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.