BOLD ATTEMPT Vaikom Vasudevan Nair in a scene from the film
The 25th death anniversary of Vaikom Vasudevan Nair falls on February 11, 2010. ‘Kerala Kesari,' the 14th film in Malayalam was released on May 17, 1951 was produced by Vaikom Vasudsevan Nair under the banner of Star Combines.
Vasudevan Nair entered into film production when Malayalam cinema was at its infant stage and majority of the earlier films were not very successful. The film producers in the State, other than film companies like Udaya Studios, were not enthusiastic about entering the field. Vasudevan Nair and his wife Thankam, two of the brightest stars of musical opera (sangeeta natakam) and whose fame spread all over the country with the success of their musical drama ‘Yachaki', had virtually no screen experience. Vasudevan Nair took the bold step of producing a Malayalam film, and that too ignoring the failure of ‘Nirmala' (1948), a film produced by another artiste from musical operas, Artist P. J. Cherian.
The brave attempt of Vasudevan Nair to produce a Malayalam film at a time when very few films were being made in the language deserves appreciation. But ‘Kerala Kesari' failed.
The film was a loose adaptation of the Robin Hood kind of character portrayed in some of the early Indian films. The success of such films might have prompted the producer to select a similar theme deviating from the regular social stories which he used to present on the stage, like ‘Yachaki', ‘Sasidharan BA,' etc.
Several stage artistes played roles in the film. Vaikom Vasudevan Nair and his wife Thankam took the lead roles. Others like ‘Akbar' Sankara Pillai, Vaikom Raju etc. were seen on the silver screen for the first time. The film, when released faced severe criticism from critics like M. Vasudevan Nair popularly known by his pen name, ‘Cinic'. While Tamil films with similar themes fared well at the box office, ‘Kerala Kesari' failed to repeat this feat. One is not sure whether this criticism had an adverse effect, overshadowing the merits of the film.
The melodious tunes composed by Gnanamani were rendered by musical talents like Vasudevan Nair, Thankam, Kaviyoor Revamma, Periyanayaki etc. The failure of the film forced Vasudevan Nair and his wife Thankam bid goodbye to films forever and return to the stage. This was a loss for Malayalam cinema could not exploit the musical talents of these singing talents. It must be noted that both of them were sensations on the stage and the audience enjoyed their singing.
‘Kerala Kesari' is a costumed adventure fantasy, the hero being an Indian version of Robin Hood. The king of Maninagaram (P. Mahadevan) is cheated, dethroned and banished from the country by Regent Chandra Varma (Sankara Pillai). The royal priest (K. K. Aroor) and army officer Prathapan (Vaikom Raju) lend support all the treacherous plans of the Regent. When the noble army chief Rajendran (Vaikom Vasudevan Nair) voices his protest against the Regent and the priest, he is imprisoned.
His wife Thankam
Rajendran escapes and seeks refuge in the house of the royal maid, Hema (Durga Varma). The Regent's men shoot Rajendran when he tries to escape from the trap set to capture him. Wounded, Rajendran falls into the sea and is believed to be dead. But Rajendran emerges as Kerala Kesari who makes the forest as his hideout, becomes the saviour of the downtrodden and the hapless victims of the Regent's evil rule.
Bhavani (Thankam Vasudevan Nair) who had lost her father, again a prey of the Regent's cruelty, joins hands with Kerala Kesari in his mission. Kerala Kesari falls in love with Bhavani.
Meanwhile, the Regent arrests Hema and keeps her captive in his palace. Kerala Kesari reaches the palace and rescues her. Hema's house is set to fire and she rushes to the place to save her father. Hema is arrested and later freed. This is part of a plan to find the hideout of Kerala Kesari. The army reaches the forest hideout and in the ensuing battle between the two forces, Hema dies. Kerala Kesari, Bhavani and their followers, are captured and brought before the court of law.
The banished ruler appears before the court and reveals the facts behind the evil drama enacted by the Regent and his men. The people come to know that Kerala Kesari is not a traitor. They hail him as a patriot who fought against the evil rule in Maninagaram. The king takes over the reins of the country. Rajendran weds Bhavani.
There were 11 songs, penned by Thumpamon Padmanabhankutty and set to tune by Gnanamani. They were all based on classical ragas. The song based on Desh raga, sung by Vaikom Vasudevan Nair, ‘Neethiyitho bhuvaney...' became a huge hit. Another popular song was a devotional on Lord Ayyappa, ‘Ayyappa akhilandokodi nilaya…' (Vasudevan Nair and chorus) and is considered the first devotional on Lord Ayyappa in Malayalam cinema. There is a lengthy ‘virutham' and the song is of almost six minutes duration, quite rare those days. Other melodies include ‘Janmamo hathamaay vyamohathale...' and ‘Venal kaalam poye...' (Thankam Vasudevan Nair). A Hindi ghazal ‘Aaj kaho museebathiya...' was also included in the film.
Will be remembered: As the only film in which Vaikom Vasudevan Nair and Thankam, acted. As the film in which a devotional song on Lord Ayyappa was included for the first time. And, of course, for its music.