Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Vanamala (1951)

'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.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thulabharam (1968)

Sharada, Sheela, Prem Nazir, Madhu, Thikkurissi, Adoor Bhasi, Adoor Bhavani etc

Realistic telling A scene from the film which got Sharada the National Award for the best actor

The Malayalam stage play ‘Thulabharam,' written by Thoppil Bhasi in 1968 was a thundering hit. The unusual political drama that focussed on the blacklegging in trade unions and the villainous ways of the management of factories to suppress labour activities proved to be a successful recipe. The popular drama troupe, KPAC, staged the play throughout the country.

Supriya Films came with a screen version of this highly emotional drama the same year under the same title. And not surprisingly it became a huge hit.

Popular stars of the time like Prem Nazir, Madhu, Thikkurissi, Adoor Bhasi, Sharada, Sheela, Adoor Bhavani and others came up with stellar performances. The film also had some fine songs from the hit-duo Vayalar-Devarajan. The film won for Sharada the National film award for best actress. It was also adjudged the second best film of the year.

The film focussed on some of the undesirable features among political and trade unions, resultant labour issues. It portrayed a realistic picture of the working class that often falls prey to the evil of the Management-Trade Union disputes in factories.

The stage play adopted the Sanskrit drama style of ‘Vishkambam' wherein the story is told as a flashback. The film also starts with a court scene with the heroine narrating her hapless story. This was a deviation from the usual storytelling method.

The dialogues written by the dramatist himself for the film were impressive. The film is considered one of the best directorial venture of A. Vincent. Shot at AVM and Vikram Studios, the camera was handled by Bhaskar Rao and Venkitraman was the editor. The film stood out for its technical excellence.

Following the great success of the Malayalam film, the story was remade in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi with Sharada as the heroine in all the versions. In the Tamil version, titled ‘Thulabharam' she was paired with AVM Rajan, in Telugu with Shobhan Babu and in Hindi with Ajay Sahni. The Tamil version also was directed by Vincent and the other two language versions, ‘Manushulu Marali' (Telugu) and ‘Samaj Ko Badal Dalo' (Hindi) by Madhusudana Rao. All the versions closely followed the original script and dialogues written by Thoppil Bhasi. They also did well at the box office. Vijaya (Sharada) and Valsala (Sheela) are college mates and are close friends. Vijaya's father R .K. Menon (Thikkurissi) is a factory owner and Valsala's father Achuthan Nair (Adoor Bhasi) a leading advocate. Menon is swindled by his manager and loses ownership of the factory. He dies following a heart attack. Vijaya's beau Babu (Madhu) also abandons her. Achuthan Nair who was Menon's advocate also does not come to Vijaya's help. Ramu (Prem Nazir), a faithful labourer of the factory marries Vijaya. They lead a happy life despite all the hardships. Ramu is the leader of the labour union. In the meanwhile, Valsala enrols as a student of Law.

Years roll on. Vijaya is now mother of three children. Due to trade union disputes the factory is closed down and Ramu loses his job. He tries to get the factory re-opened with the support from the Government. One day Ramu is stabbed to death by the goons hired by the management. Vijaya and children are orphaned. The children also take to begging for a living. When Vijaya comes to know of this she punishes them.

People now begin to hound Vijaya. Rumours are spread about her morality. Even her mother-in-law turns against her. Poverty drives her son to steal a loaf of bread from a tea shop. The shop owner burns the face of the boy with a red hot ladle. Vijaya can take it no more. She decides to kill herself and her children. She feeds her children with poisoned food. The children die but Vijaya survives. The law proclaims Vijaya a murderer. She is taken to court. Here her friend Valsala, now Public Prosecutor, appears for the Government. The murder case is proved. Vijaya narrates her story to the court. The film ends with a question directed to the law and society at large about the terrible circumstances, the unbearable cruelty of the society that provokes a mother to kill her own children.

Sharada excelled as the struggling mother. Her stunning performance, especially in the climax, is often compared to that of Nargis in the classic ‘Mother India' (1957). Deviating from his usual romantic roles, Prem Nazir came up with a commendable performance as the trade union leader. Madhu, Sheela, Thikkurissi, Adoor Bhasi and the others also did justice to their roles.

The music was superb. All the six songs written by Vayalar and tuned by Devarajan became hits. ‘Kaattadichu kodum kaattadichu...' (K. J. Yesudas), the lullaby ‘Omanthingalin Onam...' (Yesudas-P. Susheela), the romantic number ‘Thottu thottilla... ‘ (Yesudas), the dance song ‘Bhoomidevi pushpiniyayi....' (Susheela-B.Vasantha), ‘Prabhata gopura vaathil ...' (Yesudas-Janaki) and ‘Nashtappeduvaan vilangukal…' (Jayachandran & chorus) are still popular.

Will be remembered: As the film that won National awards, second best feature film of the year and the Urvashi Award for best actress for Sharada. And for its timeless music.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

School Master (1964)

Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair, Aranmula Ponnamma, Prem Nazir, T. S. Muthiah, Balaji, Ragini, Ambika, Kalpana etc.

A MORAL TALE Sivaji Ganeshan and Sowcar Janaki in a scene from the film.

Released in 1964, School Master focussed on undesirable practices of school managements. A successful social film it propagated integral morals and glorified the teacher-student relationship.

The story, on which a series of films were made, was originally written by popular Marathi poet, actor, scenarist and lyricist, Gajanan Digambar Madgulkar popularly known as G. D. Madgulkar. The first film version was Oon Paoos (1954) in Marathi. The film was a tremendous success and went on to become a landmark in Marathi cinema.

Popular Kannada film producer, actor, director and founder of ‘Padmini Pictures,' B. R. Panthulu came up with film versions of this story in various languages. In 1958 School Master (Kannada), Engal Kudumbam Perisu (Tamil) and Badi Pantulu (Telugu) were directed by him. In 1959 ALS Productions remade the story in Hindi as School Master, again directed by Panthulu. In 1973 once again the same story was filmed in Tamil.

All the film versions about an old school master and his noble attempt to transform the students of his native village were hits at the box office. B. R. Panthulu himself acted in the role of the central character of the school master and the popular Kannada-Tamil actress M. V. Rajamma as his wife in all the films except the 1973 Tamil version in which Gemini Ganeshan and Sowcar Janaki took the main roles.

Dialogues for the Malayalam film were written by noted novelist Ponkunnam Varkey. It closely followed the original script and dialogues written by Kanagal Prabhakara Shastry for the 1958 Kannada version as it was in the case of the other film versions of the story.

Popular stars of the time, like Prem Nazir, Balaji, Ragini, Ambika, Muthiah et. al. were roped in for the film. Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair played the central character, the school master and Aranmula Ponnamma was cast in the role of his wife.

This film saw the Malayalam debut of popular Tamil actors Balaji, Sivaji Ganeshan and Sowcar Janaki. Vidhubala also began her film career in this film, as a child artiste.

The film was a huge hit. This despite the fact that both the 1958 Tamil version Engal Kudumbam Perisu and the 1959 Hindi version School Master also did extremely well in Kerala. The music composed by G. Devarajan was certainly the high point of the film.

Raman Pillai (Thikkurissi) is a committed headmaster of an upper primary school in a small village. The teacher and his wife (Aranmula Ponnamma) struggle hard to bring up and educate their sons Aniyan (Prem Nazir), Murali (Balaji) and daughter Vasanthi (Kalpana). He borrows money from private financiers and even pledges the house to raise money.

Sekharan Nair (T. S. Muthiah), the manager of the school is a crooked man. All his plans to manipulate the school activities and make money is defeated by the timely intervention of Raman Pillai. By his hard and dedicated work, Raman Pillai succeeds in upgrading the institution to a high school. But by that time, he reaches the age of retirement, and has to bid goodbye to his beloved school.

Murali and Aniyan get good jobs after their studies and they live separately in their houses with their wives. Raman Pillai conducts the marriage of his daughter Vasanthi. Now the poor school master is in abject penury and sadly his children abandon him. Creditors sue him and Raman Pillai's house is placed for auction by the court.

The school master and his wife are forced to seek shelter with their sons, the school master with one son and his wife with another.

The pangs of separation becomes too much for the aged couple to bear. They leave their shelter and wander in the streets in search of each other.

Johnny (Sivaji Ganeshan), an old student of Raman Pillai, finds his school master on the railway platform. Johnny, now a police officer, remembers with gratitude how his old teacher had led him through the right path during his school days. He buys his school master's house. Johnny and his wife (Sowcar Janaki) take Raman Pillai and his wife to the house. The school master is overwhelmed with joy when he realises that he can now live in his own house which he thought was lost forever.

Thikkurissi and Aranmula Ponnamma excelled in their roles. Prem Nazir, Balaji and Kannada actress Kalpana also came up with impressive performances. Ragini and Ambika, as the school master's daughters-in-law did justice to their small roles. A dance sequence featuring Baby Padmini went well with the audience.

Devarajan's music was simply out of the world. All the eight songs, written by Vayalar Rama Varma, turned chartbusters. The patriotic song, Jaya jaya jaya janmabhoomi… sung by K. J. Yesudas, P. Leela and A. P. Komala was the most popular of them. A children's song sung by M. S. Rajeswari, Kilukilukkum kilukilukkum... is widely considered as one of the best by the singer in Malayalam. The other hits include Paravakalai pirannirunnenkil... (P. Susheela), Ini ente inakkilikkenthu venam... (Yesudas-Susheela), Thamara kulakkadavil... (A. M. Raja-Susheela), the dance number Vaikom kayalil olam... (Yesudas-Leela), Zindabad zindabad... (A. P. Komala and chorus) and the haunting Niranja kannukalode... by P. B. Srinivas).

Will be remembered: As the debut film of director S. R. Puttanna and actress Vidhubala. As the first Malayalam film of Sivaji Ganeshan, Balaji, Sowcar Janaki and Kalpana. For its strong social message and for its excellent music.