prior to this none of the Malayalam films handled social themes in such a strong manner.

The music of the film was just average. Most of the songs were direct imitations of popular tunes from other language films. The song, ‘Gayaka gayaka…,’ rendered by P. Leela, was an imitation of the immortal melody ‘Aayega aayega aanewala…’ from the film ‘Mahal’ (1948). Other songs in the film were also based on tunes literally lifted from those composed by Pandit Amarnath, Anil Biswas etc. None of the songs from ‘Navalokam,’ except Kozhikode Abdul Khader’s debut film song ‘Thangakinakkal hridaye veeshum…’ became popular. This song stood the test of time.

Will be remembered: The film was a deviation from the trend of unrealistic love stories. It was a jolt to the zamindari system and male supremacy in the society. The film will also be remembered for Abdul Khader’s debut as playback singer.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Jnaanaambika (1940)

Cast: Sebastian Kunju Kunju Bhagavathar, K. K. Aroor, Alleppey Vincent, C. K. Rajam, C. A.
Seethalakshmi, L. Ponnamma, T. I. Rose

TRUE ENTERTAINER Sebastian Kunju Kunju Bhagavathar who plays the hero in Jnanambika

This second sound film in Malayalam had a close resemblance to the first talkie, ‘Balan,’ and the plot was similar to some of the Tamil films of the time. It had all the ingredients of an entertainer and was a huge box-office success.

The film shot extensively outdoors at locations in Thiruvanathapuram and Thripunithura was a new
experience for the audience . ‘Jnanambika’ was produced by Annamalai Chettiar and directed by S.
Nottani. It was based on a novel by C. Madhavan Pillai.

Jnanambika, the heroine of the film, is the daughter of a wealthy landlord, Rajasekharan. After the death
of her mother, her father marries again. Rajamani, the villainous second wife tortures Jnanambika, forcing her to run away from home. Rajamani, with the help of her secret lover Sreekumar, plots to appropriate the wealth of the mild-mannered Rajasekharan. Into this imbroglio enters Raveendran, the chivalrous hero.

The heroic deeds of Raveendran are in fact the main plot of the film. A Casanova, Rajamani happens to be one of Raveendran’s sweethearts. How Raveendran manages to save Jnanambika and get her married to Chandran forms the main part of the film.

It was with ‘Jnanambika’ that the concept of anti-hero came into Malayalam films. Raveendran has
been portrayed with negative qualities. There are many who consider Ashok Kumar’s role in the Hindi
film ‘Kismat’ (1943) as the first successful anti-hero. But ‘Jananmbika’ that had noted stage actor
Sebastian Kunju Kunju Bhagavathar in a similar role was released three years before ‘Kismat.’

Fights, car chase, twists in the plot, romance are all there in the film. Added to this are dances and songs.

There are 15 songs in the film. Music director, T. K. Jayaram Iyer, followed the trend of using popular
Hindi and other language film tunes for the songs in ‘Jnanambika.’ The lyrics are by Puthenkavu Mathen

One of the songs, ‘Katha ithu kelkan, sahajare vaa....’ sung by Sebastian Kunju Kunju Bhagavathar, an

imitation of the K. L. Saigal-Kanan Devi duet from the film ‘Street Singer’ (1938) ‘Ghunghuruva baaje
chama chama cham....’ was the most popular of them. Though no prints of the film exist, the songs are still

Will be remembered: ‘Jnanambika’ will be remembered as the first box office hit in Malayalam. It will
also be remembered for its songs.