Jayabharathy, Veeran and others in a scene from the film 'Priya'
Pre-marital sex and prostitution, as serious social issues, were subjects for literature and cinema from early times. In Indian cinema, B. N. Reddy's Telugu classic ‘Devatha' (1941) is widely considered the first that discussed these issues. ‘Thirumbippaar' (1951), the Tamil film produced and directed by T. R. Sundaram, also focused on this subject. ‘Priya' (Malayalam- 1970) focused on the evils of prostitution and pointed a finger at the circumstances that force a woman into this shameful profession.
The film was based on the Malayalam novel ‘Thevidissi' by C. Radhakrishnan. The script and dialogues were written by the novelist. An earlier Malayalam film ‘Nagarame Nanni' (1967) also followed a similar storyline.
‘Priya' marked the debut of noted actor Madhu as director. This art-house film won critical acclaim for its realistic treatment of the subject and for its amazing cinematography. Most of the film was shot on locations in Bombay. Four cinematographers - U Rajagopal, Benjamin, Ramachandra and L. C. Kapoor – made the film a visual experience. Editing was by Hrishikesh Mukherji and his work won him the Kerala State award that year. The film also won the State award for the second best film. This was also the debut Malayalam film of playback singer Mahendra Kapoor. M. S. Baburaj's music was another high point of the film.
Madhu attempted a change of image by casting himself in a negative role. Bengali actress Lilly Chakravarthy played the lead female role and this was the only film that she worked in. The other popular stars who acted in the film were Adoor Bhasi, Veeran, and Jayabharathi.
Gopan (Madhu) an executive in an advertising company in Bombay is absconding leaving his wife Devi (Jayabharathi) back in Kerala. Gopan's friend, Bhasi (Adoor Bhasi), is sent to Bombay to locate the whereabouts of Gopan. The whole story is narrated in a flashback from the point Bhasi attempts to trace Gopan.
In Bombay, Gopan, a libertine, joins an advertising company. Here he flirts with his office typist Thulasi (Lilly Chakravarthy). Gopan abandons Thulasi when he knows that she is pregnant. Thulasi is forced into prostitution. She rechristens herself as Priya and gives birth to a child.
On one of Gopan's visits to a brothel he happens to meet Priya. In an inebriated state he fails to recognise his ‘old typist'. Priya entices Gopan into her room. In the room she kills him by tearing him into pieces with her teeth and poisoned nails. This was her way of taking revenge. The brothel house men try to bury Gopan's body discreetly. But Bhasi's probe reveals the whole story leading to this brutal act. Thulasi is sent to jail. Disillusioned, Devi accepts the care of Thulasi's child.
Deviating from the usual comic roles Adoor Bhasi excelled in his pivotal character role. Lilly Chakravarthy and Madhu also came up with impressive performances.
Six songs written by Yusuf Ali Kecheri were set to tune by Baburaj. ‘Kannonnu thurakkoo…' ( S. Janaki-P. Leela), ‘Kanninu kannaya Kanna…' (Latha), ‘Vinnile kaavil pularumbol…' (Janaki), ‘Aadanumariyam…' (Janaki), ‘Mookamam adharam…' (Mahendra Kapoor), and ‘Kanneeraloru puzhayundaakki….' (Janaki) became very popular.
Will be remembered: As the first directorial venture of actor Madhu, as the Malayalam debut of Mahendra Kapoor, the only Malayalam film of actress Lilly Chakravarthy and for bagging two state awards in 1970 for best editing (Hrishikesh Mukherji) and second best film of the year.