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.