Monday, March 31, 2014

Sindooracheppu (1971)

The film highlights the evil of violence against elephants.
The HinduThe film highlights the evil of violence against elephants.

Madhu, Sankaradi, JAR Anand, Bahadur, Jayabharathi, Prema, T.P. Radhamani, Philomina , Baby Shobha , Master Vijayakumar

Sindooracheppu, released on November 26, 1971, was the first Malayalam film that featured an elephant and a mahout as its main characters. And not surprisingly, the film was a huge hit.
The Tamil film Yaanaippaakan (1960) had a mahout as its central character. This film, as well as its Hindi dubbed version Mahout (1961), also succeeded at the box office. But these films did not portray the true life of a mahout. Sindooracheppu was a realistic presentation of a mahout’s life and his emotional bond with the animal.
Directed by actor Madhu, the film was produced by noted lyricist-poet Yusuf Ali Kecheri, who also wrote the story, script, and dialogues. Produced under the banner of Anjana, the film was shot at AVM, Prakash and Venus Studios.
The rich Kerala landscape and folklore formed its backdrop. The outdoor scenes were canned at Deshamangalam Mana (a traditional mansion of Namboodiri Brahmins) and Cheruthuruthy village, located on the banks of the Bharathapuzha River.
Cinematography, which was by Martin Aloysius, Vasanth B.N. and Benjamin, supervised and controlled by noted cameraman U. Rajagopal, was outstanding. Editing by G.Venkitaraman, art direction by Konnanat, and music by G. Devarajan were the other highpoints of the film.
Madhu, Sankaradi, Muthiah, Premji, Jayabharathi, Prema etc. essayed important roles.
But the star of this somewhat violent film was the elephant Gopi. The elephant behaves and even thinks like a human, like his mahout, rebelling against ill-treatment and injustice. Some of the ‘star elephants’ of the time, such as Vishwakumar of Periyanampatta Devaswom, Lucky, owned by Bharat Circus and Ramachandran of Guruvayoor Devaswom, have been featured in this film.
The story revolves around an elephant and its mahout. Sankaran Nair (Sankaradi) is a mahout who lives in a remote village with his daughter Ammalu ( Jayabharathi) and wife (Prema). Sankaran is appointed as mahout of Gopi by its owner Namboodiri (Premji), a rich landlord. The village soothsayer, Kaniyan (JAR Anand) foretells that Gopi will kill three people. This prophecy instils fear in Ammalu’s mind. As a child she even attempts to kill Gopi by putting ants into his trunk.
Once, Sankaran in a drunken state annoys Gopi. He changes Gopi’s position in a temple procession allowing another mahout to place the thidambu (idol of the deity) on the top of his elephant. Humiliated, Gopi goes wild and kills two mahouts. The police team that arrives on the scene decides to shoot down Gopi. Kesavan, a wandering mahout, reaches the place and saves Gopi’s life by calming him down. Kesavan is appointed as Gopi’s mahout, and Sankaran as his assistant.
Ammalu falls in love with Kesavan and they decide to marry. Sankaran is dismissed from service by the landlord when he finds out he had been ill-treating Gopi. Sankaran turns against Kesavan. He decides to marry Ammalu to another person. Ammalu believes that Gopi was the cause for all her sorrow and bad luck. She attempts to kill Gopi once again. This time Gopi reacts and tramples Ammalu to death. Kesavan leaves the village throwing the mahout’s hook into the river, symbolic of giving up his profession in protest against cruelty to elephants.
Some of the scenes and the minor characters closely resembled those in Thomas Hardy’s novels. The village barber (Thodupuzha Radhakrishnan), tea shop owner (Bahadur) and the mad woman (Philomina) are examples.
The songs, written by Yusuf Ali Kecheri and composed by Devarajan, were well received. Some of them like Omalaale kandoo njaan (K.J. Yesudas), Ponnil kulicha raathri (Yesudas), and Thambraan thoduthathu (P.Madhuri) turned huge hits. The other popular songs included Thanneeril viriyum thamarappoo (Yesudas) and Mandachaare mottathalaya (Madhuri-Susheela Devi).
Will be remembered: As the first Malayalam film with an elephant and its mahout as main characters and for its excellent music.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Devatha (1965)

Sathyan and Sushama from the film.
The HinduSathyan and Sushama from the film.

Sathyan, Prem Nazir, Muthiah, S.P. Pillai, Adoor Bhasi, Ambika, Sushama etc.

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 GovindamDheera 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….

Monday, March 3, 2014

Olavum Theeravum (1970)

Madhu, Nellikkodu Bhaskaran, Jose Prakash, Bahadur, Usha Nandini, Philomina etc.

KOCHI: Released on February 27, 1970, Olavum Theeravum is considered as the first film to have introduced an art-house new Indian cinema aesthetics to Kerala. Independently produced by P.A. Backer, who later turned director, under the banner of Charuchithra, the film was directed by P.N. Menon. Breaking with Malayalam cinema’s studio and stage bound conventions; excellent cinematography by Mankada Ravi Varma was the high point of this film. He was awarded the Kerala State film award for best cinematography. The film was completely shot at outdoor locations. Art direction by S. Konnanat and editing by Ravi also stood out.
The film was based on a short story by M.T. Vasudevan Nair of the same title, published in an anthology of short stories in 1957. The classic script and unusual dialogue style evoking the local accents of Nilambur, in Malappuram, was impressively written by MT. Olavum Theeravumwas adjudged the best feature film and MT the best script writer at the Kerala State film awards that year. The tragic realism in this art-house movie, which was also a commercial hit, later became a definitive formula for a whole generation of Malayalam directors, including P.A. Backer.
Madhu, Nellikkodu Bhaskaran, Jose Prakash, Usha Nandini and Philomina essayed prominent roles. Noted stage actor Pariyanampatta Kunjunni Namboodirippad appeared in a guest role. Music composed by M.S. Baburaj followed the folk tradition of Maappilapattu.
Timber traders Bapputty (Madhu) and Abdu (Nellikkodu Bhaskaran) are friends. Ashamed of his mother Beevathu’s (Philomina) immoral life after his father’s death, Abdu runs away from his native village Vazhakkadavu and is engaged in timber trading. Abdu never returns to his home after that. On the way to the trading centre after loading timber from the forest Abdu falls ill and dies on the way. Bapputty reaches Beevathu’s hut with Abdu’s dead body. Bapputty takes pity on the family and decides to support them.
Here, Bapputty falls in love with Abdu’s only sister Nabeesa (Usha Nandini) who also hates her mother’s way of life but is helpless. Bapputty takes a decision to make enough money, marry Nabeesa and live happily. He leaves the village to distant timber depots to realise this dream.
Meanwhile, a rich trader Kunjali (Jose Prakash) who was away from his native village for a long time now returns. His sees Nabeesa and makes advances. Beevathu, who only thinks of making money, encourages Nabeesa to befriend Kunjali, but she avoids going anywhere near him. She keeps waiting for Bapputty to return and take her away. One day, with Beevathu’s support Kunjali molests Nabeesa. On that fateful day Bapputty reaches the village and is heartbroken at the happenings. But the kind-hearted Bapputty who loved Nabeesa sincerely, affirms his decision to marry her. Nabeesa refuses and pleads with him to leave her. The film ends with Nabeesa’s suicide and Bapputty staring at her swollen corpse washed ashore as he leaves the village.
Madhu and Philomina excelled in their roles. In fact, Beevathu is considered as one of the best performances of Philomina, which fetched her a State award for the second best actress of the year.
The songs written by P. Bhaskaran and set to tune by Baburaj were haunting. Kavililulla marivillinu…(P.Leela), Idaykkonnu chirichum…(S.Janaki), Manimaran thannathu…(K.J. Yesudas-Machattu Vasanthi) and a traditional Mappila song Oyye enikkundu…(C.A. Aboobacker) were very popular.
Will be remembered: As a film that won State awards for best feature film, best cinematography (Mankada Ravi Varma), script (M.T. Vasudevan Nair) and second best actress (Philomina). And also for its haunting music.