Saturday, January 3, 2009
The history of Indian cinema starts with the silent movie ‘Raja Harishchandra’ (1913) produced and directed by Dadasaheb Phalke. The legend of the King of Ayodhya, Raja Harishchandra, might be the most repeated Hindu mythological episode adapted for Indian cinema. It was repeated seven times during the Silent Era and more than 25 times in various languages later.
The Malayalam film ‘Harishchandra,’ was the first mythological produced under the banner of ‘Neela Productions’ and perhaps the first successful Malayalam film in this genre.
Anyone who watches this film closely is sure to find that it is a carbon copy of two other South Indian films which told the same story, ‘Satya Harishchandra’ (Kannada-1943), which was successfully dubbed into Tamil, and another original Tamil version of the same story, ‘Harishchandra,’ released in 1944. The Kannada versionis considered to be the most successful film on this story. The Tamil dubbing is believed to be the first dubbed film in South India.
The Malayalam film copied scenes from both the Tamil and Kannada versions. The sets, costumes, song sequences and even the dialogues, in some of the scenes were exactly the same. Though both the Kannada and the two Tamil versions had long runs in the state, the Malayalam film was also a runaway success.
Clever camera tricks by N.S.Mani and directorial skills of Antony Mithradas gave life to the magical scenes. At a time when technology was not developed, with limited resources at their disposal, they did an appreciable job. Scenes of natural calamities, wild animals attacking the villages etc. were filmed using camera tricks and included effectively in the film.
Based on a popular Mahabharatha legend, the film is about King Harsishchandra’s devotion to truth. The wager between the two sages, Viswamithra and Vasishta brings hardships to Harishchandra. Sent to exile by Viswamithra for profaning his ‘yaga’ Harishchandra is separated from his wife Chandramathi and son Lohithaksha.
A scene from the Kannada version
Chandramathi and Lohithaksha become slaves to the landlord Kalakanta. Harishchandra is reduced to becoming an attendant in a cremation ground and given the charge to execute Chandramathi. Moved by the king’s sacrifice, honesty and devotion to truth, the Gods descend and brings the morality play to a happy conclusion.
Thikkurissi as Harishchandra, Miss Kumari as Chandramathi, G. K. Pillai as Viswamithra, Master Hari as Lohithaksha and Jose Prakash in the minor role of Harishchandra’s minister Satyakeerthi performed their roles well. S. P. Pillai as Kalakanta and Adoor Pankajam as his wife did well in what were different from their usual comedy roles.
The film had 15 songs penned by Thirunainar Kurichi and tuned by Brother Lakshmanan. This film is considered as the first Malayalam film of playback singer P. B. Sreenivas though there is some difference of opinion on this point. The song ‘Mahal thyagame mahithame...’ sung by him became a hit. ‘Atmavidyalayame…’ sung by Kamukara Purushothaman remains one of the best by the singer and one of the best in the language. The lyrics and the sequence seems to have been inspired by the famous Grave Diggers scene in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. Another song ‘Aarundu chollan...’ (P.Leela-Kamukara), though an imitation of the Tamil film song ‘Vettunda kaikaley…’ by P. A. Perianayaki from the film ‘Jnanasoundari’ (1948) also became a huge hit.
Will be remembered: As the first successful mythological film in Malayalam. For the song ‘Atmavidyalayame…’ and also as the Malayalam debut of singer P.B.Sreenivas.