Thursday, May 26, 2011

Prahlada (1941)

Released on August 17, 1941, ‘Prahlada' was the third sound film and first mythological film in Malayalam. The film was produced and directed by K. Subrahmaniam under the banner of Madras United Artists Corporation. The film introduced to cinema, the noted dancer Guru Gopinath. He, along with his wife Thankamani, performed some memorable dances in the film. The film also introduced to cinema T. K. Balachandran, who went on to become a leading actor and producer. He starred as a child star in ‘Prahlada.'

The film was shot on spectacular sets at Gemini Studios. Cinematography by Kamal Ghosh was excellent. Haribabu, one of Indian cinema's best known make up man, worked in this project. But the film failed at the box office. No print, or a single film frame or a photograph of the film is available now. Repeated screen versions of the same story and success of some of the other language films with the same story might have adversely affected the success of the film.

Drawn from Vishnupurana, the story of Prahlada was staged in Malayalam as musical operas, and the first of such plays authored by Kunnath Neelakantan Moosath in 1924 was the most popular one. The mythological episode was produced as a silent film under the same title ‘Bhakta Prahlada' (1926) by Baburao Painter (producer) and Dadasaheb Phalke. The story was remade as sound films in almost all the major Indian languages several times, eight times in Hindi, three times in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, as per available records. It is strange that in Malayalam, the story was never remade after the 1941 film. The first sound film in Telugu ‘Bhakta Prahlada' (1931) directed by H. M. Reddy also told the story of Prahlada. ‘Bhakta Prahlada,' produced in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada by AVM Productions, under the direction of Narayanamoorthy in 1967 that had S. V. Ranga Rao, Anjali Devi and Baby Roja Ramani (who later became famous in Malayalam as ‘Chembarathi Shobhana) is considered as the most successful screen version of the Prahlada episode. The film was dubbed into almost all the Indian languages also.

Guru Gopinath was a famous court dancer of the Travancore state. K. Subrahmaniam invited Guru Gopinath and his wife and dancer Thankamani to act in ‘Prahlada'. Guru Gopinath's disciple and relative of Travancore Dewan Sir C. P. Ramawamy Iyer, Kumari Lakshmi acted as Prahlada in the film. This was her first and last film. Her father Chidambaram was Private Secretary to the Dewan. The star cast included several artistes from stage and dance schools in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, like P. R. Rajagopala Iyer, T. V. Krishna Sarma, N. Krishna Pillai, C. V. Ramachandran, N. P. Chellappan Nair, Sarada Bai etc. The Tamil film ‘Prahlada' (1939) directed by B. N. Rao under the banner of Salem Sankar Films was a super hit and created box office records. The singing sensation of later years T. R. Mahalingam acted as Prahlada in the film. The storyline and the dialogues of this film were closely followed for the Malayalam version. The script and dialogues of this film was adapted for Malayalam by N. P. Chellappan Nair.

The episode from Vishnu Purana, a holy text of Hindus, tells the story of Prahlada (Kumari Lakshmi) who worships Lord Vishnu against the orders of his father Hiranyakashipu (Guru Gopinath). All the attempts of the demon king and his wife Kayadhu (Thankamani Gopinath) to change their son's mind fail. The Lord comes to Prahlada's rescue every time he is tortured by Hiranyakashipu. And then, finally, the Lord appears as Narasimha (a man-lion avatar) to kill Hiranyakashipu.

The main attraction of the film was a dance by Guru Gopinath as Yama, the god of death. Apart from acting as Hiranyakashipu, the dance sequences of the dancer and his wife stood out. N. P. Chellappan Nair also acted in an important role in the film. Master Sadasivam provided the mandatory comedy relief. Kumari Lakshmi impressed as Prahlada and the songs sung by her also became hits. But then the performance of the actors and actresses of the film could not in any way be compared to that of the Tamil film. R. Balasubramaniam as Hiranyakashipu, M. R. Santhalakshmi as Kayadhu and Master T. R. Mahalingam as Prahlada were simply superb in acting and singing.

The 19 songs written by Kilimanoor Madhava Varier, a Malayalam poet and Sanskrit scholar, were set to tune by V. S. Parthasarathy Iyengar. Some of the songs like ‘Gurukulamathil angekandathil…' a chorus led by Kumari Lakshmi, ‘Narayanam bhaje…' (Kumari Lakshmi) and ‘Ennomal thankame…' (Thankamani Gopinath) were popular.

Will be remembered: As the first mythological film in Malayalam. The debut Malayalam film of director-producer K. Subrahmaniam, debut of actor T. K. Balachandran and music director V. S. Parthasarathy Iyengar. It was also the debut film of Guru Gopinath and Thankamani Gopinath. The film will also be remembered for some of its songs like ‘Gurukulamathil…'

Monday, May 9, 2011

Aalmaram (1969)

The Malayalam film ‘Aalmaram' released in 1969 was the screen adaptation of the successful Tamil drama of the same title. Authored by Raman, an amateur playwright popularly known by his pen name, Bilahari, the Tamil drama was staged successsfully with screen and stage artistes like V.S. Raghavan, A.V.M. Rajan, Pushpalatha etc by the popular Tamil drama troupe, ‘Little Stage'.

The unusual success of this tamil play might have prompted the producer T K Pareekutty to produce its screen adaptation under his own banner, Chandratara Productions.

‘Aalmaram' was directed by A.Vincent and is one of the best directorial ventures of the renowned cameraman.

The popular Malayalam playwright, Thoppil Bhasi wrote the script and dialogues based on the Tamil drama for the Malayalam film. The catchy dialogues written by Thoppil Bhasi retained the highly emotional impact of the stage play. The story of ‘Aalmaram' was similar to that of films like ‘Kula Deivam' (remade as ‘Bhabhi' in Hindi), ‘Ghar Sansar' (1958) etc with women as the central characters.

Edited by G.Venkittaraman and with camerawork by A.Venkat, the film had good dances choreographed by K.Thankappan.

Music composed by A.T.Ummer was the highlight of the film. A multi starrer, the star cast included popular artists like Prem Nazir, Madhu, Kottarakkara, P J Antony, Adoor Bhasi, Sheela, Kaviyoor Ponnamma etc.

Ammini Amma (Kaviyoor Ponnamma) is the backbone of her family. Her husband Kesava Pillai (Kottarakkara) is a spendthrift and a gambler.

Ammini Amma struggles hard to run the household. Her elder son Gopi (Madhu) is a vagabond. Soman (Prem Nazir), the younger son is the sole hope of Ammini Amma. Soman is in love with Kusumam (Sheela), daughter of their neighbour Govinda Kurup (P J Antony). Both the families are happy to conduct the marriage of Soman and Kusumam.

But Ammini Amma insists that Soman's marriage be conducted only after her elder son Gopi's. Govinda Kurup brings a proposal for Gopi and it is finalised. But the girl's family comes to know about the irresponsible life of Gopi and they back out. Gopi quarrels with Govinda Kurup who had brought the marriage proposal. Kurup therefore is not keen to give his daughter in marriage to Soman. Soman leaves for Chennai where gets a job. The office typist

Kamalam is very considerate to Soman. Soman learns that Govinda Kurup is looking for a bridegroom for Kusumam and enraged, decides to get married before Kusumam. He approaches Kamalam but she tells him she loves him only as a brother. Meanwhile Gopi reaches Chennai to meet his brother Soman in his office, working late. There is a power failure. Kamalam is raped in the darkness. Soman is suspected of it. and he does not disown the charge against him to save his brother Gopi who is the culprit.

Meanwhile, Ammini Amma approaches Govinda Kurup to pay back moneylenders from whom Gopi and her husband had borrowed money. Out of shame and the disgrace brought to the family by her husband and elder son, Ammini Amma dies of a heart attack in Govinda Kurup's house. Kaviyoor Ponnamma's performance was at its best as the struggling mother who is portrayed as the ‘Aalmaram'.

Madhu as the vagabond son and Prem Nazir as the responsible son performed their roles impressively. Sheela, Kottarakkara, P J Antony and other artistes also handled their roles commendably.

Adoor Bhasi's performance as Radio Bhasi was a deviation from his usual comic roles.

The five songs written by P.Bhaskaran and tuned by A.T.Ummer became popular. Background music was by R.K.Shekhar. The romantic number “Pinneyum Inakkuyil Pinangiyallo...” (Jayachandran, S Janaki) was an instant hit. Other hits include the dance number “Noothana ganathin....” (Yesudas, Vasantha), “Paraaga surabhila...” ( Janaki), “Ellaam Vyartham....” (Jayachandran) and “ Pullani Varambathu....” (P. Leela, C.O. Anto).

Why remembered:

As a good family drama in Malayalam cinema.

For the excellent music.