Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Raathri (1961)

Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair, Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair, T. K. Balachandran, Miss Kumari, Ambika , S. P. Pillai, Bahadur etc.

Christmas Rathri,' produced and directed by P. Subramaniam under the banner of ‘Neela Productions' was released on January 28 1961, though it was planned to be released for Christmas 1960. The delay affected the collection. ‘Udaya Studios,' released their successful comedy film ‘Neeli Sali' during Christmas and this also had its impact on the verdict of the film. Perhaps if ‘Christmas Rathri' had been released as per schedule the results at the box office would have been brighter.

The story, written by T. N. Gopinathan Nair, had nothing to do with Christmas except that the climax of the film takes place on Christmas Eve. The dialogues by Muttathu Varkey were one of the main attractions of the film. The film was shot at Merryland Studios. The music by Brother Lakshmanan was another highlight of the film. It was in this film that lyricist P. Bhaskaran and Brother Lakshmanan go together. Probably, this was the only film for which they worked together.

The story revolves around Advocate George (Thikkurissi) and Annie (Miss Kumari). They are an unfortunate couple not blessed with children. The mental agony affects the health of George and he turns a chronic heart patient. He and Annie draw away from the society trying hard to hide their painful inner feelings.

Vareechan (Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair) is a kind hearted landlord. He sends Dr. Mathew (T. K. Balachandran) to Europe for higher studies. Vareechan has an hidden agenda. He wants to give his daughter Gracy (Ambika) in marriage to Dr. Mathew. And Vareechan's plan becomes easy when Mathew and Gracy fall in love with each other.

Mathew's father had died by snake bite. His goal in life now is to pursue research in treatment for snake bite and invent anti-venom to save human lives. Mathew opens a dispensary in the city where his good old friend Advocate George and family reside. Mathew takes up the challenge of curing George's heart ailment.

Mathew's visits to George's house and his friendly interaction with Annie makes George suspicious.

Mathew's research progresses and he succeeds in inventing anti-venom. This proves to be successful on animals. He now wants to experiment this on human beings. Mathew who was immersed in his research was not able to attend to Vareechan or Gracy for sometime. Mathew's long silence makes Vareechan even more doubtful. He decides to conduct Gracy's marriage with another person. Gracy leaves home to escape from the marriage fixed against her wishes.

Mathew takes up the task of experimenting the anti-venom on humans in the presence of people and he chooses Christmas Eve for the event.

Advocate George decides to take revenge on Mathew for ruining his family life and for what he suspects undesirable relations with his wife Annie.

Gracy reaches the venue and offers herself for the anti-venom experiment. She is subjected to snake bite and is given an anti-venom injection. Gracy survives and human race gets a life saving remedy against snake bites. All dark clouds are cleared. Advocate George repents over his suspicion. Vareechan decides to conduct the marriage of his daughter Gracy with Mathew. The film ends praising the Lord and the glory of Christmas.

The title of the film was rather misleading. It had a religious connotation but the film had a social theme.

There were 12 songs in the film. Unlike earlier Neela films, this one dispensed with the trend of imitating popular Hindi or other language film tunes. The devotional number, ‘Nanma Niranjoramme, athi dhanye...' (P.Leela) is considered as one of the best songs in praise of Mother Mary. The song became a super hit and still remains popular. Other hits include the Christmas song ‘Unni pirannu…' (A.M.Raja, Leela), ‘Kinavinte thambalathil...' (A. P. Komala), ‘Kanmani karayalle...' (Leela).

Will be remembered: For the good music, especially for the devotional number, ‘Nanma niranjoramme...' by P.Leela. As the only film in which P. Bhaskaran and Brother Lakshmanan worked together as a team.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pazhassi Raja (1964)

HISTORICAL Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair in and as Pazhassi Raja

Pazhassi Raja,' released in 1964, takes us back to the 18th century. The film tells the story of Kerala Varma , the King of Pazhassi, who stood up against the unjust policies of the East India Company.

Produced and directed by M. Kunjacko under the banner of XL Productions at Udaya Studios, the film was probably the second historical movie in Malayalam. The first historical movie, ‘Veluthambi Dalava' (1962) was a box office hit. Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair who had donned the role of Veluthambi was selected for the role of Pazhassi Raja. But ‘Pazhassi Raja' was not as successful as the former film. This was a time when Udaya Studios and Neela Productions competed against each other. Five days after ‘Pazhassi Raja' was released Neela came up with ‘Karutha Kai,' which went on to become a hit.

‘Pazhassi Raja' was shot entirely at Udaya Studios. Therefore some of the scenes, especially the war sequences, lacked technical perfection. The film demanded lavish sets but this could not be provided at the studio. Film historians believe that if the movie had been shot outdoors perhaps the result would have been different.

The noted Malayalam playwright P. Kunjanandan Nair, popularly known as Thikkodiyan penned the dialogues for the movie. This was one of the main attractions of the film. R. K. Shekhar who had worked as assistant to many music directors earlier, composed the music for the film. This was his first independent work. The music was another highlight of the film.

The story is set at a time when the East India Company was trying to establish its control and most of the city states in Kerala had surrendered to the company. Sankara Varma (Nanukuttan), king of Kurumbranad, had also surrendered. Kerala Varma (Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair), king of Pazhassi and nephew of Sankara Varma, fought against the Company. Sankara Varma's niece Ammu Thampuratty (Rajasree, Gracy in the title cards) and nephew Unni (Boban) escape and seek refuge in Pazhassi Raja's palace.

Tipu Sultan invades Malabar in an attempt to bring the city states that surrendered to the Company under his control. Unable to fight with the ferocious troops of Tipu Sultan, the British decide to have a treaty with Pazhassi Raja with whose support they hoped to defeat Tipu Sultan. Pazhassi's guerrilla warfare succeeds. The British manage to free all the city states captured by Tipu Sultan.

Pazhassi's crafty uncle convinces the British authorities to allow him collect the taxes in Kottayam. He goes to declare that he is the real heir to the dynasty. Pazhassi Raja opposes this move. The British Commandant Wellesley (Satyapal) invites Pazhassi Raja to his bungalow to discuss the issue. Ammu Thampuratti and Unni who reach the bungalow in disguise inform Pazhassi about the treacherous plans of the British. When Pazhassi defies the British they try to arrest him. The Kurichya bowmen of Pazhassi defeat this ploy and rescue their king.

The British troops capture Pazhassi Raja's palace. The Raja and his military commandants and attendants, Kaitheri Ambu (Dr. Chandraguptan), Kannavathu Nambiar (Prem Nazir), Unni Moosa (Sankaradi) and the Kurichya leader Chandu ( Vincent Chacko) escape to the dense Puralimala forests from where they begin guerrilla warfare against the British. An official of the Company, Baber (Satyan), who reaches Pazhassi's hideout with the help of Pazhayam Veedan (Kottayam Chellappan) is beaten up and sent back with a warning.

The British decide to go all out against Pazhassi. A bitter struggle ensues. Pazhassi manages to recapture his palace. In the meanwhile Baber takes custody of Pazhassi's wife Maakkam (Sreedevi) and his infant son (Ponnumol). The war intensifies. The British try all nasty tricks to defeat the Raja. They even set his palace on fire. Finally, Pazhassi Raja's men are beaten. The ‘Lion of Kerala' as Pazhassi was popularly known, swallows his diamond ring and commits suicide.

Kottarakkara excelled in the role of the Raja. His commanding voice was a huge plus. Satyapal as Wellesley and Satyan as Baber also did justice to their villainous roles. The comic scenes, involving S. P. Pillai, Manavalan Joseph and Nellikkodu Bhaskaran, failed to evoke the desired response.

There were 12 songs in the film, penned by Vayalar Rama Varma and set to music by Shekhar. Some of them became instant hits. The K. J. Yesudas hit, ‘Chotta muthal chudala vare…,' P. Susheela' lullaby, ‘Muthe vaa vaavo muthu kudame vaa vaavo …' and the comic number ‘Saayippe saayippe, aslam alaikkum…' sung by P. Leela and Mehaboob were the pick of them. Other popular songs include, ‘Kannu randum thaamarappoo…” (Susheela), and ‘Paathira poovukal vaarmudikettil….” (Leela).

Will be remembered: As the first independent work of music director R. K. Shekhar. For the good music and for the excellent performance of Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair in the title role.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Aana Valarthiya Vanambadi (1960)

Sreeram, Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair, M. N. Nambiar, D. Balasubramaniam, Miss Kumari, S. D. Subbalakshmi etc.

Jungle lore Miss Kumari in the film

Aana Valarthiya Vaanambaadi,' produced by Neela Productions and released in 1960 was the first action movie with jungle as the main plot. The grand success of this film paved the way for several other films in this genre. P. Subramaniam who produced and directed this film at a time when films with this theme were seldom produced in South India. ‘Vanamala' (1951), the first Malayalam film in this genre, was a flop.

Action films with forest as the main plot and scenes involving the heroes and heroines vanquishing the wild animals fascinated the audience since the early days of Indian cinema.

It is quite interesting to note that ‘Aana Valarthiya Vanambaadi' produced simultaneously in Malayalam and Tamil included in its starcast some of the prominent stars of that time, like the legendary S. D. Subbalakshmi, D. Balasubramaniam , M. N. Nambiar, C. K. Saraswathi, Friend Ramaswami etc. from Tamil cinema and Thikkurissi, S. P. Pillai, Santhi, etc. from Malayalam cinema. The hero of the film Sreeram was from Tamil cinema, and the heroine Miss Kumari from Malayalam.

I was quite strange that the Tamil version of the film, ‘Yaanai Valartha Vaanambaadi' (1959) was released long before the release of the Malayalam version (1960). The screening of the Tamil version in Kerala did not affect success of the Malayalam version. The film was dubbed to Telugu under the title ‘Jungle Rani' and to Kannada as ‘Vanarani'. Both the versions met with success.

The main attraction of the film was a chimpanzee named Pedro and an elephant named Bheeman. The grand success of this jungle film encouraged the producer to make more films under this genre, like ‘Kaattu Maina' (1963), ‘Kaattu Mallika' (1966), ‘Aaana Valarthiya Vanambadiyude Makan' (1970), ‘Kaadu' (1973) etc.

The story of the flm was inspired by the fictional character Tarzan created by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the jungle series films produced earlier in Hindi and Tamil.

Lakshmi (Miss Kumari) along with her infant daughter take a flight to Singapore to join her husband Selvapathi (Thikkurissi) who is an estate owner there. The plane crashes and all the passengers, except the infant daughter of Lakshmi lose their lives. The child clad in a thick blanket lands in a forest somewhere in Kerala. Aadhiappan (Pedro), a chimpanzee finds the child on the top of a tree and takes the child to his master in the forest, Dharmarajan (D. Balasubramaniam) who had made the jungle his abode being fed up with city life.

The child is named Malli and is brought up by Dharmarajan as his own daughter. Malli grows up in the jungle playing with Aadhiappan and Bheemarajan, an elephant. Selvapathi returns home and he brings up his sister Saraswathi's (S. D. Subbalakshmi) son Shekhar (Sreeram). Time goes by. Malli (Miss Kumari) grows up and Shekhar becomes an investigating officer. The chief of the bandits operating in the forest is after Malli. Shekhar is deputed to capture the bandits and bring them before law. In the jungle Shekhar meets Malli and falls in love with her. Dharmarajan does not approve of their love affair. After several twists and turns in the story, the bandits are captured by Shekhar. Dharmarajan's hut in the jungle catches fire and all believe that he is killed. Shekhar takes Malli and Aadhiappan home.

Mohana (Shanthi), daughter of Selvapathi's brother Arunachalam (Friend Ramaswamy) is in love with Shekhar. But Mohans's mother Angamuthu (C. K. Saraswathi) wants to give her daughter in marriage to Azhagasundaram (M. N. Nambiar). The story takes strange twists. Dharmarajan rerturns to the city to meet Malli. They then come to know from Dharmarajan that the chief of the bandits, who had escaped, is none other than Azhagasundaram and that Malli is the daughter of Selvapathi. Azhagasundaram is punished for the crimes committed by him. Shekhar marries Malli.

Miss Kumari excelled in the "Lady Tarzan " type role. Sreeram who had acred in a few Tamil films of early 1950s as hero performed his adventurous role well. S. P. Pillai created a laugh with his comic scenes especially those involving the wild animals.

The film was edited by K. D. George. The scenes shot at Merryland Studios and in a forest were very professionally edited. The major portion of the film was shot in the studio. Camera work by N. S. Mani also good. The scenes involving fights with the wild animals was effectively captured.

The seven songs penned by Thirunainar Kurichi Madhavan Nair were tuned by Brother Lakshmanan. Some of the songs became hits. The duet by A. M. Raja and P. Leela, ‘Paimpaal ozhukum chola thannil...', the lullaby by Raja ‘Kanney varna malar kodiye...' and a solo by Leela ‘Kaananamey kanninaanandame...' became super hits.

Will be remembered: As the first jungle film produced by Neela Productions and also as the first successful Malayalam film in this genre, though the first film in the language was ‘Vanamala," which did not succeed. For the songs, particularly ‘Kaananame kanninaanandame...' Also as the only Malayalam film enacted by the legendary Tamil stars, S. D. Subbalakshmi and D. Balasubramaniam.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bhargavi Nilayam (1964)

Cast: Madhu, Prem Nazir, P. J. Antony, Vijaya Nirmala, Adoor Bhasi

TRENDSETTER ‘Bhargavi Nilayam’ was the first ghost film in Malayalam

This first ghost story film in Malayalam is 45 years old. Released on November 22, 1964, the film confirms the existence of supernatural powers unlike some of the early Indian films in this genre.

Even suspense thrillers of the later period, which can also be classified under the ‘ghost story’ group did not deal with ‘real’ ghosts. For example Hindi films like ‘Bees Saal Baad’ (1962), ‘Woh Kaun Thi’ (1964), ‘Kohra’ (1964) had heroines in disguise as ghosts. But in ‘Bhargavi Nilayam,’ the audience, for the first time in Indian cinema, were told about the existence of the supernatural .

This ghost film was developed from a short story, ‘Neela Velicham,’ by Vaikom Mohammed Basheer, which was included in his short story compilation titled ‘Paavappettavarude Veshya’ published in 1952. The script and dialogues of the film was written by the novelist himself. The film was a huge box office hit. The film marked the directorial debut of noted cinematographer A. Vincent. It was noted for its camera work by P. Bhaskar Rao that gelled well with the script. But the highpoint was the haunting music by M. S. Baburaj.

An enthusiastic and talented novelist (Madhu) comes to stay in a desolate mansion named ‘Bhargavi Nilayam.’ The novelist and his servant Cheriya Pareekkanni (Adoor Bhasi) experience the presence of a strange entity here. They come to know from the local people that it is a haunted house. The story is that it is haunted by the ghost of the daughter of the previous owner. The novelist and his servant encounter strange happenings here - the gramophone plays on its own, objects move around. The novelist finds some old letters written to Bhargavi (Vijaya Nirmala) by her lover Sasikumar (Prem Nazir). It is believed that the ghost of Bhargavi now haunts this house.

The letters give some indication about their love affair and their tragic death. The novelist decides to probe the matter. He starts writing the story of Bhargavi. The information gathered from the local people and the hints in the letters help him in his writing. The story develops. Bhargavi falls in love with her neighbour Sasikumar who is a talented poet and singer. Bharagavi’s father’s nephew, Nanukuttan (P. J. Antony) is also in love with Bhargavi. But Bhargavi hates Nanukuttan who is a wicked wastrel. Nanukuttan tries all nasty tricks to separate the lovers. He kills Sasikumar. Bharagavi becomes furious when she comes to know of her lover’s murder. In a scuffle Nanukuttan pushes Bhargavi into a well, killing her. Nanukuttan spreads the news that Bhargavi had committed suicide.

The novelist reads out the story to the ghost who by now has become quite compassionate with him. Nanukuttan overhears the story. He fears that once the story is published the truth behind the death of Bhargavi and Sasikumar will be out. He attacks the novelist and a fight ensues. Both of them fall into the well in which Bharagavi was drowned. The novelist is helped by the ghost but Nanukuttan is killed. This is Bharagavi’s revenge.

Madhu excelled in the role of the novelist. Prem Nazir was at home in the role of a romantic hero. P. J. Antony was stunning as the ruthless Nanukuttan, while Adoor Bhasi provides some light moments with his comedy. Pappu, who later became popular as Kuthiravattom Pappu was cast in a small comic role. His character was called ‘Kuthiravattom,’ a name that stuck for the rest of his career. Vijaya Nirmala excelled in what probably was her first major role.

All the seven songs by P.Bhaskaran and Baburaj are popular even today. ‘Thamasamente varuvaan…’ sung by K. J. Yesudas is still considered by many surveys as the best film song in the language. ‘Vaasantha panchami naalil....,’ ‘Anuraga madhuchashakam...,’ ‘Pottatha ponnin kinavu kondoru...’ and ‘Potti thakarna kinavu kondoru…’ all sung by S. Janaki became super hits. The Yesudas-P. Susheela duet ‘Arabikkadaloru manavalan...’ and Kamukara Purushothaman’s masterpiece ‘Ekanthathayude apaara theeram...’ are the other memorable songs.

Will be remembered: As the first ghost film in Malayalam. The only film for which Vaikom Mohammed Basheer wrote script and dialogues. As the first Malayalam film of Vijaya Nirmala, for its wonderful music, and for the directorial debut of A.Vincent.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rosy (1965)

P. J. Antony, Prem Nazir, Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair, Kaviyoor Ponnamma

REALISTIC THRILLER P. J. Antony with Kaviyoor Ponnamma and Prem Nazir in the film 

Produced by Mani under the banner of ‘Vrindavan Pictures,’ ‘Rosy’ was the first directorial venture of P. N. Menon. The script and dialogues for this crime-melodrama by P. J. Antony was based on a story authored by the director himself. Unlike earlier crime thrillers in Malayalam like Avakasi (1954), CID (1955), Jailpully (1957), Poothali (1960) that were unrealistic with several twists simply introduced for entertainment, the storyline of ‘Rosy’ was closer to real life.

The film was not a huge hit. One reason must have been that the usual ingredients like dances, stunts, comedy etc. were not incorporated in the film. In fact, the film completely dispensed with comedy scenes and comedians.

P. J. Antony was the hero of the film. Prem Nazir also had a main role in the film. ‘Rosy’ is one of the very few films in which Kaviyoor Ponnamma acted as heroine.
The film maps the consequences of an unintentional murder committed by the hero in a very realistic way. The script and dialogues penned by P. J. Antony were impressive. The whole story was picturised in the backdrop of remote villages and forests.

Having unintentionally murdered a man to save his sister’s honour, Thoma (P. J. Antony) flees. He finds shelter in the hut of a fisherman, Ouseph (T. S. Muthiah). Thoma helps Ouseph in his job and days pass by. Ouseph’s daughter Rosy (Kaviyoor Ponnamma) falls in love with Thoma. Thoma conceals his past from all of them.

Ouseph becomes furious when he comes to know about Rosy’s love affair with Thoma and asks him to leave his house. Ouseph’s neighbour Kasim (D. K. Chellappan), his daughter Nabeesa (Vijaya Nirmala) and her lover Salim (Prem Nazir) support Rosy. They succeed in getting Ouseph’s consent for the marriage of Rosy and Thoma. Kasim, Nabeesa and Salim leave for another village to start a business there.

Rosy and Thoma lead a happy married life. That was when a police officer, Sankaran Nair (Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair) happens to see Thoma. Thoma runs away from the village along with Rosy. They seek shelter in the village where Kasim had settled. Thoma reveals his past to Rosy, Kasim and his family. They take pity on him. Thoma gets a job in the forest, Rosy becomes pregnant. Days pass and Rosy’s health deteriorates. Nabeesa nurses her.

The arms of law reach the forest in search of Thoma. Rosy dies during childbirth. Thoma buries his family and surrenders before the police.
The film stood out for its technical perfection. Sound recording by ‘Revathi’ Kannan and Jagannathan; editing by Venkatraman and Mani; and camera work by E. N. Balakrishnan was praise worthy.

P. J. Antony and Kaviyoor Ponnamma excelled in their roles. The drunken scenes involving Ouseph (Muthiah) and his aide raised a few laughs. Thikkurissi and D. K. Chellappan also impressed.

All the five songs in the film, penned by P. Bhaskaran and set to tune by Job, were hits. The all-time romantic hit, ‘Alliyambal kadavil annu...’ sung by K. J. Yesudas, is considered one of his best. This song is easily the best of the film songs created by Job, who has only a handful of film songs to his credit. The romantic duet by Udayabhanu and L. R. Easwari, ‘Kannil enthaanu...’ was a unique in that Udayabhanu whispers melodically. This song also became a super hit. The folk song modelled on ‘Pulluvanpattu’ sung by P. Leela ‘Engilo pandoru...,’ the Easwari solo ‘Chalakudi puzhayil...,’ and the song ‘Velukkumbam puzhayoru...’ sung superbly by Yesudas and chorus, are all songs that linger in memories even after four decades.

Will be remembered: As the directorial debut of P. N. Menon. It will also be remembered for its excellent music and as a well-directed crime-melodrama.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Aadyakiranangal (1964)

Sathyan, Madhu, P. J. Antony, Adoor Bhasi, S. P. Pillai, Master Ajith, Ambika, K. R. Vijaya, Philomina etc.

CHRISTIAN SOCIAL K. R. Vijaya and Madhu in ‘Aadyakiranangal’ 

Released in 1964 this film was one of the regional films to receive the Certificate of Merit at the National film awards that year. Several movies with social themes were released in Malayalam during 1950s and 1960s. ‘Adyakiranangal’ is considered as the first Christian social made in the language.

The film was an adaptation of a popular novel under the same title authored by K. E. Mathai popularly known by his pen name, ‘Parappurath’. The film was jointly produced by P. Bhaskaran and V. Abdulla. The script and dialogues was by Thoppil Bhasi and the film was directed by P. Bhaskaran. Primarily a social movie, national integration goals like rural development, eradication of alcoholism, etc. were set as side tracks. The presence of super stars of the time, Sathyan, P. J. Antony, Madhu, Ambika and others added star value to the film. The film was mainly shot at Vauhini Studios making use of splendid sets. Some of the scenes were shot outdoors like those in the forest and a raging wild fire.

The story of the reformation of a delinquent hero to a family man is set in a remote village called Aanachaal, on the outskirts of a forest. Kunjukutty (Sathyan) is the eldest son of a rich landlord Kariachan (P. J. Antony). Kariachan is also the president of the panchayat. Kunjukuuty is a rowdy and a terror in the village. Avaran (S. P. Pillai) and his group support Kunjukutty in all his activities. Kunjukutty’s mother Annamma (Philomina) feels that a married life would transform her son and begins planning for his marriage. One such proposal for marriage is rejected by Marykutty (K. R.Vijaya), an educated girl from a neighbouring village. Kunjukutty considers this an insult.

Kunjukutty gets married to Gracy (Ambika). The marriage does not change him and his activities. Gracy gives birth to a baby boy whom they name Joymon (Master Ajith). Kunjukutty starts stealing money from his own house. Disputes and quarrel with his parents on account of his misdeeds leads to Kunjukutty’s expulsion from home. He leaves home with Gracy and Joymon and stay in a separate house. Marykutty gets selected as Gramasevika (Village Assistant) and she is posted to Aanachaal.

Pappachan (Madhu), younger son of Kariachan, who was in Singapore returns home. Pappachan falls in love with Marykutty. Gracy becomes pregnant again. Kunjukutty and his group plan to cut of wood from the forest illegally to meet their financial needs. The forest guards chase them and Kunjukutty and his group escape by igniting a forest fire. They hide in a forest.

Gracy’s health worsens. Marykutty nurses her. She decided to pledge her ornaments to raise money for Gracy’s hospitalisation. For this she travels to the neighbouring village to meet the moneylender. On the way she faints when she sees a wild elephant. Kunjukutty saves her life.
Kunjukutty come to know about the noble work of Marykutty and her selfless service to his family. Kunjukutty realises his mistakes and is reformed. He even gets into a quarrel with his group when he comes to know of their selfish motives. In the ensuing quarrel he is seriously injured. Marykutty nurses him. Rumours are spread that Marykutty and Kunjukutty were in the forest together, there was an illegitimate relationship between them. Kunjukutty comes forward to clear the air.
Marykuty opts for a transfer to her village, but Pappachan stops her from this. He marries Marykutty.

The dialogues of the film were impressive. There were also some heart-rending scenes. The film dispensed with the usual melodramatic and unrealistic scenes.
The comic scenes involving Adoor Bhasi as Krishnan Asan, a Kathaprasangam artiste was one of the main attractions of the film. Adoor Bhasi sang for the first time in his own voice. The few parody songs became instant hits.

Sathyan as Kunjukutty excelled. Ambika and K. R.Vijaya also impressed. Adoor Bhasi’s role in the film is considered as one of his best comic performances. P. J. Antony, Philomina, and S. P. Pillai, who acted in a negative role, also did full justice to their roles.
There were 11 songs in the film penned by P. Bhaskaran that includes the parodies sung by Adoor Bhasi. The music was composed by K. Raghavan (K. Raghunath in the title cards) was excellent and the songs still remain popular. The patriotic number ‘Bharathamennaal parin naduvil...’ sung by P. Susheela and chorus is considered as one of the best songs in the genre.

The romantic numbers like ‘Pathivaayi pournami thorum…’ (Susheela), ‘Malamoottil ninnoru maappila...’ (K. J. Yesudas) and ‘Kalyana mothiram kaimarum neram...’ (P. Leela) turned super hits.

A lullaby that narrates a traditional children’s tale, ‘Oonjale ponnoonjale, muthyamma muttaittu... (Leela) remains one of the best lullabies in Malayalam cinema. Another children’s song ‘Kizhakku dikkile chenthengil...’ (A. P. Komala) is the best rendered by the singer in the language.

Even the parody numbers sung by Adoor Bhasi became popular, particularly those that sing about a bus journey, ‘Kannur Dharmadam....poroo poroo Keralam kanaan...’

Will be remembered: As a film with a good social theme. For its excellent music and Adoor Bhasi’s debut as playback singer. The film will also be remembered as one that won National honours (Certificate of Merit).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nirmala (1948)

Playback singing in Malayalam films was introduced with this film

The fourth talkie in Malayalam, ‘Nirmala’ introduced playback singing to Malayalam cinema. The singing heroes and heroines of Malayalam cinema, who had cut their teeth in musical operas returned to the stage. They found theatre much more beneficial as a career than cinema, which at that time was made on shoe-string budgets.
It was during such a phase that playback singing was brought into Malayalam cinema. ‘Nirmala’ provided a perfect start to a technique that soon became an integral part of cinema.

Playback singing was introduced in Indian cinema by ‘New Theatres’ in the bilingual film ‘Dhoop Chaon’ (Hindi) and ‘Bhagya Chakra (Bengali) in 1935. Suprova Sarkar became the first female playback singer and K. C. Dey, the singing star who acted in the scene in this film sang for himself and for another actor in the sequence, became the first male playback singer. In the South, A. V. Meiyyappa Chettiar introduced playback singing in the mythological Tamil film ‘Nanda Kumar’ (1938). In this film a classical singer, Lalitha Venkatraman and in Telugu M. S. Rama Rao who sang in the film ‘Devata’ (1941) are credited of being the first playback singers in their respective languages.
‘Nirmala’ was produced by Artist P. J. Cherian, one of the pioneers of Malayalam musical opera or sangeeta natakam. Produced under the banner of Kerala Talkies, Cherian got financial support from the members of the Cochin Royal family and the general public. The film was directed by P. V. Krishna Iyer.

It was based on a story penned by M. S. Jacob and dialogues were by Puthezhathu Raman Menon. The songs were by Mahakavi G. Sankara Kurup and set to music by P. S. Divakar, a renowned saxophone player, and E. I. Warrier. The music dispensed with the usual practice of imitating other language film tunes. The technical crew were all experienced professionals like cinematographers J. G. Vijayam and G. Ranganathan, sound recordists K.B.S. Mani and S Padmanabhan, and editor Balu. Despite all this the film failed at the box office.

This film could be considered Cherian’s family project. His son Joseph Cherian was cast as hero, Joseph’s wife and Baby was the heroine. Apart from this his daughters, other relatives and artists from his own drama troupe were part of this film.

The story of the film followed a typical formula often repeated in movies with social themes. This repetition of theme was considered one of the main reasons for the film’s failure.
Produced at Modern Theatres, Salem, there was undue delay in completion. This delay in release also adversely affected the success of the film. It could not be released on the scheduled date, it failed miserably reducing the producer to penury.

The story centres around a fisherman Sankaran who loses his wife struggles to bring up his two daughters Nirmala (Baby Joseph) and Vimala. Sankaran’s sister Kalyani looks after the family. Sankaran meets with an accidental death while on a fishing expedition. Nirmala becomes a fish vendor. But the constant pestering by some city wastrels forces her to stop this only source of living. She then starts a food stall near the house. Time passes.
Vimala grows up as a girl fond of luxuries in life. Her eyes fall on a colourful sari in a nearby shop. On her way home after attending a function Vimala falls into a gutter as she tries to step away from a speeding car.

Vimala develops high fever and in her semi-conscious state murmurs about that sari. Nirmala goes to shop to buy it but is shocked by the high price. In a weak moment she steals the sari but is arrested for the theft. Police Inspector Raghu takes pity on Nirmala when he comes to know of her state. Nirmala is sentenced for one month imprisonment.
At home Vimala’s health worsens. Raghu takes care of her and even gets her the sari she always wanted. Before Nirmala is released, Vimala dies. Raghu falls in love with Nirmala. In the meanwhile, Ms. Rayan, a wealthy woman, appoints Nirmala to teach music to her daughter Lalitha.

Ms. Rayan’s son, Balan, a naval officer, falls for Nirmala and wants to marry her. When he comes to know about Nirmala’s love for Raghu, he withdraws from his intention. He helps to conduct their marriage. Balan marries Sumitra, daughter of Kumar, their family friend. The film ends wishing all newly married couples a happy married life.
Joseph Cherian and Baby Joseph excelled in their rols. All the other main characters were handled with ease by experienced stage artistes.

There were 12 songs in the film. Some of them have stood the test of time. ‘Paaduka poonkuyile kaavu thorum...’ (T. K. Govinda Rao-P.Leela), ‘Arabikkadalile kochurani...’ (Govinda Rao), ‘Neerile kumilapole...’ (Govinda Rao) are still popular. The song ‘Arabikkadalile kochurani...,’ a ragamalika, describes the beauty of Cochin city of yore. ‘Aettan varunna dinamey...’ (Vimala Varma) set in Mohanam raga was a hit of that time. A ‘vanchippattu’ sung by P. K. Raghavan beginning ‘Pacha ratna talika...’ was also very popular. This song is considered the first in that genre.

Govinda Rao and Sarojini Menon, who sang in this film, became the first male and female playback singers in Malayalam.

Will be remembered: As the first Malayalam film to introduce playback singing. First film of singers, T. K. Govinda Rao, P.Leela and Sarojini Menon.

It will also be remembered as the film, the only one, for which the Jnanpith Award winner G Sankara Kurup wrote songs.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Balan (1938 )

K K Aroor, Master Madanagopal, M V Shanku, K Gopinath, Alleppey Vincent, C O N Nambiar, M K Kamalam, K N Lakshmi, Baby Malathi etc.

Pathbreaking effort A scene from Balan, the first Malayalam talkie

The first film with sound (talkie) in Malayalam ‘Balan’ should have been the first film, chronologically, to be featured in this column. Released on January 19, 1938, this film had a social theme unlike the earlier films with sound in the other South Indian languages, which chose episodes either from history or mythology. While the first talkie in Tamil ‘Kalidas’ (1931) was based on the life of the poet, ‘Bhakta Markandeya’ (1931) in Telugu and ‘Dhruvakumar’ (1934) in Kannada had mythological themes.

‘Balan’ was produced by T. R. Sundaram at his Modern Theatres in Salem. Fascinated by cinema a Nagercoil man A. Sundaram reached Madras with a dream of making a sound film in Malayalam. The story of this film ‘Vidhiyum Mrs. Nayarum’ was authored by him. Sundaram met T. R. Sundaram who advised him to approach the cinema theatre owners in Kerala to mobilise funds for production. This idea clicked. An advertisement appeared in leading news papers inviting artists to act in the film. The shooting of the film started on August 17, 1937, at Modern Theatres. A. Sundaram abandoned the project due to some dispute. T. R. Sundaram took over and completed the film.

The film was directed by Shewakram Nottani, popularly known as S. Nottani. Dialogues and songs were penned by Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai. Music was composed by Ibrahim, and K. K. Aroor, who also played the lead in the film.

The story features the struggle of two orphaned children, oppressed and exploited by an evil stepmother. The film was a stereotype of the themes of early Indian cinema, particularly South Indian cinema.

Balan (Master Madanagopal) and Sarasa (Baby Malathi), are children of Dr. Govindan Nair (M. V. Shanku) by his first wife. Meenakshi (K. N. Lakshmi), the second wife, tortures Balan and Sarasa. She even hatches a plot to kill them and take over the entire wealth of Nair. Meenakshi is severely punished by Nair when he comes to know of her motives. Nair dies of heart attack. Meenakshi marries a wicked city wastrel Kittu Panicker (K. Gopinath). Balan and Sarasa flee from home as a result.

Barrister Prabhakara Menon (C. O. N. Nambiar) gives refuge to Balan and Sarasa and brings them up as his own children. In the will executed by Nair before his death, all his wealth is assigned to Meenakshi on condition that she take care of his children.

When Meenakshi and Kittu Panicker come to know about the stipulations in the will, they trace out the children. Kittu Panicker kidnaps the children from Prabhakara Menon’s home. Shanku (Alleppey Vincent) comes to know about the plans of Meenakshi and Kittu Panciker and rescues the children. He uses them in street shows. Balan and Sarasa escape from Shanku. Sarasa is taken away by a labour contractor while Balan is asleep. She is forced to work in an estate. Sarasa (M. K. Kamalam) grows up here. Balan (K. K. Aroor) also reaches the same estate as a labourer.

This estate is owned by Barrister Prabhakara Menon.

Prabhakara Menon identifies Balan and Sarasa. Balan traces out the will executed by his father and Prabhakara Menon files suit against Meenakshi. She is tried by the court of law and punished. A furious Meenakshi shoots Prabhakara Menon, but the bullet from the pistol takes the life of Balan who jumps in between to save Menon. Menon marries Sarasa. They name their son, Balan. The film ends with Menon, and Sarasa paying homage at the tomb of Balan.

‘Balan’ was a huge hit. The splendid sets, camera by the German cinematographer Bado Gushwalker, sound recording by Ishwar Singh and editing by Varghese were good. All the artists who performed in the film were new to this medium. The acting was not natural, and resembled more of a stage play.

Compared to Tamil sound film, ‘Kalidas’ the Malayalam film is regarded much better by film critics. ‘Balan’ had an original script and dialogues in Malayalam, whereas in ‘Kalidas’, the artists spoke in their own mother tongue deviating from the original script and dialogues. The different characters spoke in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Hindi!

It is quite sad that not even a single frame from the footage of this first Malayalam sound film is available now. What is left of this film are a few stills from the film and the songs book.

There were 24 songs in the film. Most of them followed popular Hindi and Tamil film tunes of the time. Gramophone records of the songs were not produced. The most popular song was a solo by M. K. Kamalam ‘Jaathaka doshathale...’ It was a direct copy of the solo by M. K. Radha from the Tamil film ‘Sathi Leelavathi’ (1936). ‘Theyila thottathle...,’ the Tamil song based on Chenjurutti raga became so popular that it was later sung by Carnatic musicians in concerts.

Will be remembered: This film will be remembered as the first talkie in Malayalam.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Kavyamela (1965)

Cast: Prem Nazir, G. K. Pillai, Nellikkodu Bhaskaran, Adoor Bhasi, S. P. Pillai, Sheela, Nilambur Ayisha

MUSICAL HIT Prem Nazir and Sheela in ‘Kayvamela’

This film was an adaptation of Guru Dutt’s classic Hindi film ‘Pyaasa’ (1957). Guru Dutt’s vision in his tragic epics was unique and his genius unmistakable. ‘Pyaasa’ is considered as his greatest work. This film explored his favourite theme - the place of an artist in a crass commercialised world. This was the theme of another Hindi film ‘Raja’ (1943) produced by Poornima Productions and directed by Kishore Sahu. ‘Kavyamela’ pales in comparison to the two.

Guru Dutt’s exploration of the tragic idiom is unprecedented in Hindi cinema. According to him the inspiration for ‘Pyaasa’ came from a lyric by the Greek poet Homer that read ‘seven cities claimed Homer dead, while the living Homer begged his bread.’

The brooding imagery in black and white and the unrelenting bleakness of Guru Dutt’s world view which were the highlights of his film was missing in the Malayalam film. But in spite of all this ‘Kavyamela’ was a thumping box office success.

Produced by T. E. Vasudevan under the banner of Jayamaruthi Productions, the film was directed by M. Krishnan Nair.

The film had Prem Nazir in the lead role of a tragic lover, and is considered one of his best performances. The dialogues by S. L. Puram Sadanandan were one of the highlights of the film.

Except for some minor twists in the story, the film followed ‘Pyaasa’ very closely.

Jayadevan (Prem Nazir) loses his eye sight while at college. A very talented poet, he lives with his sister despite the constant taunting of his brother-in-law. Unable to bear the humiliation Jayadevan leaves home. He meets Vikraman (Adoor Bhasi), a city wastrel who takes him to a temple where Jayadevan sings in praise of the Goddess. Vikraman collects the money offered as charity to the blind singer by the devotees. When Jayadevan comes to know of this cheap trick he breaks away from Vikraman.

Sreedevi (Sheela), daughter of Dr. Panicker (G. K. Pillai) meets Jayadevan. She takes pity on the blind singer. Dr. Panicker comes to know that Jayadevan is the son of his childhood mate. He offers to treat Jayadevan.

A surgery is conducted and Jayadevan regains his eyesight. Sreedevi falls in love with Jayadevan. Dr. Panicker had already planned her marriage with his nephew Balachandran (Nellikkodu Bhaskaran). When Balachandran comes to know about the relationship between Sreedevi and Jayadevan he withdraws from the marriage.

Jayadevan who did not want to do anything against the wishes of Dr. Panicker, leaves the house.

Jayadevan wanders around seeking a publisher for his poetic work ‘Kavyamela’. When none of the publishers offer to do so he dumps the manuscript in frustration.

This manuscript finds its way to the hands of Vikraman who manages to find a publisher. Claiming that he is the author, Vikraman has the work published. ‘Kavyamela’ becomes an instant hit and Vikraman becomes rich and famous overnight.

‘Kavyamela’ wins the Sahitya Academy award. Jayadevan and Balachandran come to know about the fraud. They succeed in snatching the manuscript from Vikraman.

In a melodramatic climax Jayadevan reaches the venue where a function is organised to honour Vikraman for the award. Jayadevan proves before the people there that he is the real author. He rejects the award which is now given to him. He tears the manuscript of his work into pieces, rejects Dr. Panicker’s request to marry his daughter and walks away.

The film was shot at Newton and Shyamala Studios. Camera work by C. J. Mohan and editing by T. R. Sreenivasalu was commendable. Prem Nazir excelled in his role. S. P. Pillai as Kamath, in a cameo role as a merchant who buys and sells old paper and scrap impressed. The comedy track involving Adoor Bhasi and Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai was also good.

A scene in which the prominent music directors, lyricists and singers of the industry appeared to sing a part of a song, ‘Swapangal, swapnangale…’ was a novel experience. It is said that music director V. Dakshinamoorthy had composed over 20 tunes for this one song out of which they finally zeroed in to one of them. Some of the other tunes that Dakshinamoorthy composed for this song are represented in this scene.

The film was remade in Tamil as ‘Devi’ in 1968. Directed by A. K. Velan it had Muthuraman and Devika in the lead roles. The music composed by Dakshinamoorthy followed the tunes he had made for ‘Kavyamela”.’ But this film was not very successful at the box office.

The music of the Malayalam film was a huge hit. The songs penned by Vayalar Rama Varma, set to tune by Dakshinamoorthy were super hits. Most of the songs were raga-based. ‘Devi Sreedevi thedi varunnu…’ sung by both K. J. Yesudas and P. Leela based on Valachi, the Yesudas-Leela duet ‘Swapnangal, swapnangale ningal … ‘ based on Sahana, ‘Janani jagajanani…’ (Yesudas) based on Bilahari raga became eternal favourites. Playback singer Uthaman’s most popular film song ‘Ishwarane thedi thedi…,’ ‘Swarganandini…’ (Yesudas), ‘Theertha yathra ithu….’ (Yesudas- Leela) made this film a virtual musical treat.

Will be remembered: For the excellent music and memorable songs. It will also be remembered for Prem Nazir’s acting.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bhagyajathakam ( 1962 )

Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair, T S Muthiah, Nanukuttan, M G Menon, Adoor Bhasi, Bahadur, Sree Narayana Pillai, Sheela, Pankajavalli, Adoor Bhavani, Adoor Pankajam

Melodramatic hit Satyan and Sheela in a still from the film

Bhagya Jathakam’, a family melodrama, was produced by P. Bhaskaran in association with B.N. Konda Reddy, one of the reputed film producers of South Indian cinema and brother of the legendary B.N. Reddy, founder of Vijaya - Vauhini studios. The film succeeded at the box office, though it cannot be considered as a block buster.
It was directed by P. Bhaskaran under the banner of ‘Kerala Pictures’.
The script, also penned by P. Bhaskaran, adopted the then prevalent formula for family melodramas with several twists and turns and on most occasions far from real life. Dialogues, penned by Jagathi N K Achari, was impressive and succeeded in conveying the emotions of the characters to the audience. The art portfolio of the movie was handled by P. N. Menon.
Except for a few scenes, the entire film was shot on the spectacular shooting sets at Vijaya, Vauhini and Udaya studios. The film was a pure family entertainer with all the mandatory factors like comic scenes, tear jerking sentiments, dances, songs, fights etc. One of the important factors that led to the success of the film was the performance of the super star Satyan in a double role. This was the first film in which Satyan performed a double role and probably the second Malayalam film with a double role performance (the first being ‘Poothali’ - 1960).
Doctor Surendran (Satyan) is the only son of the wealthy estate owner Shankaran Thampi (M G Menon). Surendran marries Radha (Sheela), daughter of a yoga teacher, Achuthan Pillai (Sree Narayana Pillai). Surendran’s mother, Parvathy Amma (Adoor Bhavani) loses her power of speech due to a brain tumour and she is bedridden. Shankaran Thampi’s nephew Rajasekharan Thampi (Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair) and his wife Vilasini (Pankajavalli) manage the assets and household of Shankaran Thampi. RajasekharanThampi’s evil eye is on the wealth of Shankaran Thampi.
Shankaran Thampi suffers from a cardiac arrest when Surendran is away. Rajasekharan Thampi manages to get the signatures of his uncle, Shankaran Thampi on blank papers which he converts to documents and gets the entire wealth in his own name. Shankaran Thampi poisons his uncle then. Before breathing his last, Shankaran Thampi reveals to his bedridden wife the wicked deeds of Rajasekharan Thampi.
Surendran rushes home when he comes to know about the tragedy. On the way he has an accident, the head injury causes loss of memory and he is admitted to the mental asylum run by Dr. Poonjar (T S Muthiah). Radha is framed with false charges of immoral relations with one Surendran’s friends and is ill treated by Rajasekharan and his wife Vilasini.
A pregnant Radha is mercilessly turned out of the house. Chandran Pillai (Satyan), a comedian in a drama troupe resembles Dr. Surendran. Chandran Pillai visits the mental asylum where Surendran is admitted as an inmate. Dr. Surendran attacks Chandran Pillai and escapes from the asylum and Chandran Pillai is mistaken for Surendran by mental asylum authorities
A huge branch of a tree falls on Surendran’s head and in the shock, he regains his memory. Fate unites the couple, Surendran and Radha on the streets. Radha delivers a boy.
The culprits, Rajasekharan and his wife are arrested in the end and all ends well.
All believe that the ‘Bhagya Jathakam’, the lucky horoscope of the new born child of Radha and Surendran brought luck and peace to the family. Adoor Bhasi’s role of the Bhagavathar is considered as one of his best.
The ten songs penned by P Bhaskaran were set to tune by M S Baburaj.
A duet by K J Yesudas and P. Leela – ‘Adyathe kanmani ....’ has stood the test of time and remains one of the best songs in Malayalam cinema.
Will be remembered:
First Malayalam film of actress Sheela. First double role performance of Satyan.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Palaattu Koman (1962)

Tarzan-like Sathyan in the role of Paalaattu Koman

Cast: Satyan, Kottayam Chellappan, S P Pillai, Velayudhan Nair, Bahadur, Boban Kunjacko, Master Jijo, Ragini, Rushyendramani, Jayanthi etc.

Paalaattu Koman,' produced by Udaya Studios under the banner of XL Productions, and directed by Kunchacko, was an adaptation of a ballad from the `Vadakkan Paatu'. Following the grand success of the screen adaptation of a similar ballad, `Unniyarcha' (1961), the producers picked up another such ballad for `Paalaattu Koman.'

The film tells the story of Palaattu Koman, a pioneer of kalarippayattu. `Komappan,' is an epic poem written by the noted poet Kundoor Narayana Menon, who in 1912 popularised the ballad of Paalattu Koman and his love affair with his enemy's sister. The script by Sarangapani for this film closely follows this epic poem by Kundoor.

The film was mainly shot at the Udaya Studios and the backwaters of Kerala. Leading stars of the time like Satyan, Ragini, Kottayam Chellappan, S. P. Pillai, Bahadur played major roles in the film. Rushyendramani (Sree Ramani in the title cards), the popular singing star of early Telugu cinema who was noted for her heroic roles, appeared in a major role. Besides sword fighting that was mandatory in these tales, the film included fights between man and wild animals. In fact, the hero's fight with a tiger was a highpoint of the film. These scenes were canned impressively using the available equipment and techniques of the time. Such fight scenes were factors that helped make the film a box office success.

The film tells the story of a feud between two families, Thonnooram Veedu and Kaippulli Paalattu Tharavadu. Chandrappan (Kottayam Chellappan) is the head of Thonnooram Veedu. He has an eye on the treasure kept in an underground cell of the Paalaattu mansion. A dispute between the children of the two families results in a bloody fight. Chandrappan kills the husband and all nine children of Kunki Amma (Rushyendramani) of the Paalaattu family.

Kunki Amma is rescued by the chieftain of the jungle where she was taken to be killed. She gives birth to a boy and takes an oath to destroy the entire Thonnooram Veedu. She reaches the Paalaattu in disguise along with her aide Pankan (S. P. Pillai). With the blessings of the snakes guarding the treasure at the mansion, Kunki succeeds in escaping from there with the treasure. Kunki's son Koman (Satyan) who undergoes training in martial arts becomes a master in the art. He starts off on a mission, to eradicate the Thonnooram Veedu clan and thereby to fulfil the desire of his mother.

Koman falls in love with Unniyamma (Ragini) without knowing that she is the sister of Chandrappan. Chandrappan and his group take Kunki Amma into custody and torture her. Koman defeats Chandrappan and frees Kunki Amma. All the members of Thonnooram Veedu, except Unniyamma, are killed. Koman marries Unniyamma bringing the film to a happy end.

Satyan, Ragini, Kottayam Chellappan, and Jayanthi excelled in their roles. S. P. Pillai and Bahadur did justice to their comic roles. Jijo and Boban Kunchacko who portrayed the childhood days of the hero also impressed.

The dialogues by Sarangapani had the North Malabar flavour, especially the use of local parlance. Costumes matched the time presented. The choreography by Hiralal, cinematography was the other factors that stood out in the film.

It is interesting to note that the producers had planned to name the film `Konki Amma' or `Kunki Amma.' The gramophone records of the film have the title as `Konki Amma' on them. This has caused confusion with regard to the credits of the songs.

Out of the 12 songs penned by Vayalar Rama Varma and set to tune by M. S. Baburaj, some of them turned super hits. The hit duet sung by A. M. Raja and P. Susheela, `Chandana pallakkil veedu kaanan vanna...' is considered as one of the best romantic songs in the language. The duet by Santha P. Nair and Jikki, `Poove nalla poove...' is another popular hit. The other hits from this film include `Ayyappan kaavil amme...' (P. Leela), `Manassinakkathu oru pennu...' (K. P. Udayabhanu). Will be remembered: The only Malayalam film in which the noted singing star of South Indian cinema, Rushyendramani acted. The film will also be remembered for its good music.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Gnaanasundari (1961)

Prem Nazir, Thikkurissi, G. K. Pillai, S. P. Pillai,Adoor Bhasi, Bahadur, L. Vijayalakshmi,Pankajavalli, Aranmulla Ponnamma,Adoor Pankajam

CLASSIC HIT Prem Nazir and L. Vijayalakshmi in the film

`Gnanasundari,' a Christian folk myth has always been in focus of the Indian stage and the silver screen. The legend of `Gnanasundari', a rare example of a totally invented Christian mythological character, is probably developed from a Spanish folk tale. `Gnanasoundari Ammanai,' a folk poem, which attained much popularity from the 18th century, is the basis of the musical operas that were staged in Malayalam and Tamil. Popular drama troupes in Tamil Nadu staged this play throughout South India and it had its influence on the Malayalai audience also. In 1921, V. S. Andrews, one of the founder members of sangeetha natakam (musical opera) in Malayalam created a musical opera which was staged very successfully in the State.

The story of Gnanasundari was released by Columbia Gramophone Company in Tamil in a set of 78 rpm records which was in huge demand those days.

General Pictures Corporation, pioneers of silent cinema in the South, produced a silent film titled `Gnanasundari' directed by A. Narayanan in 1929. With the advent of the sound in cinema, the same story was filmed in Tamil by Sreenivasa Cinetone again directed by A. Narayanan with Sreenivasa Rao and Sarojini in lead roles. The film was a huge success. In 1948, Gemini Films and another film production company Citadel Films released the story under same title `Gnana Soundari' and both the films were released at the same time. The film by Gemini that was directed by the experienced Murugadasa and had popular artists M. K. Radha and V. S. Suseela in the lead roles, failed. However, the Citadel production, directed by Joseph Thaliath, a Malayali and F. Nagoor with singing sensation T. R. Mahalingam and the Kannada- Tamil actress M. V. Rajamma in lead roles, was a huge success. It is said that S. S. Vasan, owner of Gemini Studios withdrew his film from the theatres as a respect to the tremendous victory of the Citadel version.

The Malayalam version was released during Christmas time, December 22, 1961. It was a true copy of the Citadel version. Though the story and script by Muttathu Varkey was based on a novel of the same title authored by him, the dialogues closely resembled that written by Nanjil T. N. Rajappa for the Tamil version. Except for the hero and the heroine, the names of the other characters were changed in the Malayalam film. The Malayalam version was a success, but not as successful as the Tamil original.

Gnanasundari (L.Vijayalakshmi), daughter of King Philip (Thikkurissi), loses her mother when she was a child. She grows up as an ardent devotee of Virgin Mary. Out of fear that she may be banished if Gnanasundari ascends the throne after her father, Annisha (Pankajavalli) her stepmother plays nasty tricks to kill her. For this evil plot Annisha takes the help of her faithful maid Kathri (Adoor Pankajam). When the king is away from the palace on a hunting expedition, Annisha engages her men to murder Gnanasundari. Out of mercy for their princess, Annisha's men leave Gnanasundari alive in the woods with her arms cut off and reports to Annisha that the princess is murdered. Philendran (Prem Nazir), prince of a neighbouring kingdom, happens to find Gnanasundari in the forest and takes her to his palace. King Sheemon (G .K. Pillai) and Queen Mariana (Aranmula Ponnamma) conduct the marriage of their son Philendran with Gnanasundari.

While Philendran is away helping King Philip in battle, Gnanasundari gives birth to twin boys. Annisha comes to know that Gnanasundari is alive and is now the wife of Philendran. A message sent by Philendran to his parents is forged and manipulated by Annisha. Misguided by the message Sheemon sends Gnanasundari and her children to the forest. Gnanasundari prays to Virgin Mary to save her from the miserable plight and the mother of Jesus Christ descends to save her devotee.

Philendran returns to the palace and is heart broken when he comes to know about the fate of his wife and children. He leaves the palace to search for them. He finds them in the forest, misunderstandings are cleared, Philendran and Gnanasundari return to the palace with their children. Annisha and Kathri are forgiven by Gnanasundari and the film ends with prayers to Virgin Mary.

This was the first independent directorial venture of K. S. Sethumadhavan in Malayalam. He had earlier directed a Sinhalese film before this. His efficient direction and excellent camera work by Melli M. Irani brought to the screen the beauty of the splendid sets of Vijaya -Vauhini studios. Costumes by K. Raman, editing by M. S. Mani, sound recording by C. V. C. Shekhar and art direction by R. B. S. Mani , all contributed to the success of this black and white film. The mandatory miracle scenes of this mythological film gave ample scope for special effects. The scenes where Virgin Mary descends to earth and Gnanasundari regaining her arms were filmed with amazing technical perfection.

Prem Nazir and L. Vijayalakshmi did justice to their roles. Pankajavalli and Adoor Pankajam also filled the bill perfectly. But the comic scenes, copied from the Tamil version, that had Adoor Bhasi, Bahadur, S. P. Pillai and Adoor Pankajam did not rise to expectation.

There were 10 songs in the film penned by Abhayadev and set to music by V. Dakshinamoorthy. Some of the songs became super hits and have stood the test of time. The devotional song by P. Leela `Kanya Mariyame thaaye...' is considered as one of the best Christian devotional songs in Malayalam cinema. The solos by Kamukara Purushothaman, `Mindaatha thenthanu thatthe...' and `Panineer malarinorithal...' also became super hits. The other hits include `Onnu chirikkku chirikku...' (Kamukara-Leela), `Parannu poyo inakkiliye...' (Kamukara) and the comedy duet `Kandal nalloru chetta.' sung by the composer himself with K. V. Santha is one of the best songs in the genre.

Will be remembered: As the first independent directorial venture of K. S. Sethumadhavan in Malayalam. As the debut film of actress L. Vijayalakshmi in Malayalam and first independent film of cinematographer Melli M. Irani. It will also be remembered for the good music and as a huge success among the remake films in early Malayalam cinema.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Chilamboli (1963)

Prem Nazir, Thikkurissi, Muthiah, Adoor Bhasi, S .P. Pillai, Bahadur, Ragini, Ambika, Sukumari, Adoor Pankajam.

Musical A scene from Chilamboli 

Chilamboli,’ produced under the banner of ‘Vrindavan Pictures’ was an adaptation of the legend of Bilwamangal, Sanskrit poet and an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. This legend has been the theme of many an Indian film. In fact, various states claim him as their own. The ancient Sanskrit epic poem ‘Sree Krishna Karnamrutham,’ supposed to have been written by him, gives evidence of the life and time of Bilwamangal, known as Vilwamangalam Swamiyar, in Kerala. The story of ‘Chilamboli’ revolves around Guruvayoor temple and surroundings.

Madan Theatres, one of the reputed film producers of early Indian cinema, sent the black and white version of the Hindi film ‘Bilwamangal’ (1932) abroad and had it printed in colour. Another Hindi film of the same title released in 1954 had singing stars C. H. Atma and Suraiya in the lead roles. Some film versions presented the legend as a biography of Surdas, for example Homi Master’s silent film ‘Bilwamangal.’ Most Hindi and Bengali versions tell the story from the male perspective, following Girish Ghosh’s famous play ‘Bilwamangal’ (1886), but the South Indian films narrate the tale of Chintamani, the courtesan who influenced the life of the poet. The importance given by the stage and the screen indicate the influence of the legendary poet on the people.

The Tamil film version of the legend ‘Chintamani’ (1937) directed by Y. V. Rao with M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar in lead role and another singing sensation, K. Ashwathamma as Chintamani created a record of sorts at the box office. The Telugu remake directed by P. S. Ramakrishna Rao had N. T. Rama Rao and P. Bhanumathi in the lead roles. The Kannada remake of this Tamil film had Ashwath and B. Saroja Devi in the lead roles. Directed by M. N. Basavarajiah this film was an early experiment in colour. Both the Telugu and Kannada remakes were huge successes. The Malayalam film ‘Chilamboli’ also followed Rao’s Tamil version. The script and dialogues penned by Thikkurissi was almost a copy of the Tamil film. But the Malayalam version did not click. This can be because the Tamil and Telugu films had good runs in the State. The then super stars of Malayalam cinema, Prem Nazir, Thikkurissi, Ragini, Ambika handled the main roles. The film was a musical hit, the choreography of Madhavan was also greatly appreciated.

According to the legend prevalent in Kerala, the life of Vilwamangalam is closely associated with major temples, like the Guruvayoor temple, Poornathrayeesa temple, Tripunithura and the Chottanikkara temple. The film narrates some of the episodes connected with the Guruvayoor temple. It was later dubbed in Tamil under the title ‘Bilwamangal.’

‘Chilamboli’ (sound of the anklets) opens with the courtesan Chintamani (Ragini) performing a dance on the premises of the Guruvayoor temple. Vilwamangalam (Prem Nazir), a rich merchant and Sanskrit scholar, is introduced by his friend Visweswaran (Thikkurissi) to Chintamani. Chintamani is a devotee of Lord Krishna. Vilwamangalam’s devotion to the Lord and his knowledge of Sanskrit attracts Chintamani towards him. Vilwamangalam gets drawn towards Chintamani. Though a courtesan, she stands against the wishes of her mother Parijatham (Adoor Pankajam) who tries to pressurise her into following the traditions of courtesans. Vilwamangalam deserts his wife Sumangala (Ambika) and his family to lead a life with Chintamani.
Vilwamangalam reaches home to find his father (T. S. Muthiah) on his death bed. Sumangala’s attempt to stop her husband from leaving home is in vain. Vilwamangalam’s love for Chintamani leads to tragedy. Sumangala jumps into a swollen river and commits suicide. Vilwamangalam crosses the river on that stormy night holding on to a log floating in the river. He reaches Chintamani’s chamber by climbing over a wall with the help of a hanging rope. But he never realises that the log he had clutched on hard happened to be the dead body of Sumangala and the rope a python. These images have been used to show Vilwamangalam’s blinding fascination for Chintamani. As time passes Chintamani gets disillusioned and pleads with Vilwamangamalm to offer his love to God. The lovers are separated and both lead a life devoted to the Almighty. Vilwamangalam loses his eyesight. From thereon both their lives are guided by the hand of God. They are united in life once again only to gain salvation at the feet of the Lord.

Prem Nazir and Ragini excelled in their roles. The dance sequences involving Ragini and Ambika, along with the choreography, were the high points of the film. The comic scenes by S. P. Pillai, Adoor Bhasi, Bahadur, and Sukumari were exact copies of the 1937 Tamil film The child artists, Baby Vinodini and Baby Vilasini, who performed the roles of Krishna impressed. Direction and camera work by G. K. Ramu were commendable.

Twelve songs penned by Abhayadev were set to tune by Dakshinamoorthy. The song by P. Leela , ‘Priya manasa nee vaa vaa...’ became a super hit. A duet by Kamukara and Leela, ‘Poovinu Manamilla....” and the solos by Kamukara, ‘Odi vaavaa odi vaavaa...’ and ‘Mayamayanude Leela...’ also became extremely popular and have stood the test of time.
Will be Remembered: For the good music and choreography. It will also be remembered as the first Malayalam film with the Guruvayoor Temple as the background for some important scenes.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sakunthala (1965)

Cast: Prem Nazir, Satyan, Thikkurissi, Adoor Bhasi, S P Pillai, Bahadur, K R Vijaya, Rajasree, Aranmula Ponnamma, Adoor Pankajam etc

Box office hit - A scene from ‘Shakuntala’

‘Shakuntalam,’ Kalidasa’s epic has been a favourite subject of several producers and directors of Indian cinema. The story has also been staged by almost all reputed drama troupes as musical operas.

The Malayalam version, produced and directed by M. Kunjacko, which was released in 1965 was a huge hit. Two other memorable film versions of the epic were the Tamil film released in 1940 with Carnatic musicians G. N. Balasubramaniam and M. S. Subbulakshmi in the lead roles. Directed by the American director Ellis R. Duncan who has several landmark films to his credit this Tamil film is considered as one of the best musical hits in Indian cinema apart from its technical perfection. Another black and white film, produced and directed by V. Shantaram in 1943, was also a major success. In 1961 Shantaram remade the film in colour titled ‘Stree’ with his wife Sandhya as Shakuntala and himself as Dushyanta. The film failed. However, this film is still remembered for its excellent music by C. Ramchandra.

The Malayalam ‘Shakuntala’ is a true copy of ‘Stree’. All the main scenes and song sequences of the Malayalam film resembled the Hindi film closely. But the Malayalam film achieved enviable success at the box office which the Hindi film failed to do. Noted poetess and short story writer Lalithambika Antharjanam penned the dialogues, while the script was written by Thoppil Bhasi. This remains the only film for which the reputed poetess wrote the dialogues. The music by the magical duo Vayalar-Devarajan was excellent. The key roles were performed by the super stars of the time, Prem Nazir, Sathyan, and K. R. Vijaya.

Menaka (Rajasree), an ‘apsara’ in Indra’s court, is sent to earth to wake up Viswamitra from his penance. Menaka succeeds in her errand and she gives birth to a girl whom she abandons in the forest. The girl is adopted by sage Kanva (Sathyan) whom he names Shakuntala (K. R. Vijaya) and she is brought up in the hermitage.

King Dushyanta (Prem Nazir) happens to see Shakuntala during one of his hunting expeditions and he falls in love with her. Dushyanta marries Shakuntala secretly and after some time leaves promising to comeback and take her to his palace.

Shakuntala gets pregnant and the king never comes back. Kanva sends her to the royal court of Dushyanta, but the king rejects her due to the curse of sage Durvasa. The curse of Durvasa clouds the king’s memory and he forgets the entire episode of his hunting expedition and marriage with Shakuntala. Shakuntala gives birth to a boy in the hermitage of Kashyapa (Thikkurissi). Dushyanta regains his memory when he sees the ring he gave to Shakuntala which she had lost on her way to the royal court. The recovery of his memory was also a modification of Durvasa’s curse. Dushyanta comes to take Shakuntala bacak, she refuses, using the same language with which she had been evicted. But all the misunderstandings get cleared and the two are eventually reconciled.

All the main actors excelled in their roles. Prem Nazir as the romantic lover in the first half and as the repentant husband in the other half performed his role well. K. R. Vijaya as Shakuntala also excelled in her role with her acting talents and charming looks. Sathyan as Kanva, Thikkurissi as Kashyapa and Aranmula Ponnamma in a minor role performed their roles well. Adoor Bhasi, S. P. Pillai and Adoor Pankajam handled the comic scenes in the film. The choreography was good. The dance sequence involving Menaka was the main attraction. The film was shot partly in colour. This dance scene and the climax were shot in colour. At a time when colour films were rare in Malayalam, these scenes accounted for the success of the film. All the 10 songs penned by Vayalar were set to tune by Devarajan based on classical ragas. Most of the songs became super hits. The romantic number sung by P. Susheela, ‘Priyatama Priyatama pranayalekhanam...’ based on Bilahari raga; the Desh based ‘Sankhu pushpam kannezhuthumbol...’ and Kharaharapriya based ‘Swarana thamara ithalilurangum...,’ both sung by K. J. Yesudas remain among the best songs of the two singers.

The romantic Yesudas-Susheela duet, set in Mohanam, ‘Malini dadiyil kannadi nokkum maane...’ is considered as one of the best romantic duets in Malayalam. P. B. Sreenivas imparted a highly emotional touch to the Charukesi based ‘Vanadevathamare vida nalkoo...,’ while the dance number ‘Manichilamboli kettunaroo...’ sung by S. Janaki bacame hits.

Will be remembered: As a successful adaptation of a literary classic. It will be remembered as the only film for which Lalithambika Antharjanam wrote the dialogues. And for its excellent music.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ponkathir (1953)

MELODRAMA Following the pattern of Tamil films of the time ‘Ponkathir’ was a big hit

Ponkathir’ released in 1953 was one of the two successful films released during the year, the other one being ‘Ashadeepam.’ Produced by P. Subramaniam and directed by E. R. Cooper under the banner of Neela Productions the film was a marital melodrama. It told the tale of the ideal woman, the long suffering and self sacrificing wife. The story and script by K. P. Kottarakkara was in line with such tear jerking Tamil socials of the time and proved successful at the box office.

This was the second film produced by Neela. It was technically perfect when compared to earlier Malayalam films. Sound recording by Krishna Elamon and cinematography by V. Ramamoorthy was worth mentioning. The top stars of that era, Prem Nazir and Lalitha added star value to the film. Playback singer Kamukara Purushothaman and stage actor C. I. Parameswaran Pillai made their film debut through this film. T. R. Omana who had appeared in some dance scenes in earlier films, acted in a minor role in this film.

A rich industrialist Prabhu (C. I. Parameswaran Pillai) runs a factory. His son Ravi (Prem Nazir) assists him in all his business projects. Madhu (K. P. Kottarakkara ), the manager of the factory is loyal to his master and the business flourishes. Vikraman (Thikkurissi), the crooked nephew of Prabhu is an employee of the factory. Vikraman tries to manipulate the assets of Prabhu.

Ravi is in love with Radha (Lalitha), daughter of a poor farmer and friend of Prabhu. Vikraman also loves Radha and tries to win her love by all crooked means, but in vain. Prabhu brings home Radha when her father dies. Vikraman and his wicked friends Mathu Pillai (Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai) and Pappan (S. P. Pillai) play nasty tricks and try to turn Prabhu against Ravi’s love for Radha. But to their dismay, Prabhu conducts the marriage of his son Ravi with Radha. Prabhu come to know about the nasty tricks of Vikraman and terminates him from the factory.
Now Vikraman and his aides try to defame Radha and Prabhu. They spread scandals about the relations between the father-in-law and daughter-in-law, Prabhu and Radha. Suspicion springs up in Ravi also. Sarala (Bharathi Menon), the lady love of Vikraman is engaged to trap Ravi and turn him against Prabhu and Radha. Ravi expels a pregnant Radha from the house. Madhu’s mother (Aranmula Ponnamma) and sister Thulasi (T. R. Omana ) console Radha. Prabhu bring home Radha and he assigns all his wealth in Radha’s name. Sarala who was after the wealth of Ravi, now betrays him.

Vikraman forces Ravi to take revenge on Prabhu and Sarala. Madhu intervenes and saves their lives. Vikraman and his group are arrested by the police. All misunderstandings is cleared, and a reformed Ravi rejoins the family.
Lalitha and Prem Nazir excelled in their roles. Bharathi Menon as the vamp also did well in the negative role. The success of this role paved way for similar roles for her later. The comic scenes by S. P. Pillai and Adoor Pankajam helped defuse the tense situations in the film, though they were repetitions from the films of the past. The music of the film was just average. The 13 songs penned by Thirunainar Kurichi Madhavan Nair were tuned by Brother Lakshmanan followed the trend of imitating tuhes of other language film songs. The prayer song, ‘Anjana Sreedhara charumoorthey Krishna...’ sung by Ganabhooshanam Lalitha in the traditional style became very popular and is considered as one of the best devotional songs in Malayalam. All the songs, except the solo by Jikki, ‘Paadoo manasamey padoo...’ which was a direct copy of the Latha number from the Hindi film ‘Daag’ (1952) ‘Laage unse nain laage....’ (Shanker-Jaikishan) faded out from the memory within a short time. Kamukara sung his first film song, a verse filmed on the climax scene, ‘Ashanka thimiram...’ to make a winning debut.

Will be Remembered: The film be remembered as the debut film of playback singer Kamukara Purushothaman, actor C. I. Parameswaran Pillai, and was the first character role of T. R. Omana.