G. Vivekanandan’s novels portrayed life in the backdrop of rural Kerala. One of his worksKallichellamma, first published in 1956 was a bestseller. This novel was made into a film with the same title and released on August 22, 1969. The story focused on the life of tapioca farmers and vendors settled in a seashore village near Kovalam in Thiruvananthapuram district. The film, like the novel, was a perfect adaptation of the mannerisms of these people, their slang, and their lifestyle. This was the first Malayalam film to be shot in Orwo Color, and probably the first of its kind in Indian cinema.
Produced by Shobhana Parameswaran Nair for Roopavani and directed by P.Bhaskaran, the film was shot outdoors, except for a few scenes inside a studio. U Rajagopal and Benjamin captured the natural beauty of the seashore villages perfectly. The music composed by K. Raghavan was in sync with the mood of the film.
Prem Nazir, Madhu, Sankaradi, Veeran, Sheela, Adoor Bhavani played important roles in the film.
Chellamma (Sheela) loses her parents quite early in her life. Valli Akkan (Adoor Bhavani), her neighbour brought her up and trained her in tapioca trading. Chellamma was a tenant of Adhikari or the landlord (Veeran) who was enamoured by her beauty. Adhikari’s son Gopi Pillai (Jesey) was also charmed by her beauty. Bold and brave Chellamma knew how to keep such men at arms length. Athraamkannu (Madhu), an agent in the market, was in love with Chellamma and supported her whenever she needed help.
Kunjachan (Prem Nazir) a pump operator comes to the village to help the villagers drain out the rainwater that has flooded the paddy fields. Kunjachan, who saves Chellamma from an attack by Adhikari’s men, becomes intimate with her. Kunjachan returns after completing his work never to return though he had promised Chellamma that he would come back to marry her. Chellamma becomes pregnant. The entire village turns against her, except Valli Akkan and the kind-hearted tailor Kochu Kunjan Maistry (Sankaradi). Chellamma delivers a stillborn baby.
Athraamkannu supports Chellamma who is unable to work owing to ill health. One night, Kunjachan returns to the village and sees Athrakannu and Chellamma together in her hut.
Chellamma’s plea that Athraamkannu is like a brother to her does not convince Kunjachan. In the ensuing fight Athraamkannu is wounded severely and Kunjachan runs away.
Kunjachan breaks his arm in an accident and is hospitalised. Chellamma takes care of him and they move to a house away from her hut.
Chellamma struggles to manage the household as Kunjachan is unable to work with the fractured arm. Kunjachan’s wife Mary (Saraswathi) comes to the village with her two children. Chellamma is shocked to know that Kunjachan was married. She gives refuge to Mary and the children.
That night she attempts to commit suicide. She plucks a tender coconut to quench her thirst. Adhikari and his men catch her red-handed and brand her a thief – Kallichellamma, moments before her death.
Sheela excelled in her role which won for her the Kerala State Film Award for Best Actress. Also impressive were Adoor Bhavani and Sankaradi. Adoor Bhavani won the State award for Best Supporting Actress.
Songs written by P. Bhaskaran and tuned by K.Raghavan became very popular. Karimukil kaattile… (P.Jayachandran), Maanathe kayalin… (K.P. Brahmanandan), Ashokvanathile Seethamma… (Kamukara Purushothaman- B.Vasantha), Kaalamenna Karanavarkku….(C.O. Anto, P. Leela, Sreelatha, Kottayam Santha) and Unni Ganapathiye… (M.G. Radhakrishnan-Anto) has all stood the test of time.
Will be remembered: As the film that won State awards for Sheela and Adoor Bhavani, for the music and as the first film to be shot in Orwo Color.