Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Agniputhri (1967)

Prem Nazir, Sheela, T. S. Muthiah, T.K. Balachandran, Adoor Bhasi, Aranmula Ponnamma, Baby Usha etc.

SOCIALLY RELEVANTA scene from the film Agniputhri

‘Agniputhri' is a milestone in the history of Malayalam cinema. The film was a screen adaptation of a stage play of the same title written by S L Puram Sadanandan. First published in 1949, it was performed on stage successfully by Deshabhimani Theatres, Attingal with talented artistes like D. K. Chellappan, Rajalakshmi etc. who immortalised the characters in the family drama. The drama projected a burning social issue, rehabilitation of prostitutes.

The film won the National Film Award for best script in 1967 and was the first Malayalam film to get an award in this category. This was also the first Malayalam play to be telecast by Doordarshan, Delhi. Screen adaptations of stage plays seldom succeeded at the box office, but ‘Agniputhri' was an exception.

The film was remade in Hindi as ‘Darpan' (1970) with Sunil Dutt and Waheeda Rehman in lead roles. The success of the Malayalam film might have prompted for the Hindi remake but the film did not succeed. The story of ‘Agniputhri' is similar to the story of ‘Aadmi' written by A. Bhaskar Rao. Probably the classic film might have inspired playwright S L Puram to select the controversial theme for this play. The Hindi film ‘Sadhna' (1958) directed by B. R. Chopra also had a similar story.

‘Agniputhri' was produced by actor Prem Nawaz. Directed by M. Krishnan Nair, the film was shot at Satya and Syamala studios, Chennai. The script and dialogues written by S L Puram was the highpoint of the film. Saraswathi Amma's (Aranmula Ponnamma) joint family faces problems and conflicts when her younger son Rajendran (Prem Nazir) marries Sindhu (Sheela), the orphaned inmate of a destitute home. Rajendran is a college teacher; he is impressed by Sindhu's singing and decides to marry her even after knowing her bitter past. Sindhu is a prostitute and Rajendran, who takes sympathy on her decides to give a new life

The feudal conservative hypocrisies of the family are graphically criticised in the film. Rajendran's brother, Doctor Jayadevan (T. S. Muthiah) had an illicit relation with Sindhu and even fathered her daughter Bindhu (Baby Usha). Unknown to others in the family, Bindhu grows up in Jayadevan's home as their adopted daughter. Sindhu was not aware that Rajendran was the brother of Jayadevan. Rajendran's cousin Chandran (T. K. Balachandran) also had a fling with Sindhu. Both Jayadevan and Chandran force Rajendran to send Sindhu back to the destitute home and save their family honour. But Rajendran's refuses.

Jayadevan's wife Sandhya (Vasantha) and others come to know of Sindhu's relations with Jayadevan and Chandran and all about Bindhu. The family is torn by conflicts.

Sindhu, who wants to keep away from all this, decides to end her marriage with Rajendran. She tells him that she is suffering from an infectious disease. But Rajendran is not ready to send Sindhu away. Finally, Sindhu decides to leave the family which will help safeguard the future of her daughter who otherwise will have to bear the stigma of a prostitute's daughter. Bindhu calls her mother back. Sindhu is overwhelmed but she dies of a heart attack.

Sheela excelled in the lead role. Deviating from the usual romantic hero role, Prem Nazir impressed as the college teacher. T. R. Omana excelled as the gossip-mongering grandmother.

Five songs written by Vayalar Rama Varma and tuned by M. S. Baburaj became hits. ‘Kannu thurakkatha deivangale...' (P. Susheela) was perhaps the most popular of them. ‘Iniyum puzha ozhukum...' (P. Jayachandran) is considered as one of his best in the language.

Two children's songs, ‘Aakashathile Nandini pashuvinu...' and ‘Kili kili parunthinu...,' sung by Susheela are best examples of melody and poetic imagination blending well with the film situation. Another sentimental number by Susheela, ‘Agni nakshathrame pinneyumenthinu...' that brought out the past of the characters also left a huge impact.

Will be remembered: As a good social movie. As the first Malayalam film to win a National award for the best script and for its music.