Snake worship is an established cult in several countries including India from time immemorial. Snake groves or sarpakaavu are still found in various ancient households and temples in the State. Snakes, snake charmers and snake worship have always been a favourite ingredient in Indian cinema. The Bengali-Hindi bilingual starring Kanan Devi Sapurey/Sapera (1939) was probably the first successful film that worked on this theme. S.S. Vasan’s Telugu classicBalanagamma (1942) had as a sub plot, the revenge of a snake. Filmstan’s Hindi film Nagin (1954) that was based on snake charmers and their life was a musical hit. This film popularised ‘been music’ or the music of snake charmer’s flute. The celestial world of snakes was the plot of Tamil films likeKanavane Kann Kanda Deivam (1955) and Naga Panchami (1956).
Sarpakkadu, released on December 31, 1965, was the first Malayalam film that had snakes and snake worship as its theme. Produced by Oriental Movies, owned by P.K. Sathyapal, under the banner of Naga Films, the film was shot at Syamala Studios and directed by J.D. Thottan. Dances choreographed by Chinni Sampath, Rajkumar and E.Madhavan were impressive. Been music was effectively used in this film. Cinematography by P.K. Madhavan Nair, editing by Venkitaraman and Narayanan, dialogues by Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai, for the screenplay developed by Sathyapal based on a story written by KVR Acharya added to the charm of this film.
Madhu, Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair, Kottayam Chellappan, Adoor Bhasi, Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai, Ambika, Sukumari and others starred in the film.
Dr. Krishnan (Kottayam Chellappan) and his son Dr. Balan (Madhu) are dedicated to eradicating death by snake bite. They go on a mission to the dense forests surrounding the mountain ranges in search of the Thanka Sarpam or the Golden Snake, believed to be the most poisonous in the world. Their intention is to conduct research based on its venom and perhaps invent anti-venom that would be a remedy for all snake bites. Their compounder (Adoor Bhasi) also accompanies them. They stay in the forest guest house and the watcher there, Raghavan Pilllai (Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai), guides them in their search. But their efforts fail
Balan falls in love with Nagaprabha (Ambika), the elder daughter of Swami (Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair), a hermit who lives in the forests along with his daughters and engaged in worshipping his family deity Nagamma, the Snake Goddess. The compounder falls in love with the younger daughter Nagalatha (Sukumari). One day, Balan and the compounder reach Swami’s hermitage and happen to see the Thanka Sarpam on the idol of Nagamma inside the cave temple there. Balan and his father request Swami to hand over the Thanka Sarpam to them and offer a huge sum of money. Swami becomes furious and drives them away. Meanwhile, Nagalatha is attacked by a bear and Krishnan’s attempts to save her fail. Swami is shocked when he comes to know on his return to the hermitage that the Thanka Sarpam is stolen by Balan when he was away. Swami reaches the guest house and begins playing the makudi or the snake charmer’s flute. The Thanka Sarpam comes out of the pouch in which it was tied up. Swami forces the snake to bite Balan and Krishnan is unable to save him. Nagaprabha begs her father to save the life of her beloved. Swami accedes to the request. He plays the makudi, the snake sucks out the venom, strikes its head on the floor and kills itself. Balan is saved. Kari Nagam or the Mountain Cobra believed to be the companion of the Thanka Sarpam reaches there and bites Swami. Krishnan shoots the snake to death. Before dying Swami wishes Krishnan all success in inventing the anti-venom but also requests him to respect snake worship, not to kill snakes, and to honour the traditional methods of treatment for snake bite.
Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair came up with a superb performance. Adoor Bhasi, Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai, and Sukumari created ripples on laughter in the comic sequences.
Some of the songs written by Abhayadev and tuned by M.S. Baburaj became popular. The romantic duet sung by K.J. Yesudas and P. Leela, Asha nabhassil…aarumariyathe njanumariyathe….was one. The other popular numbers include Nanma cheyyanam njangalkkennum… (Kamukara Purushothaman, Leela, and A.P. Komala), Innale njanoru swapnam kandu…. (Leela), Malamakal thannude…. (Leela-Komala), Naattil varaamo…(Baburaj- Komala), and Srungara lahari than…(Baburaj-Purushothaman).
Will be remembered: As the first Malayalam film with snake worship as its theme and for some of the songs, especially the duet Asha nabhassil...aarumariyathe....