Most of the ‘social films’ of 1950s and 1960s in South Indian languages were stranger than fiction. The stories developed for cinema were highly melodramatic with unusual twists and turns.
The Malayalam film Devatha released on January 14, 1965, was a compilation of sequences from some such South Indian social films.
Produced by Bharathi Menon under the banner of Thejo Films, the film was directed jointly by K. Padmanabhan Nair and W. R. Subba Rao.
The theme of Devatha closely resembled the storyline of Malayattoor Ramakrishnan’s novel Yakshi. Both the stories focussed on the thought of Beauty of the Soul.
Devatha did not do well at the box office. Sivaji Ganesan’s Deiva Makan, released much later and discussed the Beauty of the Soul theme, was a huge hit.
Apart from popular artistes Sathyan, Prem Nazir, Muthiah, Ambika, Adoor Bhasi and S. P. Pillai, Sushama, (her screen name was Maya), who made her Malayalam film debut in Udaya Studio’sKadalamma (1963), acted in this film. In fact, she quit cinema after this film.
Mohan (Sathyan) is a scientist involved in research. His junior Rema (Sushama) is in love with him and she always preaches about the beauty of the soul. Mohan meets with an accident in the laboratory and his face suffers burns. Rema, who always said that she loved Mohan for his ‘beautiful soul’, rejects him when his face is burnt and deformed. Rema turns her attention to another young research student, Venu (Prem Nazir). Deformation of his face and the cruelty of his lover forces Mohan into a secluded life. His mother Kalyani Amma’s (Bharathi Menon) efforts to console Mohan and bring back him to normal life fail.
Ammini (Ambika) is an orphan who loses her eyesight following a fire in the orphanage. Along with Vasu (Muthiah), an inmate in the orphanage, she her earns livelihood by singing and begging on the streets. Mohan gets fascinated by her singing. Kalyani Amma brings her home hoping that she would be able to bring some happiness in Mohan’s life. Mohan is mesmerised by Ammini’s sweet voice and soon they get married. It was Mohan’s confidence that Ammini, being blind will not see his burnt face that resulted in their marriage. They are blessed with a son.
Venu comes back after his higher studies abroad in ophthalmology. He advises surgery for Ammini. Mohan is afraid that Ammini would abandon him if she happened to see his face and is reluctant to conduct the surgery.
Venu rejects Rema’s proposal of marriage. He succeeds in convincing Mohan about the need for the surgery. Ammini undergoes surgery and regains her eyesight. She faints on seeing Mohan’s face. In his fury, Mohan picks up a revolver and attempts to shoot himself but finds that the gun was not loaded. Ammini recovers and expresses her true love for Mohan. For her it is the beauty of the soul that matters.
Sathyan, Ambika and Adoor Bhasi as Compounder Kittu excelled.
The film had eight songs written by P. Bhaskaran and set to music by P. S. Divakar. Verses from Jayadeva‘s Geeta Govindam and ‘Athmananda’ Krishna Menon’s Radha Madhavam were also included in the film. Kannukalennaal kalavukal parayum…. (K.J. Yesudas-P. Leela), Ormavekkenam ee premarangam…. (M. Balamuralikrishna-S. Janaki), Janmabhoomi Bharatham karmabhoomi Bharatham…(Yesudas- Latha and chorus) became hits. The other songs include the Ashtapadi (Geeta Govindam) Dheera sameerey Yamuna theerey…(Balamuralikrishna- Leela), Kannillenkilum karalin kanninaal…. (Leela), and Padachavan namukkoru varam…(Yesudas- K.P. Udayabhanu-Raghu).
Will be remembered: As an early Malayalam social film with a different theme – Beauty of the Soul. For some of the songs, especially the patriotic number Janmabhoomi Bharatham….