The Vadakkan Pattukal Legacy on Celluloid.

The Vadakkan Pattukal Legacy in Malayalam Films Way back in the mid-60’s, Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone transformed spaghetti westerns to such a degree that these movies walked right out of Hollywood and caught the fancy of millions of cine-goers all around the world. It still maintains its chunk of admirers in India – the Texan drawl, the ‘fastest draw’ and a fancy for Louis L’Amour – all of them pointers to the fascination for the sheer effect of incredulity and larger-than-life characters who were progeny of a harsh, unforgiving landscape and glorified the underdog’s tilt at social class windmills.

At about the same time, here in India, a similar genre of film-making took root in Malayalam. The very popular Northern Ballads or Vadakkan Paattukal, mostly passed down the ages by wandering minstrels, became the core plots for a new genre of movies. These film ballads were meant to entice and they did; they were the crudest form of Hollywood Westerns, only that they were in Malayalam, the local lingo. The martial art was Kalaripayattu, an indigenous form that is said to have been the origin behind karate and similar oriental fighting arts. The actors wore funny costumes, in all the bright shades you could conjure up, wearing magisterial wigs of such hues that seemed unbelievable because a Malayali can’t have anything else other than black hair. And the duels were epic in both canvas and popularity. The masses lapped it up.

As expected, this brand of movies catapulted the then galaxy of actors from a human level to hitherto unknown superstar status thus starting a trend that continues to this day. As someone growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s, these localized films were meant to be a grand scale vista, a marked departure from the gentle status that had come to be identified with Malayalam cinema.

I remember them, most of them appealing to us, children and adults, who had not grown up on the now ubiquitous Superman/Spiderman phenomena. We needed heroes, capable of extraordinary feats, incredible acts of courage and sacrifice and the packaged ‘mixture’ (native variant of cinematic popcorn) sales just rode higher in those days. Thacholi Ambu was one movie I clearly remember from then. Prem Nazir, all clumsy with his trademark romantic histrionics, was the raging phenomenon. I remember trying to find out what exactly bit me just under my thighs (seats were wooden with a bawdy red rexin-cover which was inevitably torn and infested with bed-bugs) just as Nazir pulled out his sword and scrawled his name on the wall of the palace he sneaked into in the dead of night. This movie also proved big time lucky for Jayan, marking his association with machismo roles, again never before seen in Malayalam cinema.

The only saving grace then was the movie scene where Nazir and Jayan somersaulted over fifteen-feet fortified walls to land on nimble feet with a slight jerk to validate the superhuman effort. The last of these genre was seen sometime in the early 90’s and like the stories on which they were based, they have walked into the mists of time, evoked only now and then by the intermittent call of nostalgia.

Watch Maanathe Mazhamukil Maalakaley picturised on Jaya Bharathi, one of the screen goddesses of the 70′s. This was from the film Kannappanunni, from the Udaya Studio stable, directed by Kunchacko.

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5 thoughts on “The Vadakkan Pattukal Legacy on Celluloid.

  1. Good one, CM. Have spent the best part of my youth in North Malabar. Have a couple of friends from the Thacholi family. Vinod your doubts are true… most of them are Vamozhi and I heard from reliable sources that someone had made an effort to put it on script. Am trying my luck in getting hold of a copy of it. I believe the only place where Vadakkan Veera Gaatha was not a success was Vadakara as MT tried to portray Chandu as a protagonist… For people of Vadakara, Chandu will always be the villain!!! :)

  2. On Tacholi Ambu..This movie is very very special for me..something I can never forget. I saw this in 77 or 78. If my memory It was released In Central Theater TVM.It was the first cinemascope. My dad came and mom came to pick me up from school at noon after getting special permission. we went to Central in one of those black and white taxis Mark 2 or Mark 1 Ambassador with Chakiri seats. This is the only movie I remember going with my dad before he died in 1979. The only other one being “Cheenavala” in 1975. This is why TA is very close to my heart. I remember I was so excited and stunned by Prem nazir ‘s val payattu.

    • Dear Sibi,

      At times one feels overwhelmed at the way fellow cineastes respond graciously to the little notes that are here at Old Malayalam Cinema. Thacholi Ambu, for me too, was an ‘awesomely huge’ experience. Two over-the-top performers from across the border, Nadikar Tilakam and MN Nambiar butting heads with Jayan and Prem Nazir. I do hope to cover each one of those movies going forward, and look forward to more of your interactions on these. regards..cinematters

  3. Nice post, one among the rare on the subject.

    However, I have searched high and low but was unable to find any answers to these questions:

    1. Are ‘Vadakkan Pattukal’ actually an existing fact based on the life of real people or is it just a myth?

    2. Is there an actual existing ancient text, written format or book for the Vadakkan Pattukal? Or is it just ‘vaamozhi’ ? What is the exact full text of the Vadakkal Pattukal?

    3. Are these a figment of the imagination of some movie scriptwriter? The only source anyone has about the Vadakkan Pattukal seems to be movies.

    Anyone can give me answers for these?

    Thanks
    Vinod

    • Hi Vinod,
      Thanks so much for your impressions on the subject of Vadakkan pattukal. The Vdakkan Pattukal to the best of my knowledge are mostly Paattukal ( the key is the name of the genre itself), folk ballads passed down as vaamozhi ( the done-to-death idiom of the Paananar who was the medium).

      1. Are ‘Vadakkan Pattukal’ actually an existing fact based on the life of real people or is it just a myth?
      There are historical anchors like the Thacholi tharavad that still exists at Vadaka, and so is the Thacholi Manikkothu Kavu temple, and the Lokanaarkaavu in Vadakara. The warrior clan for the Malabar Zamorins has to be a historical fact, but how much of that is fact and fiction is beyond me. Why not take a trip through if you are in Kerala, and share the experiences? :)

      2. Is there an actual existing ancient text, written format or book for the Vadakkan Pattukal? Or is it just ‘vaamozhi’ ? What is the exact full text of the Vadakkal Pattukal?

      Beyond me.

      3. Are these a figment of the imagination of some movie scriptwriter? The only source anyone has about the Vadakkan Pattukal seems to be movies.
      The places exist.

      http://www.hindu.com/mp/2005/06/11/stories/2005061101700300.htm

      But Udaya Studios elevated it into an art form, much on the lines of the spaghetti Western. Our Vadakkan pattukal movies were our answer to the classic western, though the wigs and the breastplates were hysterically funny, not to forget Thacholi Othenan challenging to a duel with lips dipped in scarlet :D

      I know it aint much, but its a start, don’t you think.

      Thanks again,

      CM

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