‘This time it is solely intended to entertain you for two and half hours’, is what the title cards of the Malayalam film Kannur Deluxe, released on May 16, 1969, said. And this box office hit proved to be just that.
Produced by T.E. Vasudevan under the banner of Jayamaruthi, and directed by A.B. Raj, the film was shot at Vahini, Arunachalam, and Newton Studios. Popular director I.V. Sasi worked as assistant director, SL Puram Sadanandan wrote the dialogues for the story written by T.E. Vasudevan under the pseudonym V. Devan.
The story pivots on a theft that occurs in a bus and it is said that the modus operandi adopted to apprehend the thief was based on a real incident that took place at Cherthala in Alappuzha district.
AVM’s romantic Hindi film Chori Chori (1956) starring Raj Kapoor and Nargis was derived from Frank Capra’s Hollywood film It Happened One Night (1934). A trendsetter, a major part of the film was shot in a public transport bus. Not only romantic films like Chori Chori, but crime and suspense thrillers like the Tamil film Madras to Pondicherry (1966) were successful Road Movies. Kannur Deluxe falls under this genre.
Most of the scenes in Kannur Deluxe were shot inside the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) bus called Kannur Deluxe, a service that was started in 1967 and is still on.
Editing by T R Sreenivasalu, cinematography by T.N. Krishnankutty, and music by V. Dakshinamoorthy were the highpoints of the film.
Prem Nazir, K.P. Ummer, G.K. Pillai, N. Govindankutty, Adoor Bhasi, Kottayam Chellappan, Nellikodu Bhaskaran, Sheela etc. played significant roles.
Jayasree (Sheela) runs away from her home to avoid getting married to an old man. In Thiruvananthapuram she is harassed by some city wastrels and seeks refuge in K.B. Pillai’s (G K Pillai) house. Pillai, a businessman, takes pity on her and appoints her in his office. His son Venugopal (K.P. Ummer) takes a liking for her.
Pillai sends Jayasree to Kozhikode with two bundles of currency notes worth Rs. 25,000 rupees to be paid to his partners KBS Nair (Govindankutty) and Abdul Kader (Abbas) as part of the profit share. One of the bundles comprised counterfeit currency notes. She is instructed to hand over the money to Abdul Kader at the Kozhikode bus stand. Jayasree travels by Kannur Deluxe.
On the way, she finds that the bag containing the money is replaced by a similar bag. When alerted, the Conductor (Nellikodu Bhaskaran) finds one passenger missing. He immediately takes the driver’s seat, reverses, changes the destination board to Thiruvananthapuram and speeds in that direction.
Gopalakrishnan (Jose Prakash), who had stolen Jayasree’s bag, gets into the bus without knowing that it is the same bus from where he had alighted and is arrested by the police at Kayamkulam. The police find the fake currency, but cleverly hands over the entire money to Jayasree.
A mentally challenged Namboodiri (Prem Nazir) and his escort Chandu (Adoor Bhasi) get into the bus from Kayamkulam. The bus reaches Kozhikode. But Abdul Kader does not come to collect the money. Jayasree goes to KBS Nair’s office. On the way she is attacked by Dineshan (Kottayam Chellappan) who has been sent by Nair to track her. Namboodiri and Chandu come to her rescue. K.B. Pillai reaches Nair’s office at Kozhikode. The police also reach the office to arrest Jayasree.
And now for the climax. Namboodiri and Chandu reveal their true identities. They are police officers deputed to investigate cases related to fake currency and Jayasree is an officer from the Central Intelligence Department. KBS Nair, K.B. Pillai and Abdul Kader are arrested.
Prem Nazir and Adoor Bhasi were impressive, while Sankaradi as Kamath, the Konkani speaking Brahmin, stood out in a cameo role.
Songs written by Sreekumaran Thampi and set to music by Dakshinamoorthy based on Carnatic ragas turned timeless hits. Songs like Thaippooya kavadiyattam… (K.J. Yesudas) based on Mohanam,Marakkaan kazhiyumo…(Kamukara Purushothaman) in Neelambari, the Kalyani-based Ethra chirichalum… (Yesudas) and Thulli odum pulli maane… (P.Jayachandran) in Sarasangi are still popular. Some of the other songs in the film like Varumallo raavil… (S. Janaki), Kannundaayathu ninne kaanaan… (P.B. Sreenivas-P.Leela) and the Qawwali En muhabath enthoru… (Yesudas-Sreenivas-Janaki) also became hugely popular.
Will be remembered: As a good entertainer and probably the first Road Movie in Malayalam. And for its lovely songs.