Sathyan, Sheela and Prem Nazir in a scene from the film Aswamedham
Indian cinema owes much to theatre. The first sound film produced in India, ‘Aalam Aara' (1931) was screen adaptation of a popular Parsi play of the same title authored by Joseph David. In the South, the Tamil film ‘Kaalava' (1932), based on the play ‘Kaalavarishi,' authored by Pammal Sambandham Mudhaliyaar was the first similar attempt.
Several plays by Thoppil Bhasi were successfully adapted for the screen. ‘Aswamedham' (1962) was one written by him and staged by KPAC.
‘Aswamedham' attempted to break the taboos associated with leprosy. This play was made into a film by Supriya Pictures. Producer Hari Pothen went through a lot of problems like delay of release. But the film became a hit.
There was confusion even during the production. The director, A. Vincent and the producer disagreed on the choice of the hero. Hari Pothen was not in favour of casting Sathyan, while Vincent insisted on having him in the lead role. There were other problems like disagreement over the remuneration to be paid to Sathyan, getting rights from KPAC etc. But all this was resolved and once the film was released quickly forgotten.
The leprosy sanatorium at Nooranad was the main location. This was the first Malayalam film that focused on how the society spreads false information on a disease like leprosy.
Sarojam (Sheela), the daughter of Kesava Swamy (P. J. Antony) is in love with Mohan (Prem Nazir). Their marriage is called off when Sarojam contracts leprosy. Sarojam is admitted to the sanatorium. Doctor Thomas, (Sathyan) takes up the responsibility of treating her. Within six months Sarojam is cured and discharged from the sanatorium. Sarojam reaches home. Preparations for the marriage of her younger sister Sarala (Indira Thampi) with a friend of Sadanandan (Madhu), Sarojam's brother is on. But no one in the family believes that her disease has been cured.
Sarojam is asked to leave the house. The family fear that Sarala's marriage would be called off once the bridegroom's family comes to know about Sarojam's disease. Sarojam approaches Mohan hoping that he would accept her. But he refuses to believe that she is cured. The attitude of the society towards leprosy makes her change her mind. She joins the sanatorium and dedicates her life to the service of the patients.
The songs written by Vayalar Rama Varma and set to tune by G. Devarajan became hits. The songs set to definite ragas, ‘Ezhu sundara raathrikal…' (Mohanam), ‘Udayagiri chuvannu…' (Khamas), ‘Karutha chakravala …' (Suddha Saveri), all by P. Susheela, ‘Oridathu jananam oridathu maranam…' (K. J. Yesudas-Natabhairavi) and the ‘pulluvan paattu' ‘Thekkumkoor adiyathi…' sung by B.Vasantha are still fresh.
Will be remembered: As a film with a strong moral that was conveyed effectively. Also for its songs.