Baby Saroja, whose role of a girl separated from her mother in the landmark Tamil film Thyagabhoomi (1939), produced and directed by K. Subramaniam, was popularly known as Shirly Temple of Indian Cinema (Shirly Temple was a popular Hollywood child star during 1930s). Baby Saroja is believed to be the first child prodigy of South Indian Cinema.
Yaar Payyan (1957), Kalathoor Kannamma (1960), Thaayilla Pillai (1961) are some of the Tamil films that had children as central characters. Pyar Ki Pyaas (1961), Bhabi ki Choodiyan (1961) are some such Hindi films that were popular. All these films were box office hits in Kerala also.
Kamal Hassan made his entry into tinsel world as a child star in Kalathoor Kannamma. An all time hit, the song sequence Ammavum neeye appavum neeye … that featured Kamal was a sensation. Prompted by the unusual success of this film, A. K. Balasubramaniam, a producer from Tamil Nadu, came up with the Malayalam film, Kannum Karalum (1962). Kamal Hassan played a significant role in the film, which incidentally was his debut in Malayalam.
Produced by Saravanabhava Films, the film was directed by K. S. Sethumadhavan. The script and dialogues were by K.T. Mohammed. The music composed by M. B. Sreenivasan was one of its highlights.
The film had a unique start. A series of incidents spanning a period of time provided the background as the title and credits were screened. Most of the popular artistes of the time like Sathyan, Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai. S. P. Pillai, Ambika etc. donned important roles.
Assistant Engineer Mohan’s (Sathyan) wife dies of snake bite when his son Babu (Baby Vinodini) is a teenager. The title cards are shown after this incident. So when the story opens Babu is a school going boy. This role is performed by Kamal Hassan. Mohan goes abroad on an official assignment and Babu is enrolled in a boarding school. Babu becomes lonely and homesick especially when he sees his classmates getting letters from their parents and when they come to meet them. Babu is made to believe by the old servant that his mother is in ‘vaikuntam’ (heaven). Babu sends letters to his mother addressed as “Mother, Vaikuntam”. The letters are entrusted to the gardener Gopalan Nair (Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai) to be mailed. Gopalan Nair’s daughter Sarala (Ambika) happens to see the letters. She takes pity on the child and replies to the letters as if sent by his mother whom he believes is in heaven. Through these letters, Sarala and Babu become close to each other.
Once, Babu gets injured while playing. Sarala who meets the child for the first time nurses him until his wounds are healed. Babu believes that Sarala is his mother who has come from the heaven to nurse him and Sarala does not correct him. Mohan returns. He marries Sarala so that Babu may not lose her. Sarala gives birth to Indira (Baby Vinodini). She dotes on both as her own children. Gopalan Nair does not approve of his daughter’s fondness for Babu. He reveals the truth to the boy. Babu is upset; he begins to feel that Sarala does not care for him. He runs away from home with Indira. Mohan and Sarala, with the help of the police, begin their search for the children. Babu and Indira are found on the top of a multi-storeyed building. In a risky rescue operation by the police the children are rescued. Babu comes to realise that though his mother is dead Sarala loves and cares for him.
The climax scene was adapted from the Clint Eastwood starrer Escapade in Japan (1957) directed by Arthur Lubin. Kamal Hassan and Baby Vinodini in her double role as the teenaged Babu and Indira were impressive.
The songs written by Vayalar Rama Varma were tuned by M. B. Sreenivasan. The happy and sad versions of the song Kalimannu menanju menanju… (P. Leela) were very popular. The other hits include Valarnu valarnu valarnu nee oru… (S. Janaki), Aare kaanan alayunnu kannukal…. (K. J. Yesudas-Renuka), and Chenthamara poonthen kudicha vandey … (H. Mehboob).
Will be remembered: As the debut Malayalam film of Kamal Hassan, debut Malayalm film of producer A. K. Balasubramaniam, who later produced films like Nithyakanyaka (1963), Kadathukaran(1965) Koottukar (1966), and Collector Malathy (1967). And for its memorable songs.