Some of the short stories and novels written by M. T. Vasudevan Nair (MT) focus on life in feudal Kerala. Murappennu (1965) directed by A. Vincent and P. Bhaskaran’s Iruttinte Atmavu(1967) were two such films. And both did well at the box office.
The political melodrama, Asuravithu , was based on a novel with the same title by MT, which was first published in 1962. The novel was a best seller with several reprints. Though the film was not a huge hit, it is often considered the last of MT’s trilogy – the other two being Murappennu andIruttinte Atmavu .
V. Shantaram’s bilingual film Padosi (Hindi)/Shejari (Marathi) released in 1941 was probably the first Indian film that addressed communal harmony. Hindu-Muslim unity was its theme.
Ramu Kariat’s Moodupadam (1963) was the first Malayalam film that looked at this issue.
In Asuravithu the author focuses on a communally charged situation. It trained the spotlight on the Hindu and Muslim communities in feudal Kerala.
Produced by Madhavankutty under the banner of Manoj Pictures, the film was directed by A. Vincent. The script and dialogues were by the novelist himself. The dialect popular in villages on the banks of the Bharathapuzha River was effectively used in the film. The film was shot at Vauhini and Satya studios, while some of the outdoor scenes were visualised on the banks of Bharathapuzha. Edited by G. Venkitaraman, cinematography was by G.Venkit. The music composed by K. Raghavan made use of the folk tunes in the Malabar region.
Popular artistes like Prem Nazir, P. J. Antony, Sankaradi, N. Govindankutty, Sarada, Kaviyoor Ponnamma, Shanta Devi etc. played important roles in the film. Kalamandalam Kalyanikkutty Amma also played a cameo in the film.
The story is set in Kizhakkummuri, a remote village in Kerala where agriculture is the main source of livelihood. Govindakutty (Prem Nazir), a simple, young man struggles hard to look after his family which include his widowed elder sister Kunjootty (Kaviyoor Ponnamma).
The situation turns bad when his elder brother Kumaran (Govindankutty) mortgages the agricultural land of the family to raise money for his needs. Govindankutty’s friend is Kunjarakkar (P. J. Antony), a Muslim, who is very secular in his thoughts and deeds, is considered a rebel by his community.
Govindankutty’s elder sister Madhavi (Shanta Devi) is married to Shekharan Nair (Sankaradi), a rich landlord in the village. This man is a fanatic and leads a relentless campaign against the Muslims. The poor and innocent villagers from both communities fall prey to such evil machinations and often leading to clashes. Govindankutty and Kunjarakkar try to dissuade people from rioting. Shekharan Nair is unhappy about Govindankutty’s friendship with Kunjarakkar.
A distant relative, Meenakshi (Sarada), who stays in Shekharan Nair’s house, is treated like a servant there. Govindankutty marries Meenakshi, Shekharan Nair takes the initiative for their marriage. On the first night itself, Govindankutty comes to know from Meenakshi that she is pregnant and that Shekharan Nair’s son is responsible.
Govindankutty rushes to Shekharan Nair’s house and beats up Nair’s son. Nair engages his men to take revenge on Govindankutty. To escape from Nair’s men Govindankutty converts to Islam hoping that this community will support him, in particular his friend Kunjarakkar. But Kunjarakkar disowns him.
A group of fanatics attack Govindankutty. To escape their wrath he jumps into the river. The villagers return thinking that Govindankutty is dead. But he escapes and finds refuge in a neighbouring village, he becomes an alcoholic.
Kizhakkummuri is hit by cholera. The dreadful epidemic snatches human lives. The villagers struggle to remove the corpses. Govindankutty (now Abdulla) reaches the village and helps in this horrible work. In the pile of corpses he finds the dead body of his wife Meenakshi. Her child is saved. Govindankutty cremates the body of his wife and leaves the village with the child. His destination is a place where there are no Hindus or Muslims, only human beings!
Prem Nazir and P. J. Antony impressed the audience with their natural style of acting. The film dispensed with the usual comedy scenes.
Six songs written by P. Bhaskaran were set to tune by K. Raghavan. The songs with a definitive folk touch, like ‘Kunnathoru kaavundu…’ (C. O. Anto- P.Leela) and ‘Pakal avaninnu marayumbol…’ (K.Raghavan) became very popular. Other hits include ‘Arimulla valli …’ (P. Jayachandran), ‘Njaanitha thirichethi…’ (Jayachandran- Renuka) etc.
Will be remembered: As a social film that focused on communal harmony and for its good music.