ON SOCIAL ILLS Kamaladevi in a scene from ‘Ezhu Rathrikal'
‘Ezhu Rathrikal,' the stage play authored by Kalady Gopi, was first published in book form in 1963. The book turned to be a best seller and the popular professional drama troupe, Changanasserry Geedha staged the play the very next year. The drama became very popular. It told the poignant story of the downtrodden.
This was made into a film in 1968 by Babu, the producer of the landmark movie Chemmeen' (1965). The film failed at the box office. In fact, this was case of the film versions of successful stage plays like, ‘Mudiyanaya Puthran' (1961), ‘Puthiya Akasham Puthiya Bhoomi' (1962), ‘Doctor' (1963), etc.
The film version of the stage play ‘Thulabharam' authored by Thoppil Bhasi under the same title and ‘Ezhu Rathrikal' were released the same week. The former went to become a huge hit and bagged several awards also. The main characters in ‘Ezhu Rathrikal' were essayed by the same artistes who performed these roles on stage. Most of them were new to cinema. ‘ Thulabharam,' was a multi-starrer with most of the popular stars of the time like Prem Nazir, Madhu, Sarada, Sheela etc. in lead roles. The absence of ‘stars' is widely considered as one of the reasons for the failure of ‘Ezhu Rathrikal'.
The film was directed by Ramu Kariat. It was picturised at Arunachalam Studios, Kamal Bose cranked the camera, editing was by K D George and art direction by S. Konnanat.
The script and dialogues of the film, written by the playwright himself, closely followed the original text. The film followed the stage pattern, weaving together a number of melodramatic plots, realistic acting conventions and the theatrical device of enclosing disparate characters into a socially ambiguous space. The lack of a ‘cinematic touch' was again one of its glaring flaws. The highpoint of the film was the soulful music by Salil Choudhary.
The story revolved around a dilapidated house, with the dim street lights setting the ambience for the interaction of the characters. A number of vagabonds and social outcasts take shelter in this house every night. The film told the stories of these characters.
The popular stage actor Dominic, popularly known as Alummoodan came up with a brilliant performance as ‘Pashanam Varkey.' This is easily his best role in films. Varkey is a clever mendicant who exploits religious sentiments of people by carrying a board with the picture of a Hindu god on one side and that of a Christian saint on the other. K J Chacko, founder of Changanasserry Geedha, popularly known as Chachappan, did the role of Ikka. An old Muslim he is back from jail after being convicted for the murder of his wife. He is now in search of his daughter, earning his living selling musical instruments. Kamalamma who played the garrulous, lame ‘Chattukali' Maria on stage did well in the film too. Lata, the daughter of playback singer Santha P. Nair acted as the blind and orphan girl Seetha, who is tortured by ‘Udumbu' Govindan (Govindankutty). Seetha's only solace is Ikka, who protects her like her father.
J. C. Kuttikkat, stage actor, popular later as Jessey, the producer-director, did the role of Abu, the romantic young man. He has a story too. Abu is also back from jail after he tried to protect the father of his girlfriend Annamma (Kamaladevi). However, he loses his leg and also his girlfriend. While in jail he comes to know that Annamma is married to Kumaran (Nellikkodu Bhaskaran). A good singer, he lives by singing on the streets. Kumaran suspects that Annamma still has a sof corner for Abu and begins to ill-treat her. Life is miserable for her.
Another impressive character is the hunchback Paramu (Shihab). He is a scrupulous, honest man who fights injustice at his own level. He even shows the courage to attack ‘Udumbu' Govindan.
As the film rolls on it turns out that Seetha is Ikka's long lost daughter. This comes about when she sings a song that her father had taught her when she was a child. Ikka recognises his daughter but the happiness is short-lived. ‘Udumbu' Govindan kills Seetha bringing the film to a tragic, gory end.
The film attempted to tie up diverse narrative strands designed to give a picture of contemporary social problems. In fact, the drama did succeed in projecting social ills, like begging, lack of proper rehabilitation of prisoners freed after their conviction period etc. But the film did not create the needed impact.
Salil Choudhary's music was superb. All the five songs, written by Vayalar Rama Varma, became super hits. The solo by K. J. Yesudas, ‘Kaadaaru maasam, naadaaru maasam...' is one of his best in the language. Salil Choudhary, a pioneer in Chorus singing, created one of his best in this genre with ‘ Kaka karumbikale...' (Yesudas, Anto, Sreelatha, Latha). The other hits include ‘Rathri rathri...' (P. B. Sreenivas), ‘Panchamiyo pournamiyo...' (P. Leela) and ‘Makkathu poyi varum...' (Latha).
Will be remembered: As the debut film of actor Alummoodan and playwright Kalady Gopi. For its excellent music, particularly for the super Yesudas hit ‘ Kaadaaru maasam, naadaru maasam...'