P. Kesavadev is considered the first writer to usher in the Renaissance in Malayalam literature. He wrote the much acclaimed novel ‘Odayil Ninnu' (1940) which had a rickshaw puller as the protagonist.
Kesavadev employed new norms in content and characterisation. This novel proved that a fine piece of literature can be produced with ordinary themes, an unconventional style of prose with ordinary people in main roles.
The novel was adapted to cinema with the same title ‘Odayil Ninnu' in 1965. Produced by P. Ramaswamy under the banner of Thirumugham Pictures, the film was a huge hit at the box-office. The film also had excellent music scored by the Vayalar-Devarajan team.
The film won the Certificate of Merit at the National Film Awards in 1965. The dialogues written by Kesavadev were the highpoint of the film. Directed by K. S. Sethumadhavan, the camera was handled by the producer P. Ramaswamy himself.
The success and worldwide popularity of Bimal Roy's Hindi classic ‘Do Bigha Zameen' (1953) with a rickshaw puller as central character might have prompted the producer to take Kesavadev's novel for a film.
Popular artistes like Sathyan, Prem Nazir, K. R. Vijaya, Kaviyoor Ponnamma starred in the film. This film also marked the entry of Suresh Gopi. He appeared as a child artiste. ‘Odayil Ninnu' was later remade into Tamil as ‘Babu' (1971) with Sivaji Ganesan in the lead role but the film was not as successful as the original.
Pappu (a role handled by Master Dasarath and Sathyan) always fought for justice and equality. Even as a child he protests against the village landlord, the discrimination in school between the landlord's son (Master Suresh Gopi) and other children.
This rebellious nature forces Pappu to leave home. He reaches Kollam where he takes up odd jobs for a living. Here again Pappu fights against the inequity meted out by employers. He decides to get self-employed and becomes a rickshaw puller.
One day, Pappu's rickshaw hits a street girl Lakshmi (Baby Padmini and later K. R. Vijaya) and she falls into a gutter. Pappu picks her up, takes the child home and adopts her as his daughter. Lakshmi's mother Kalyani (Kaviyoor Ponnamma) is a widow. Pappu struggles to bring up his daughter and educate her. He even neglects his own health and contracts tuberculosis.
Gopi (Prem Nazir), a rich, young man falls in love with Lakshmi and marries her. Contrary to Pappu's expectations, Lakshmi becomes arrogant and proud. She even shuns Pappu's presence.
Censured by Gopi for her ingratitude, Lakshmi repents and invites Pappu to live with her in their new home. But Pappu declines. The film ends with a scene in which Pappu moves away from her into darkness, his loud cough indicating that his end is imminent.
Sathyan impressed as Pappu. Kaviyoor Ponnamma also came up with a fine performance. The comic scenes involving Adoor Bhasi were repetitive.
There were seven songs by the famous Vayalar-Devarajan team in the film. Songs like ‘Ambalakulangare kulikkaan…'(P. Leela), ‘Kaattil ilamkaattil…' (P. Susheela), ‘Ammey ammey ammey nammude…' (Renuka), ‘Muttathe mullayil…' (S. Janaki), ‘ O! Rickshawala…' (Mehaboob), ‘Vandikkara vandikkara…' (K. J. Yesudas), ‘Maanathu deivamilla….' (A. M. Raja), were super-hits and still remembered.
Will be remembered: For its excellent music; as the debut film of Suresh Gopi and as a film that won a Certificate of Merit at the National Awards.