A still from 'Kanchana Seetha'
A still from 'Sree Rama Pattabhishekam'
B. Vijayakumar is a film historian and columnist
The month of Karkidakam (mid July to mid August) is also called the Ramayanamonth. Reading the Ramayana, especially during this month, is a timeless tradition handed down by generations. Let’s take a look at some of the films based on the epic or adaptations of the stories from the Ramayana.
This ‘tradition’ in Indian cinema began from the Silent Era. Films like Dada Saheb Phalke’s Lanka Dahan (1917) and G.V. Sane’s Ram Janma (1920) were some of the earliest. Vijay Bhatt’s Hindi/Marathi bilingual Bharat Milap (1942) and its sequel Ram Rajya (1943) are regarded as the most successful screen adaptations of the Ramayana. Ram Rajya has the unique distinction of being the only film to have been watched by Mahathma Gandhi in his life.
Two successful Malayalam films of the early period are Kunchacko’s Seetha (1960) with Prem Nazir and Kusalakumari in the lead and P. Subramaniam’s Sree Rama Pattabhishekam (1962) with Prem Nazir and Vasantha as Rama and Seetha. Both these films were direct copies of Ram Rajya and Bharat Milaprespectively.
Most of the Tamil and Malayalam films of this genre were dubbed versions of Telugu films. For example, Seetha Swayamvaram (1976) was the Malayalam dubbed version of Bapu’s super hit Telugu mythological Seetha Kalyanam (1976).
Kanchana Seetha, (1977) directed by G. Aravindan, was an adaptation of C.N. Sreekantan Nair’s play published in 1961 and successfully staged the same year. Produced by K. Ravindran Nair under the banner of General Pictures, the film won the National Award for the Best Director. Aravindan wrote the script and dialogues; the film had excellent camerawork by Shaji N. Karun and amazing art by Artist Namboodiri. The colour film was shot at outdoor locations in the forest areas on the banks of the Godavari, Andhra Pradesh. The film told on screen the story of Uttara Ramayana. Seetha symbolises Nature. The character never appears in the film but her presence is compellingly evoked in the moods of the forest and the elements such as the rustling of the wind in the trees or as the rain bringing harmony where discord threatens. The roles of the epic heroes were played by tribal people belonging to the Rama Chenchu sect, who claim lineage to the mythological Rama. The film was not a commercial success. Aravindan’s film had very few dialogues. The film significantly differed from all other adaptations of Ramayana in the characterisation of the central characters like Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha etc. The characters were humanised, contrary to the way in which mythological characters were usually depicted on the screen with magical powers.
In several other Malayalam films emotional moments from the Ramayana were co-related with melodramatic scenes through songs. The popular number Sree Ramachnadrante arukil…(K.J. Yesudas) from Oonjaal (1977) relates the scene with Rama’s wedding procession that is stopped by Sage Parasurama. Mattoru Seethaye kaattilekkayakkunnu…. (Kamukara Purushothaman-Tharavattamma:1966 ) connects Seetha’s abandonment to the sequence in the film. Other popular songs in this list are Raman, Sree Raman …( P. Jayachandran-Ayodhya: 1975), Ashoka vanathile Seethamma…( Kamukara Purushothaman-Kallichellamma: 1969); Ramayanathile dukham…(N.V. Haridas-Kayalum Kayarum:1979) etc.
Though titles of some Malayalam films are taken from the Ramayana, the storyline are in no way related to the epic. For example, Ashwamedham (1967), Lanka Dahanam (1971), Puthrakameshti(1972), Panchavati (1973), Sethu Bandhanam (1974), Maa Nishada, Aranyakaandam, Ayodhya, (all 1975), Ahalyamoksham (1976), Yudha Kaandam (1977) etc.
There are also a few songs in Malayalam that sing praise of Rama. Some of the popular ones areRaghukula nayakane Sree Rama…(Malathi ) and Bhaktha parayana….(M. K. Kamalam) both fromBalan (1938), and Thriprayarappa Sree Rama….(Vani Jayaram: Ormakal Marikkumo,1977).