Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chithramela (1967)

‘Chitramela' was Malayalam cinema's first portmanteau film, consisting of three short films. ‘Yauvanam/Vandikkari' (1974) and ‘Kerala CafĂ©' (2009) are two other popular Malayalam films produced under this category. It was European directors like Rosseto Rosselini who promoted and popularised this trend in films.

Along with the Tamil film ‘Bhakta Ramadas' (1935), produced by Parameswari Sound Pictures, another ‘bit film' (as it was referred to in common parlance) titled ‘Milakaay Podi' was also shown. But the Tamil movie ‘Sirikkathe' (1939) produced by Sree Rajam Talkies is considered as the first portmanteau film in India. In the case of the former film, it is believed that the bit was added to the feature film ‘Bhakta Ramadas' and was not originally planned as a portmanteau.

‘Chitramela,' was produced under the banner of Sree Movies. Veteran actor T. S. Muthiah made his debut as producer-director in this film. The music, composed by G. Devarajan, was the highpoint of the film.

The segment titled ‘Nagarathinte Mukhangal' was first in the compilation. S. L. Puram Sadanandan wrote the dialogues for the script by M. K. Mani. A crime thriller, this short film showed the tragic fate of children left alone at home while the parents enjoyed themselves at late-night parties and meetings. One such couple, Sheela and Ummer, leave their daughter at home with the servant and go for a party . The naughty girl plays with the telephone, dials numbers and interacts with the person at the other end of the line. One such call results in trouble. The call was to a house which happened to be the venue of a murder. The girl says over the phone that she knew what was happening there. The murderer (Kottayam Chellappan) locates the number, kidnaps the girl and attempts to kill her. But the intervention of the police saves the girl's life.

The second short film, ‘Penninte Prapancham', was a hilarious comedy. The story by T. E. Vasudevan was inspired by a Laurel and Hardy film. The dialogues written by Bhavanikutty provided space for humour. The characters in the film were the original film stars themselves. Adoor Bhasi, Manavalan Joseph and Bahadur are trained to drive a car by S. P. Pillai, their ‘asan' or teacher. They encounter hilarious situations with the women they meet. All the students and their teacher go into deep sleep. They wake up after 50 years to find that men have lost dominance; women, they find, have become all powerful in the world.

‘Apaswarangal', story and dialogues of which were by Sreekumaran Thampi, was the longest in the compilation. The film told the story of a tragic love affair between a blind girl and a street singer. Seetha (Sarada), the daughter of a ‘coolie' in a colony is in love with Babu (Prem Nazir), a street singer. A city wastrel's evil eye falls on Seetha and Babu is beaten up severely by his goons. A famous dancer happens to listen to Babu's singing. Babu goes on to accept the patronage of the dancer, separating him from Seetha.

The colony is hit by an outbreak of small pox. Except for Seetha and a small boy all the others die. Seetha and the boy leave in search of Babu. She hears Babu's voice from a theatre. Babu rushes to meet his lover. Seetha who is elated falls into his arms and dies. ‘Chitramela' is remembered for its music. All the eight songs, written by Sreekumran Thampi and tuned by G. Devarajan, became super hits. Seven solos by K. J. Yesudas, and a duet with S. Janaki, are considered gems in Malayalam film music. ‘Madampotti chirikkunna... (Yesudas-Janaki), ‘Akasha deepame...', ‘Paaduvan moham...,' ‘Kannuneer kayalile...,' ‘Nee evide nin nizhal evide..,' ‘Apaswarangal...,' ‘ Chella cheru kiliye...,' ‘Nee oru minnalaai ...' (all by Yesudas) are still popular.

Will be remembered: As the first portmanteau film in Malayalam. For its excellent music and as the debut film of T .S. Muthiah as producer-director.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Oru Penninte Katha (1971)

Sheela and Sathyan in the film

“Oru Penninte Katha” released in 1971 is considered to be one of the best Malayalam films produced in the 70s which proved that a good story with strong characters will always be a success. A new concept was experimented through the unusual story written by Moses, an amateur short story writer. Women-centred subjects have always been a favourite with Indian cinema. The film tells the story of a woman who takes revenge on the man who ruined her life, coming into his life in another guise.

Probably the Tamil film “Thyagabhoomi “ (1939) directed by the legendary producer and director K.Subrahmaniam presented first on screen such a character.

In this film S.D. Subbalakshmi performed the character of a Brahmin woman abandoned by her husband, who comes again into his life in another guise and takes revenge on him and the evils of the society that stood against her. Though the theme and the story of “Thyagabhoomi” and “Oru Penninte Katha” is not the same, the central characters of these films are women who suffer thus and the name of these women characters in both films is the same - Savithri.

“Oru Penninte Katha” was a huge hit at the box office. Produced by K.S.R.Moorthy under the banner of “Chithranjali”, the film was directed by K.S.Sethumadhavan and ranks high among the Malayalam films directed by him. The film was shot at Prasad Studios, Chennai and the main outdoor location was Munnar in Kerala. Cameraman Melli Irani copied on film the natural beauty of the tea estates for the few scenes and song sequences. Editing by Sreenivasalu and choreography by E. Madhavan was commendable. Music by G. Devarajan was excellent. Script and dialogues written by S.L. Puram Sadanandan impressed the audience.

Popular artistes like Satyan, K.P.Ummer, Muthiah, Govindankutty, Adoor Bhasi, Sheela, Kaviyoor Ponnamma, Jayabharathi, Junior Sheela etc added star value to the film.

The grand success of “Oru Penninte Katha” prompted producers and directors to produce films based on stories having similar women characters in the lead role.

Savithri (Sheela) is the only daughter of Govindan (T.S.Muthiah) who is employed in the tea estates owned by Madhavan Thampi (Satyan). One day Madhavan Thampi happens to see Savithri singing and dancing on the riverside and is attracted towards her. Raghavan (Govindankutty) is the local leader of the labourers. Rajan (K.P.Ummer), another leader of the estate workers is involved in a criminal case framed against him by the estate owners and the police is in search of him. Rajan gets refuge in Savithri's house through Raghavan. Love blooms between Savithri and Rajan. Quite accidently Madhavan Thampi happens to see Rajan in his hideout. Savithri fears that Thampi may report it to the police. Her friend Thankamma (Jayabharathi) advises her to approach Thampi and plead with him to not report to the police. Accordingly Savithri reaches Thampi's bungalow and is raped by him. Thampi also informs the police and Rajan is arrested.

Savithri becomes pregnant, but Thampi disowns her. Govindan commits suicide and the helpless Savithri leaves town after giving birth to a child whom she leaves in the hospital. Thampi marries Subhadra (Kaviyoor Ponnamma) and they live happily with their daughter Sreedevi (Junior Sheela). Mismanagement of the business by Thampi results in huge losses. Thampi's estate and property is bought by a rich woman Gayathri Devi who comes from Bombay. Thampi contests the Assembly elections and loses. Raghavan, who is a nominee of Gayathri Devi, wins.

Gayathri Devi repays Thampi's debts too and she files a suit against Thampi for recovery of money she paid to clear his debts. Thampi's house is about to be attached when Subhadra approaches Gayathri Devi with a request to wait till their daughter gets married.

Gayathri Devi narrates to Subhadra the reason behind her actions. Gayathri Devi is none other than Savithri, the daughter of Thampi's poor servant Govindan, who was abandoned by him mercilessly. Savithri struggled hard in life in Bombay till she inherited a huge amount of wealth from a benefactor.

Thampi writes a letter to Gayathri Devi, in which he tells Sreedevi that it is her own daughter whom he adopted from the hospital. . Gayathri Devi transfers all her wealth in Sreedevi's name , but Sreedevi refuses to accept it and Gayathri Devi returns to Bombay.

Sheela and Satyan excelled in their roles. Even minor characters in the film impressed the audience. The gossip monger old woman in the town played by T. R. Omana, Thampi's faithful servant Unnithan performed by Adoor Bhasi, etc are examples.

The titles of the film adopted a new style, Satyan appearing on the screen to introduce the technical crew behind the production of the film. The technicians also appeared on the screen.

Songs written by Vayalar were composed by Devarajan. All the songs became hits. P.Suseela's “Poonthenaruvi ....” was an instant hit. The Kharaharapriya raga based romantic number “Sravana chandrika ....” (P Suseela) is one of the best in the genre. The devotional number “Vaanavum bhoomiyum....” ( P Leela) , “Soorya Grahanam....” (Yesudas) and “Kadalezhu kadalezhu....” (Madhuri, Jayachandran, chorus) etc were other hits from the film.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Prem Nazir and Sathyan in a scene from the film

‘Adimakal' won the President's Silver Medal for the best Malayalam film of the year under the category of regional language films. The film is considered one of the best social movies of the 60s.

A woman-centred movie, the heroine of ‘Adimakal' is a maid servant. Mythological characters, princesses and queens, college girls, society ladies etc. were the heroines of Indian films from the beginning of cinema. Probably the Telugu film ‘Devatha,' was the first Indian film that had a servant in a central role. The Malayalam adaptation of this film, ‘Paavappettaval' (1967) did not do well. But ‘Adimakal' was a huge hit.

This film was based on a novel of the same title authored by R. P. Parameswara Menon, popularly known by his pen name ‘Pamman' and was the first in the series of his novels that went on to be made into films. In ‘Adimakal' the focus was on sexual exploitation of maid servants in their work place and the injustice towards them. The novel also pointed a finger at the fraud religious leaders and sages.

The script and dialogues were written by Thoppil Bhasi. He was able to convey the message strongly through his sharp dialogues. Cinematography by Melli Irani and editing by M. S. Mani was commendable. The film was directed by K. S. Sethumadhavan.

Saraswathi Amma (Sheela) lives a saintly life having denounced all worldly pleasures. Anandan (Jaycee), her younger brother, lives with her. Saraswathi Amma is a disciple of Giridhara Yogi (Adoor Bhasi) whose hermitage is in her town. Ponnamma (Sarada) is her faithful servant. She manages the household giving her mistress time to engage herself in prayers and religious discourses. Raghavan (Prem Nazir) is a deaf-dumb, odd-job man in the neighbourhood. He nurses a silent love for Ponnamma.

Anandan's friend Appukuttan Pillai (Sathyan) is a bachelor and lives nearby. As requested by Anandan, Saraswathi Amma agrees to send him food from her house. Appukuttan takes a liking for Saraswati Amma and even proposes to marry her. Though Saraswaathi Amma gets annoyed she develops a soft corner for this kind hearted man.

Anandan seduces Ponnamma and she becomes pregnant. He then abandons Ponnamma and absconds. Ponnamma is thrown out of Saraswathi Amma's house, but she finds shelter in Raghavan's house. Raghavan says that he is responsible for her state thereby saving her from shame. Appukuttan Pillai brings Anandan back home and forces him to ask Ponnamma's hand in marriage. But she refuses and prefers to marry Raghavan.

Giridhara Yogi elopes with Raghavan's sister who was his favourite disciple. Saraswathi Amma realises that her religious gullibility has been the cause for so much suffering. She discards her saffron robes for a new life. Appukuttan Pillai gets transferred to a place quite far away and boards his train. He is pleasantly surprised to find Saraswathi Amma in the same train, willing to accept him as her life-partner.

Sathyan, Prem Nazir and Sheela were impressive in their roles. Deviating from the usual role of romantic hero, Prem Nazir came up with a stunning performance. Adoor Bhasi also excelled as the bogus ‘sanyasi'.

Songs written by Vayalar Rama Varma were set to tune by G. Devarajan. The devotional number ‘Chethi mandaram thulasi...' (P. Susheela) was elevated to the status of a prayer song. ‘Thaazhampoo manamulla thanuppulla...' (A. M. Raja) was another hit and one of the singer's best in the language. The other hits include ‘Manaseswari maappu tharoo...' (Raja), ‘Indumukhi ..... (P. Jayachandran), and the chorus ‘Narayanam bhaje...' led by Jayachandran. A few verses ‘Lalitha lavanga Latha…' from Jayadeva's ‘Geeta Govindam' rendered by P. Leela was also a hit.

Will be remembered: As a National award winning film, debut film of the novelist Pamman and for the excellent music.