'Vanamala' is considered the first ‘jungle movie' in Malayalam. Movies of this genre were hugely inspired by Tarzan created by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The silent movie ‘King of Forest' (1926) produced by Royal Arts with Jilloo Bai and Udvadia in the lead roles was probably the first Indian movie in this genre. ‘Jungle Queen' (1936), ‘Jungle King' (1939), ‘Jungle Princess' (1942) etc. are some of the early Hindi films with similar plots. Most of these adventure movies did well at the box office. Stunt actors like John Cawas and ‘Fearless' Nadia were integral parts of such movies.
The Tamil film ‘Vanaraja Karzan' (1938) produced by Wadia Movietone jointly with Madras United Artists Corporation was the first ‘jungle movie' from the South. The film was a hit and remade in Hindi as ‘Jungle King.' John Cawas acted as hero in both the films. ‘Vanamohini' (1941) produced by South Indian United Artists Corporation,' directed by the Hindi comedian-producer Bhagawan was a runaway hit. The glamour girl of the time K. Thavamani Devi's performance was a highpoint. The Tamil film ‘Toofan Queen' (1940), though not strictly a ‘jungle film' had a story set in the backdrop of the forest.
The success of such film must have inspired the producers, V&C Productions, to make the Malayalam film ‘Vanamala.' The story of the film was written by its director, G. Viswanath. The dialogues were by the popular playwright Munshi Paramu Pillai. The lyrics by the eminent writer P. Kunjukrishna Menon and music was composed by P. S. Divakar.
‘Vanamala' had P. A. Thomas and debutant Neyyattinkara Komalam, who was cast in a Lady Tarzan kind of role. Stage artistes essayed the other important roles. The comic track that had S. P. Pillai was impressive. The film also had an elephant ‘Baby Lakshmi' and most of the billboards of the film featured this elephant.
The film was shot at Udaya Studios using sets. Only a few scenes were shot near Pechippara Dam, near Marthandam. Most of the scenes involving wild animals were lifted from foreign films.
The story of the film revolved around the Zamindar of ‘Vasantha Vilas' (Kandiyoor Parameswarankutty) and his daughter. The girl, named Mala, was born after many years of marriage. When Mala was born her father had a chain put on her neck with a locket engraved with her name. The Zamindar had once promised his Secretary Prasad (Muthukulam Karthikeyan Nair) that he would adopt his son Ashokan as his heir. But the birth of Mala changed the equations. Prasad engages his faithful servant Babu to kill Mala. But instead Babu abandons the girl in a forest.
Here Mala is looked after by a tribal couple and an elephant. They girl grows up as Nalini (Neyyattinkara Komalam). The elephant becomes her companion.
The zamindar shifts his residence to his Sivalokam estate on the outskirts of the forest. Prasad and his son Ashokan (P. A. Thomas) also accompany the Zamindar. Ashokan and Nalini meet each other in the forest and fall in love. Prasad recognises Nalini by the locket on her chain. He fears that if Nalini is left to live his son Ashokan would lose the right of inheritance. Prasad also comes to know that Ashokan and Nalini are in love. All his attempts to separate them are in vain. Prasad requests Ashokan to leave the estate but he stays in the forest in disguise.
Prasad makes an attempt to kill Nalini but is thwarted by Ashokan. In the melee that ensues Nalini stabs Prasad to death. Before he dies Prasad reveals to the Zamindar that Nalini is none other than his daughter Mala. The Zamindar gives his daughter's hand in marriage to Ashokan.
There were nine songs in the film. Most of them were copies of Hindi tunes. The solo by Jikki, ‘Thalli thalli haa ...' was a direct lift of the popular duet ‘Gore gore O baanke...' by Lata Mangeshkar and Ameerbai Karnataki from the Hindi film ‘Samadhi' (1950). And incidentally this was Jikki's first Malayalam film song. The other hits were, ‘Ullam thulli vilayodiyithu...' (Jikki), ‘Aho vidhiyo...', ‘Haa imbam kolka naam...' (by Jikki and Mehboob). .
Will be remembered: As the first ‘jungle movie' in Malayalam. As the debut film of Neyyattinkara Komalam, director G .Viswanath, lyricist P. Kunjukrishna Menon, singer Jikki and cameraman Arumugham.